Roquana


by
Robin Gordon



Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford 2013

© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013

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Book I:  Savark Court
***
Chapter 1:  I meet Roquana


    The common people cannot be said to have ever properly appreciated the Holy Inquisition.  Snoopers they call us, and some of the powers they attribute to us are beyond all reason.  I have heard it said that every inhabitant of Sunday is assigned a personal Inquisitor from the moment of his or her birth to remain with that person until the moment of his or her death.  Can you imagine the number of Inquisitors we should have to have if that were true?  Or the complications that would ensue if an Inquisitor died before his assignee?  I remember some old woman told me this piece of nonsense when I was ten or twelve.  “Don’t ever do anything naughty,” she said, “or you’ll make your Guardian Inquisitor angry and he’ll tell the authorities.”
      “If I have a Guardian Inquisitor,” I said, “and he stays with me all the days of my life … then he must be the same age as me, and boys don’t split on each other, so I don’t have to worry.”  The old woman prophesied that I’d come to a bad end, but the other adults laughed, and it’s my belief that’s when I was picked to join the team.
     The Office of the Holy Inquisition is quite a select band.  There are not all that many of us, so of course we cannot watch every man woman and child on the planet for twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.  That would be absurd.  I had always believed that the Inquisition computer allocated subjects for supervision entirely at random, and that it had at its disposal the identities of the whole population without exception.  Then I discovered my mistake

    My story begins when I was allocated a girl of 19 called Roquana Smuff.
    I had first, of course, to make contact with the subject.  We Inquisitors cannot, as some people fondly imagine, tune in to the wavelengths of anyone on the planet.  It is necessary to arrange an initial meeting in which we come into the physical presence of our subject, who, naturally, remains unaware that anything unusual has occurred.
    Roquana was on her way home when an elderly man stumbled in front of her, fell on the ground, and scattered his shopping across the pavement.  The helpless old man trick was not one I would have dared to play in our capital city, New Jackrusselham, where swarms of hoypyu are always on the lookout for victims to rob.  Usually they prey on rival gangs, but I have seen the occasional elderly citizen robbed and stripped entirely naked.
    In Beddleham it was pretty safe.  A few of the passers-by laughed derisively, and a hoypyu boy snatched up one of the old man’s purchases and made off with it.  Roquana, however, stooped, took the old codger by the hand, and helped him to his feet.  I, for it was I, in disguise, held her hand for slightly longer than necessary, and stared into her eyes while I stammered my thanks.
    “Well, you’ll certainly know me again,” she laughed.
    “I will indeed,” I quavered as she stooped to pick up my possessions and stow them in my shopping bag.
    She went on her way, and I returned to the Palace of the Holy Inquisition in New Jackrusselham.  There, following standard practice, I drank a potion brewed from certain herbs that are grown in the palace gardens, lay down on my bed, connected my body to the life-support system, and concentrated my mind on locating Roquana and entering her mind.
    She, of course, was totally unaware of the unseen eyes that saw whatever she did, the unheard ears that heard all that she heard and all that she said, and the untraceable mind that followed her every thought and knew her every impulse.
    Roquana was a nice girl, a thoroughly nice girl.  She lived with her widowed mother, was helpful about the house and was an efficient assistant in a nearby shop.  Apart from her unfailing niceness there was nothing out of the ordinary about her, and I was about to withdraw from her mind and give her a clean report, when something unusual happened that piqued my curiosity.
    As I believe I have already said the Inquisitorial computer is supposed to select and allocate subjects entirely at random, including the whole population of Sunday from the oldest inhabitant to the youngest, and from the poorest beggar to the President herself, yet neither I nor any of my closest colleagues had ever dealt with anyone from the upper echelons of society: the Lords and Ladies, the members of the High Council, the Senate or the Holy Synod, or even such subordinate bodies as the Monopolies Control Commission.  I had begun to suspect, though I knew it was unwise to voice such suspicions, that the random process was far less random than I had been led to believe.  Only to my wife and my closest colleague, Ulixondir Drow, would I ever have voiced such suspicions, and even then we referred to treat it as a joke and to suppose that the Grand Inquisitor reserved for himself and the Eminences, the senior Inquisitors, the Monsignors, any investigation into members of the establishment.
    That was why my curiosity was aroused when Roquana and her mother received an unexpected visit from the Private Secretary and the Chatelaine of no less a personage than Lord Savark, the Chairman of the Monopolies Control Commission and one of the richest men on the planet.
    I decided not to withdraw at once, justifying my decision on the grounds that I had seen Roquana interacting only with her social equals and inferiors in one of the poorer towns, and that to secure a complete characterisation of my subject, I should see how she behaved in the presence of the rich and powerful.  It was always possible that even the nicest person might be tempted into some form of dishonesty when confronted with the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy, (even if it were only the snaffling of the odd biscuit from a plate), or that they might indulge in obsequious flattery to secure some minor advantage.  If I were to be entirely honest, I have to admit that I also wanted to see how the great and the good behaved towards the small and insignificant when they believed themselves unobserved.
    It was Secretary Gulls who began the conversation.  He and the Chatelaine had drawn up outside in one of those ridiculous carriages affected by the rich: electric, of course, like any other vehicle on the roads, but equipped with an entirely unnecessary array of artificial draught animals, in this case a pair of dragons with flashing eyes, flapping wings and streams of sparks issuing from their jaws.  The idea was to intimidate the common people, to make them jump out of the way and impress them with the importance of the occupants.
    Despite the vulgar flashiness of the car, which may well have been the choice of his employer, or even of his employer’s head stableman, the secretary made a very favourable impression on me, as he did on both Roquana and her mother.  Although obviously a man of considerable influence and importance he had the knack of making the ladies feel that they had his full attention, the ability to condescend without in the least making his interlocutors aware of any hint of condescension.  He was indeed the perfect conversationalist, achieving a combination of friendliness and attention that could not fail to charm.
    He spoke of his employer, Lord Savark, the guiding hand behind the discovery and colonisation of Sunday, the man who had organised the survey of the planet and picked out safe sites for the new cities, as far as possible from the main concentrations of the savage Tohu, (wild bloodthirsty beasts whose greatest delight would be to feast on human flesh), the architect of their defence, the civilising influence who had ensured that Sunday would be a morally irreproachable place, and the founder of the League of Purity that kept young men and women of the Sunday colonies free of the addictions to alcohol, drugs and the sexual shenanigans that plagued so many frontier planets.
    He spoke too of his companion, Madame Yowfrasinny LaTower, the Chatelaine of Lord Savark’s country manor, the organiser in charge of the whole household, with oversight over the butler and his under-butlers and footmen, the housekeeper and her maids, the cook and the kitchen staff, the head gardener and the under-gardeners, the head-stableman and his staff of chauffeurs and engineers who drove and maintained Lord Savark’s fleet of vehicles.  His admiration for Madame LaTower’s wide-ranging responsibilities, and the efficiency with which she carried them out, was boundless.
    Of himself he said little directly, beyond the facts that he was Lord Savark’s secretary and that his name was Gulls, though it became obvious as he talked that secretary was a modest title for a man who seemed to be nothing less than Lord Savark’s right hand man and the organiser of both his social life and his business ventures.
    On his entry I had mentally classed him as Doctor Gulls, the title of Doctor being reserved for officials of a certain standing, including not only medical men but civil servants, lawyers, and Inquisitors such as myself.  As he talked I began to think that, despite his obvious modesty, he must be at least a Monsignor, for he was obviously the equal of the Chatelaine, whom he called Madame LaTower, and possibly of higher rank.
    Now he began to enquire into Mrs Smuff’s circumstances.
    “For you are not actually a widow,” he said.
    “I have to admit that I am not, Sir,” she replied.  “I have to admit to you that I was never married, but I beg you not to think ill of me until you have heard my tale.  I am the daughter of a respectable clergyman, who may still be living for all I know, for I left the town where he resides as soon as I discovered that I was pregnant, so as not to bring shame on an honest and honourable man of the cloth, though it was not through any shameless or immoral practice that I conceived my child.
    “Her father was a dentist.  I went to him for a course of treatment, and, as I was a rather nervous girl, afraid of the drill and other instruments, he gave me an injection of roquanine.”
    “How fortunate,” interrupted Gulls.  “So instead of enduring the filling of your tooth, you found it extremely pleasurable.”
    “I did indeed, Sir,” she said.  “He could have pulled out all my teeth and my fingernails one after the other, and I would have begged him to carry on.  He filled my tooth, Sir, then his hands began to wander to other parts of my body.  I was like moulding clay in his hands, Sir.  He was able to do whatever he liked, and that, Sir, is how my daughter was conceived – and why I called her Roquana, a name that reminds me of my shame and, at the same time, reassures me that the fault was not mine.”
    “Why didn’t you raise a complaint against the desecrator of your virtue?” Gulls asked.  “You could have had him struck off and very probably forced to compensate you.”

    “Oh no, Sir,” replied Mrs Smuff.  He was the leading dentist in town, the chairman of the local dentistry faculty, and quite a bigwig in the World Dentistry Association.  He wasn’t just a doctor, Sir, he was a monsignor, and no-one would have believed my word against his.  He would have accused me of promiscuity and of trying to hide my wickedness by an unjust accusation against him.  My family would have been dragged through the courts.  It would have killed my parents.  So I left them a note saying I had fallen pregnant by a boy who refused to marry me and that I was going away.  I begged their forgiveness and asked them not to try to find me.  As far as I know, Sir, they never did try.  My father was well-known for the severity with which he dealt with girls in a similar situation, so it would have been impossible for him to forgive his own daughter without being accused of hypocrisy.”
    “I see,” said Gulls, “and is Roquana acquainted with the story of her conception?”
    “She is,” replied Mrs Smuff.  “When she was old enough to understand, I told her everything.”
    “So your name is not really Smuff?”
    “No, Sir, it isn’t, and I am not prepared to tell you my real name because of the distress it would cause to my parents and my brothers and sisters.  I called myself Mrs Smuff because Smuff is a very common name.”
    “You realise, of course, what a very great honour it will be for Roquana to enter the household of so great a man as Lord Savark?”
    “I do, Sir,” said Mrs Smuff humbly.  “I know she’ll be a good girl and do her best to give satisfaction.”
    “Excellent,” purred the secretary.  “I think everything is in order.  Lord Savark’s housekeeper, Mrs Broyn, will pick Roquana up tomorrow.  Please have her things packed up and ready to go by two o’clock.”
    With that the secretary and the chatelaine took their leave.
    “Do I have to go?” said Roquana.  “I’d much rather stay with you.  I don’t want to go off and work in Lord Savark’s estate.”
    “Of course you have to,” said Mrs Smuff sharply – far more sharply than I had ever heard her speak before.  “We can’t not do what they say.  It’s not an invitation to work for them, it’s an order.  If you don’t go they’ll make sure your life isn’t worth living.  Remember Mork Pottle?  They sent for him, and he didn’t go, and within a couple of months he was dead.  Of course you have to go.  Just try and keep out of sight as much as possible.  Be as inconspicuous as you can.”
    Then they flung their arms around each other and wept, which, I must say, rather puzzled me, for this, surely, was a great opportunity for Roquana to leave behind the poverty into which she was born and to make her way in the world.  Living and working at Lord Savark’s manor, and under the supervision of a man like Monsignor Gulls must open up to her possibilities of advancement far superior to any she could find in Beddleham.
    The Housekeeper’s carriage was nowhere near as flashy as that which had brought Monsignor Gulls and Madame LaTower, though flashy enough in all conscience, with its pair of winged horses that snorted, neighed and reared as it approached.  Mrs Broyn herself seemed kindly, and Roquana and her mother parted, tearfully but with their composure comparatively unimpaired.
    As we drove through the narrow streets of Beddleham the populace scurried out of our way, often heaving heavy bundles or barrows aside to make way for the carriage, and saluting it most humbly, for the people of Sunday, third planet of the system, are imbued with gratitude to the nobility who discovered and organised the settlement of this most wonderful of worlds, with its plethora of different fruits and healing herbs and an atmosphere miraculously attuned to the needs of its human colonists, and they take every opportunity to show their respect.  Roquana was now leaving the world of the common people to work directly for one of the greatest men on Sunday.  She had the honour of entering the service of Lord Savark, and, though his staff was large, might well be actually spoken to by the lord himself on occasion.  Nevertheless I felt her sadness at leaving her beloved mother, and her apprehension at moving into a new social sphere of which she had no experience.
    Then we left the city gates, crossed the fertile farmland, where labourers were working hard in the fields, and entered the dark forest.  The road led onward through the trees and Roquana, I could feel, was nervous, as well she might be.  Had we not been told over and over again, in newspapers, radio and television broadcasts and the world-wide computer network, that the forests were the domain of the savage Tohu, carnivorous apes who had already in the short time we had been on Sunday developed an abiding hatred for humans and a taste for our flesh.  According to report after report, they lay in wait in the forest, and if any farm-labourer chanced to stray to close to the boundary, or, as occasionally happened, took shelter in the trees to relieve himself, the Tohu would seize him and tear his living body apart, limb by limb, cramming his flesh into their bloody mouths, while his fellows, terrified by his screams, would flee towards the safety of the city.
    “Aren’t you afraid of the Tohu, Ma’am,” she eventually asked Mrs Broyn.
    “Bless you, no, child,” the Housekeeper replied.  Savage they may be, but they have learned to respect Lord Savark’s carriages.  We always carry a gun, and in the early days we’d travel in convoy with a score of armed men.  Many a Toho has paid for its aggression with its life, and now they keep well clear of us.  You’re quite safe in the carriage, and you’ll be quite safe at Savark Court.  There’s not a Toho would come within a mile of it.”

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