Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013
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Index to Roquana
Book III: New Jackrusselham
Chapter 8: City of the Apostle
Even from the outside New Jackrusselham seemed noisy to Roquana. Many
of the farm-workers had personal music players, and, while these were
common in Beddleham, there was there a generally accepted practice of
using headphones to listen, so that only those near at hand were
disturbed by tinny buzzing. In New Jackrusselham there seemed no
conception that other people might be inconvenienced, and no idea that
mutual consideration might be beneficial. Loudspeakers clipped to
belts, jackets or shirts were universally popular, each turned up as
loud as possible to drown out the rival music of people nearby.
It seemed bad enough outside. Once through the city gates Roquana found
her ears assailed by a hideous cacophony.
First came the building sites where housing was
expanding into the newly annexed areas of former farmland, and here
every builder had his personal player pumping out his favourite
songs. Just occasionally all the workers on one site had agreed,
either by majority vote or through the dominance of one bossy
individual to listen to only one player, so that it was briefly
possible to identify a single tune.
Beyond the building sites the narrow streets, all
flanked by tenement buildings, were crowded with shacks and shanties,
hovels, stalls, tents and makeshift shelters, leaving only a narrow
roadway between, just about wide enough for one of the extravagant
carriages affected by the lords and monsignors, though even there there
were occasional blockages, temporary stalls or barrows or just wares
spread out for sale on the ground.
Crowds pushed and jostled through the narrow spaces,
each man, woman, boy, girl or little child equipped with a music
player, all competing with different favourite tunes. Roquana
found it all very unpleasant, and even I, though my work had often
taken me into the plebeian areas of New Jackrusselham and I was
therefore to some extent accustomed to the din, could never be entirely
inured to it, for the salubrious south-western slopes, where the
governing classes and their functionaries live, is very different from
the proletarian cacophony endured by the ordinary settlers.
Occasionally we saw a gang of hoypyu swaggering
along the streets, all their personal players pumping out the same
tune, the gang’s anthem or identifying music, but as, for the
most part, they were never quite able to synchronise their players
exactly, this merely introduced yet another element of dissonance into
the general melee: several versions of the same tune that were just
slightly out of time with each other, inducing thereby a feeling akin
At one point two gangs clashed in a brief scuffle,
then the smaller group fled, splitting up and disappearing through the
narrow alleyways among the shacks and stalls – all except for one
unfortunate who was seized by the victorious gang, deprived of his
music player, then stripped of his trousers by his whooping and jeering
assailants. The victors then stormed off in triumph, waving their
trophy, while the embarassed victim slunk away in confusion.
So crowded were the streets that it was not until we
emerged in the
cathedral square that we could see at all the magnificent Pantheon, the
great cathedral of the city of New Jackrusselham. Here are
worshipped all the gods of the Commonwealth, but, as is fitting, the
cathedral itself is dedicated to the Lord Grommet, the dog-headed god,
who descended from the heavens long ago, when humanity was confined to
its long-lost and ever lamented home planet, and taught the first
farmers the art of making cheese.
Though never entirely forgotten, the Lord Grommet
might have been lost
among the pantheon of lesser gods were it not for his apostle, Saint
Jack Russell, after whom our capital city is named. This man, the
greatest of all the saints, and one who is never portrayed except
accompanied by a dog, opened his gospel, as everyone knows, with the
words: “Thus saith the Lord Grommet, Blessed are the
Cheesemakers”, and so, above the main portals of the Pantheon are
inscribed those very words: BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS.
Roquana had never seen the Pantheon except on
television. At the
inauguration of President Bananas the great square had been seen
cleared of all the shacks, shanties and shelters that clustered now
across the centre and even up the magnificent flight of marble steps
that led up to the main entrance. Even surrounded by squalor and
cacophony it was a magnificent sight that could not fail to impress, so
she and Tommuz stopped in the middle of the square and gazed up at its
great dome, its towers and spires, and the high bell-tower where hung
the colossal bronze bells that called the people of the city to prayer.
While Roquana and her companions were staring at the
marble edifice a
sudden commotion broke out close at hand. A woman had fallen
heavily, tripped by a couple of hoypyu girls, her shopping lay
scattered on the ground, and while she lumbered to her feet the girls
and their accomplices scooped it up and made off into the maze of
passages between the stalls. The woman lamented loudly and others
clustered around her, commiserating and heaping imprecations on the
heads of the young thieves, though one fat cow-like creature, I
noticed, did not scruple to pick up a packet the girls had missed and
slip it quietly into her own bag, while all the time yammering that it
was a disgrace to treat a poor woman like that and the authorities
ought to do something about it.
Nearby there was a group of people carrying
rucksacks and cases, people
who had obviously just arrived on the latest spaceflight, been bussed
to the city, and now were feeling rather lost in all the clamour and
bustle. One young man and a girl who was probably his newly
married bride stood gazing up at the sparkling domes and spires, when a
couple of hoypyu suddenly charged into them, knocked them off balance,
ripped the girl’s handbag out of her grasp and took off across
the square. Without thinking the young man shot after them, and
instantly the rest of the gang surrounded the girl and hustled her off
among the shanties while their girls seized the couple’s luggage
and dragged it away.
Hearing his wife’s screams the young man
abandoned his pursuit of
the handbag thieves and scrambled after her abductors, only to be
challenged by another two lads from the gang who wrestled him to the
ground and held him there while more of the girls began stripping off
“I’ll buy his shoes,” lowed the
fat bag who had
snaffled the package lost by the recently robbed housewife.
“They’d just fit my Olbirt.”
One of the girls accepted and handed over the shoes
in return for cash,
while the other stripped off the young man’s coat and trousers.
Then, suddenly, the bronze doors of the Pantheon
crypt swung open with
a heavy crash and the crowds surged back and away as a team of eunuchs
charged out swinging truncheons. Two of them helped the
half-naked young man to his feet and led him way into the crypt.
Then the truncheon-swinging thugs retreated and the doors swung shut
behind them, as murmurs of outrage rose from the crowd.
Roquana clung to Tommuz, quite shocked by the bustle
and the casual
crimes that no-one seemed to think at all out of the ordinary.
“We should move on,” muttered one of the
“It’s not safe to hang around too long,” but, just as
they began to move towards the edge of the square, there came the boom
of a gong, the bronze doors opened again, and the crowd surged towards
them. Roquana and Tommuz clung to each other to avoid being
separated and were swept into the crypt, where they stood among the
crowd facing a brightly lit platform.
The young man who had been attacked was led in by
blinking vaguely and looking as if he neither knew nor cared much where
he was and had no idea that he was naked. He was obviously
The eunuchs helped him to lie down on a bed, then
one began to murmur
into his ear, causing him to giggle in delight.
“I’m going to give you an electric
shock,” said the
eunuch, and did so.
The young man’s body jerked in spasmodic pain.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
said the eunuch, and
the young man agreed.
“Yes,” said the young man.
the eunuch corrected him.
“Please,” the young man begged, and
again his body was
convulsed by an electric shock that would normally have had him
screaming with pain, but the drug – and it must have been
roquanine – transformed the experience into one of pure delight.
Over and over again the eunuch hurt the boy:
electric shocks, punches,
scratches with the point of a knife, nips and twists to various parts
of his body – and each time the victim begged for more.
Then, after this had been going on for some time,
the eunuch said to
the young man “Now I’m going to give you the most wonderful
experience of your whole life. I’m going to take this
knife, and, instead of just scratching you, I’m going to cut your
balls off. I can only do it if you want me to, you have to
ask. Do you want me to castrate you?”
“Yes, yes,” the young man sobbed in a
kind of ecstasy.
“Are you sure?” the eunuch demanded.
“Yes … yes please.”
The eunuch brought the knife down to the young
man’s groin and
took hold of his testicles.
“Shall I cut them?”
“Yes, yes!” sobbed the young man, and
with a sudden quick
movement the eunuch castrated him.
He held up the severed scrotum
“Another member is initiated into the Guild of
said. “The ceremony is over. Go!”
The bronze doors opened and the crowd shambled out,
muttering that such
things should not be allowed.
“That poor young man,” sobbed Roquana,
“He will be
distraught when the drug wears off – and his poor wife.
What will become of her?”
The Voice could have told her, but I chose to keep
girl would already have been raped by several of the hoypyu and might
have no other possible recourse than to join the gang and become a
thief and a casual sex-partner for any of the boys who wanted
her. As for the boy, he would awake hating the eunuchs and hating
the world in general, but after the Guild had worked on him,
brainwashed him, taught him the lore of their cult, his whole being
would be focussed on hatred of all whole men and his greatest desire
would be to serve the Guild by capturing further unwilling recruits.
Sunday, with its reputation for an ethos of purity,
cleanliness, attracted nice, innocent immigrants looking for a world
where they could live in safety – and all too often they found
themselves thrown into the maelstrom of underclass life in New
Jackrusselham, conned out of their money by rapacious stall-holders,
robbed by gangs of professional beggars, victimised by the hoypyu,
cheated by apparently honest citizens seeming to come to their help,
and, in extreme cases, forcibly recruited into hoypyu gangs or the
Guild of Eunuchs. I had, of course, heard of such things, though
they tended not to make it onto the daily newscasts lest the reputation
of our wonderful pioneering planet be sullied in the eyes of the rest
of the Commonwealth, but it was not until I had seen New Jackrusselham
through the eyes of Roquana that I had realised just how bad matters
Roquana and Tommuz, still clutching each other
firmly by the hand as
they looked for their Tohu companions, drifted round to the main steps
of the Pantheon, where they were assailed by a mob of blind and
“I have nothing,” said Roquana,
would give you money if I had any, but I haven’t.”
Still they clamoured for alms, till it became
apparent that none were
forthcoming, then they turned away to surround someone else.
Roquana and Tommuz drifted on, past the steps and round the Pantheon to
the other side of the square. It was deserted. A wide empty
space patrolled by guards separated the Pantheon from a set of black
railings topped with gold spikes, and beyond them stretched a broad
square with handsome buildings.
“Look!” said Roquana.
She set off across the deserted piazza, but was
stopped by a guard.
“No plebs this side of the Pantheon!” he
“Oh, please,” said Roquana.
“Could you tell me
if it’s possible to make an appointment to see the
“What would a pleb like you want with the
“It’s private. I’ve got
information that might
“Too bad. Plebs never get beyond them
railings, not unless
the Inquisition comes for ’em – and I don’t like to
think of a pretty girl like you falling into the hands of the
Inquisition. Course you could come into our barracks over
there. We might let you look through the window into the
Government Quarter for a little kiss or two.”
“Leave her alone!” Tommuz burst out.
“Oooh!” the guard mocked.
“Is this little boy
with you, miss? You
don’t want to waste your time with a
little cissy like him. Government Guards are real men. We
can give you a proper good time, we can.” – and he laughed
as Roquana and Tommuz hurried away.
“I can’t see how we can ever get to the
“I will try to arrange something,” I
“Find your friends and wait by the steps of the Pantheon every
day at noon. If I can arrange it, a car will come and pick you
up. Not one of those extravagant carriages, no dragons, no winged
horses, no hippogriffs or centaurs, just a plain grey car such as a
shop-keeper might have. It will be driven by an old man.
You may recognise him. If I can’t arrange it I’ll
come back to you.”
I left her then, returned to my office in the Palace
Inquisition, regained my own body, ate and drank a proper meal for the
first time in many days, and then contacted the President’s
secretary. Plebs might not have access to Government officials,
but no-one, not even the President herself, would refuse to meet a
member of the Holy Inquisition.
The following day, at noon, a nondescript grey car
drew up at the
bottom of the Pantheon steps, and Roquana moved towards it. The
Tohu warned her to be careful, and Tommuz kept tight hold of her hand.
“Get in, my dears,” said the old man who
“You!” said Roquana as she recognised
the muddled old
codger she had last seen in Beddleham when she had helped him gather
his meagre possessions after his fall.
She and Tommuz got into the rear seat, the car moved
quietly across the
deserted half of the square, and, at its approach, a pair of gates
swung open to admit it to the Government Quarter.
Please remember that this story is
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