The Thief of Pendír: Book 3 of The Book of Dreams series

Reading Time: 10 minutes


The thief ran through the crowds on Gruzh Pír, ducking, weaving, and keeping two steps away from the gangsters who were trying to kill her. She charged through plasma blasts ricocheting against transports and showering sparks above her head, then stumbled past shocked onlookers who ducked out of the way. Had it not been for the loud music, sex hawkers, and shrill holographic billboards pouring out of pepper dens and pleasure palaces, no one would have noticed the blasts or the thief. Along the Gruzh Pír, the staccato bursts of automatics were simply another rhythm to the decadence and backbeat of madness. Especially at night, when the district shimmered in holographs and neons, and the underclass and elites, who deigned to come down from airships that hovered like giant steel balloons above the grimy city, rubbed shoulders in a true testament to the district’s egalitarian venality. Gunfire was just another distraction. However much the rezzis may have promenaded their crowns, naggis barked their wares, and testriis brownnosed it with the rezzis, no one ever confused the pír for what it was. Unlike the rest of the city, gangsters ran things here. And anyone who found themselves on the wrong side of them––well, they got what they deserved. So peddis screamed and ducked out of the way, especially when they saw a monni was at the center of it all.

The monnis along the Gruzh Pír were either serving the rezzis and the testriis or were being bought and sold by the naggis.

The system was solid in Pendír.

Only Ro No Na was out of the ordinary.

Clutching a burlap sack across her back, the tall, limber thief sprang like a tree cat through the crowds. The three naggis who pursued her were uglier than sin and with mean dispositions to boot, which made them perfect enforcers for Ozma Graj’s organization. She thought she could evade them when she broke into the gangster’s office at his pleasure hive, but she had failed to calculate the tertiary alarm system that alerted Graj’s security. So, winnowing her way out of a seven-story window and climbing down toward a dead-end alley, she took the escape route she had already mapped out.

She raced up the pír and stumbled into a small crowd of rezzis who’d frozen at the sound of plasma blasts, knocking one of them to the ground. The surprised oomph escaping her lungs was a nice touch.

“Stop that monni!” someone shouted. But no one did, too confused seemingly and paralyzed with fear to do anything. Who could with all that shooting going on? Besides, who knew if she didn’t have a blade? It would be so like a monni to pull out a blade and stab someone. Better not get involved at all. Ro No Na smirked to herself over that.

More blasts struck a vehicle parked by the curb, showering her with white sparks before fizzling out on the pavement. There were more cries, more peddis ducking or diving flat to the ground, but she kept right on running.

She looked out for enforcers. They were worse than gangsters. They were gangsters. Except they were gangsters with authority. A few spy cams whizzed by overhead, flashing their automated recording devices in her direction, but she was running too fast to be nothing more than a blur when the data was uploaded onto the systems of nearby squads. Since her indigo skin blended into the shadows, there was no way those spy cams were going to ID her. And good luck if the motion sensors and infrared scans worked! Government resources were shit. Replicators broke down, transponders blew, leaving whole sections of the city without electricity for weeks, and, on some hot days, the stink of uncollected garbage could make you forget the polluted air stank just as bad. But why get top-of-the-line when you can line your own pockets instead? Their greed was Ro No Na’s saving grace.

Still, the enforcers could get her info and trace her to her home. She had long been off the grid, an orphan with no papers, as they used to say, so lucky her. But she did not feel safe or lucky. Not until she got back to the Bottoms.

And the Bottoms was far, far away.

Another blast exploded right on her heels. The force propelled her forward, limbs akimbo. She folded her legs toward her long torso and rolled like a ball back to the pavement.

Her teeth clattered, biting down hard on her bottom lip, breaking skin. The warm pulse of blood filled her mouth.

After a half-spin, she was back on her feet again, barely breaking momentum.

Smoke billowed through the narrow pír, cast in a hellish red glow from the signage and holographic billboards above. Exhaust fumes ejected from a nearby building. Acrid. But everything in that damn city smelled acrid. Like the entire cityscape was washed in an acid bath.

She dove into a dark alleyway pinned between one pleasure palace several stories high and a pepper den with a strobing tower on its roof. The strobes ebbed and tided with swells of light and shadow.


There were more voices, shouting, demanding to know the whereabouts of the monni. No second to waste.

With all her strength, she hurled the sack on top of the roof of the pepper den, then, crouching low with her ass to the ground, leaped up toward the eaves in a single bound. She grasped onto the edge, scissored her long legs below, and pulled herself over the side.

The strobes quickly pulsed light, timed with the beats of music that thrummed beneath her. They illuminated the nearby tall, iron behemoths that jutted toward the dark sky like pylons, though the buildings themselves glowed with rows of lit balconies and the garish displays of holographic billboards. The roof was not as dark as she’d hoped, but there were pockets of shadows she could blend into and not be seen.

She crouched against the parapet and listened through the white noise of traffic for signs of an enforcer squad car. She expected one to be arriving soon, though you could never tell. She stole from a gangster, so technically Ozma wouldn’t alert authorities since he had a few violations of his own. The authorities were keen to look the other way if their palms were greased, and gangsters like Ozma had the krelechs to keep the authorities’ hands very slick. Mon El Eri like her had no such means. But the spy cams were sure to detect a crime that had taken place no matter who was the victim. She couldn’t afford to be caught. Her mother was caught breaking one of the city’s stupider laws, charged with default when she failed to pay the fine, and sent north to the labor camps. The very thought of it creased her mind. The labor camps were run by the Ro Kannan. Nobody who went to the camps was ever seen again.

Ro No Na scowled and pressed the back of her hand against her swollen lip. Memories filled her thoughts like bile. The air transport lifting away with her mother onboard. She standing below, arms flung upward. Zi zi ma!

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Nearby an air vent blew wafts of spicy, hot air. She leaned forward and breathed it in. Second-hand smoke was never as effective as imbibing peppers directly into the old lungs, but she wasn’t one to complain for small pleasures. She settled low beside the parapet and breathed in the spicy, exotic scent. The spice helped make her forget things.

She lifted her head and gazed over the parapet at the next building. The glow from a row of lights filtered through dirty, grimy windows and fell in a rectangular patch that lit her face for anyone to notice. Nobody was noticing. Certainly not the monni and naggi pair who were lip-locking in one of the windows. The naggi did something––she couldn’t tell––that caused the monni to swing at him. She missed, but he caught her arm and shoved her hard out of the frame of the window. He approached her menacingly before he too was out of view. There was a scream, but from the amplification of the surrounding buildings, she couldn’t tell whether it was coming from the window or elsewhere.

No time to figure it out. The drone of an air transport cut through the ambient noise. It appeared like a giant wasp lowering in between the buildings overhead. Quickly she squeezed herself into the space between the parapet and the air vent, blending into the shadows as a searchlight crawled across the scarred roof. It flicked on and off, almost simultaneously with the strobes as they spun round like a pulsar, but neither had reached her hiding spot. Not yet.

The transport all but drowned out the city sounds, its drone deep and penetrating. She looked up to see if it was an enforcer, but it was black and unmarked. Ozma’s men? Or maybe Ozma himself. She imagined he wasn’t too happy when he found out about the theft. He was a naggi, and like most naggis, had an overinflated sense of his brilliance. He thought he had constructed the most impenetrable fortress this side of the Yvill, but he hadn’t counted on one of his people ratting on him. It wasn’t hard to do—she easily hacked into the office safe. The hardest part was getting in, and that was well provided for her as well. The barkeep at the Graj Pendír was a friend of a friend of a friend, who, for only a few krelechs, was more than happy to slip open the back entrance and let her through. No questions asked. She was already dressed as a pleasure girl, sheer jumpsuit and black-marked eyes, so she blended in with the other pleasure girls as they rushed up to the main floor to perform. The only thing that stood her apart was her indigo skin. Pleasure clubs rarely employed girls as dark as she, only mauves for the rezzis and naggis and testriis who patronized the palaces and bid for the lovelies as they advertised their moves in their tubes. A few of the girls even wondered how she ever got past the auditions. Everybody knew that Ozma was strict with his preferences. But none of them said a word because a job was a job and there was no point in ruining it by questioning one of Ozma’s weird ideas. Ro No Na tried to look cynical and unimpressed, but she almost gave herself away when she thought she recognized one of the girls. She didn’t get a good look at her before she ascended one of the tubes to the main floor, but she could have sworn she was an old childhood friend. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been her. If you had the misfortune of being born a female Mon El Eri in Pendír, you were a servant, a pleasure girl, a cab girl, a beggar, or a thief.

Ro No Na chose to be a thief.

She slipped to one of the lifts when one of Ozma’s guards wasn’t looking and went all the way to the top.

Everything else was easy as rain.

The transport circled over the roof, flashing its searchlight in spaces a Mon El Eri could hide. Whoever was operating the vehicle was positive that she was hiding there. She didn’t move an inch until the searchlight flashed briefly several meters away. She tensed. Not because it was far too close for her comfort, but because the bag she had hurled on the roof was lying in the exact space.

Her eyes dilated in the dark. The searchlight flashed off, then reappeared in another section of the roof, adjacent to the strobe tower. She wasn’t sure if they saw the bag, but she couldn’t risk them finding it and her.

She crouched, feeling the hard muscles in her calves tighten, then, after a deep breath, dove for the bag. She rolled again and snatched it in her long fingers before she got to her feet and sprang to the other side of the roof. A circle of light appeared at her heels.

She clenched the bag between her teeth. It was heavy and strained against the muscles in her neck, but she had no other choice. As the transport buzzed and shot of glare of light on her backside, she dove off the roof and fell several meters below in another alleyway.

The transport veered over the edge of the roof, buzzing like an angry tri tri na, but she dodged down the alley, clutching the bag close to her chest. The transport was fast on her trail.

More blasts rang out. Heavy, stolid, and deadly.

She dove behind large bins that stank of trash. The transport flew past and banked over a tall tower nearby. It chopped the air as it turned back around.

Quickly she made her way to a sewer grating, one of hundreds of thousands in the city. She tossed the bag in first, then climbed down the ladder. By the time she adjusted the grated lid, the transport cast its searchlight over the grill, momentarily striating Ro No Na’s face with its shadowed bars.

She leaped down the ladder and landed with a splash in the sewage. A sour, fetid odor clogged her lungs. The bile forced itself up from her stomach and caused her to gag. Had she not been used to it, a gin gin pa if there ever was one, she would have vomited. If you can still gag at the shit in your life, then that’s saying something. One of Ro No Na’s aphorisms. She just made it up.

She looked down into the dark, murky sewage water and found the bag submerged halfway. She grabbed it and hid in the shadows.

An infrared laser cut through the darkness. It crawled through the grills overhead, accompanied by a steady, invasive drone. It winged back and forth, like a third eye searching, picking up dust and motes around it. She held her breath. The sharp line of the laser jutted toward her, nearly touching her feet. She pressed her head against the damp wall, a move she knew would not save her. She shut her eyes.

The drone seemed to grow louder as if the transport were lowering itself in the alley, then it grew fainter. When she popped open her eyes, the laser was gone, and so was the transport.

After taking a few more relievedly deep breaths, Ro No No checked the bag she had clutched against her chest. She drew it open to make sure her loot hadn’t been damaged. She slowly pulled back the edges of the bag, as though she was uncovering a wild bush animal, then gazed down through the poor light at the enormous book. It was inexplicably unmarred.

She didn’t sneak into Ozma’s enclave to steal a book. What thief in her right mind would do that? Yet when she opened the safe and found it there, she was mystified, intrigued. It was thin, despite its enormous size, and had pages that were thick and smooth. There were strange drawings and writings the likes of which she’d never seen. She couldn’t read the markings, but she couldn’t read at all, so that made little difference. She was attracted to the illustrations, odd-looking creatures that walked on four upright legs, and people who looked too beautiful to exist. When she reached down to touch its pages, she felt a strange vibration tickle her fingertips. It felt as if the book had somehow veered into her mind and become one with it. She furrowed her brow, scratched her chin, and chided herself for such a silly reaction. It was just a book. But ever on the lookout for a good trade, she thought it might make for a fine one in the markets. She took the thing she came to Ozma’s enclave to find, but she took the book as well. Why not? What one missing book will do the gangster?

But now, hiding in the sewage ways of Pendír, examining her treasure once again, the mysterious effect it had on her returned, and the cynical reasons for stealing it no longer seemed right. There was something else about this book, something she couldn’t quite put into words.

She covered it up again, tightened the clasp, and slung the bag across her back. As the air transport seethed high above her, Ro No Na sprang in the direction of Donryllys. It was twelve kilometers from Yvill. A long run to dawn, with nothing to spur her on but her stubborn sense of self-preservation and the mysterious treasure she snatched in her sack.


This excerpt is from a novel The Thief of Pendír: Book 3 of The Book of Dreams series.
Edited by Marie Ginga


Cynthia C. Scott is the award-winning author of The Book of Dreams series, The Haunted Child, and Immortal, My Love, and The Naxos Academy of Psychic Studies for Colored Girls. Her short story, "Ruby's Paradox," was the 2018 Fairfield Writing contest winner, which appears in Here to Now: A Time Travel Anthology, all of which can be found on Amazon. She currently lives in the SF Bay Area.