On holiday! Indeed, that being the case, I was going to have a week off. However, as a writer of comic science fiction fantasy, which is mostly just fantasy with science in, it’s difficult to come here and not be inspired.
As you know, those of you who’ve read any of my books, most of the K’Barthan action is set in Ning Dang Po, the nation’s capital city. I imagine it being a bit of a mix up. A few years before the action in my stuff begins the Grongles invaded K’Barth. In doing so they bombed large chunks of K’Barth to bits, including parts of the capital. Many of these areas are still bomb sites, while others have been developed, new shiny stainless steel and glass buildings are going up in the commercial centre.
A lot of the old warehouses, which I imagine as either medieval or Victorian stand empty, although some have new Grongle owned or Grongle sponsored businesses moving in – the Grongles have destroyed most K’Barthan trade by systematically taxing it out of existence, or they have simply appropriated K’Barthan businesses into Grongle ownership.
It doesn’t always work like that of course, there’s a point at which anyone is too rich to touch. Then there’s ‘old’ Ning Dang Po, which tends to come in a variety of architectural styles but if you’re trying to imagine it, think eighteenth century Britain back to medieval and Tudor. Imagine the shambles in York, with shades of Bath but mostly run down and then throw some of the new bits of the City of London into it all hugga-mugga.
The new shiny buildings are built by Grongle companies with Grongolian finance and are not available for the use of ‘native’ K’Barthans. Sometimes K’Barthans are full-on barred but mostly it’s just a case of K’Barthans lacking the hard cash, case in point The Planes, where Big Merv lives. Other K’Barthan buildings have been reallocated for Grongolian use only, their original K’Barthan residents evicted to make way for the many Grongle officers and their families moving in.
So now you have this kind of two tier system where the Grongles have nearly all the money the privilege and the power and the K’Barthans are their second-class servants. At the same time, the oldest parts of the city, those still standing, have aroused a strange kind of sentimental streak in the Grongles who have slapped preservation orders on the areas they consider to be ‘pure and true’ architecture, as well as completely assimilating others. One of the things about the Grongles is that they think K’Barth
and K’Barthans were once great but have now become decadent or dissolute. They are determined to reform their K’Barthan subjects, although some hard liners think K’Barthans are beyond redemption and wish to destroy them.
A place that crops up a couple of times, especially in the new series I’m writing is the Goojan quarter, where the houses are very close together, the streets narrow and where the land was, originally, far too valuable to waste on things like courtyards and gardens – these are now all on the roofs.
At the moment, I don’t really have any pictures of the kind of new, shiny, steel and glass Ning Dang Po and a lot of the other bits, think Ely in Cambridgeshire or possibly some of the back streets of Cambridge, or for the posher areas bits of Bath and Buxton. But I do have some pictures of the Goojan Quarter, or at least I have some pictures that are about as close as reality gets, now that I’ve spent a week in them! Here’s a little snippet of stuff about the area in question from Too Good to be True which will be out early next year, if I can get the cash together for editing any time before I die of old age (rolls eyes).
Excerpt from Too Good To Be True:
The Pan made his way through the twisty streets of the Goojan Quarter, they were narrow, cobbled, and at street level, dark. The ancient houses were close enough together at the bottom, but in times gone by the Goojan Quarter had been prime real estate. Most of the merchants opening businesses there could only afford a small area of such premium land and since it came at couch a premium nobody was going to waste any on wide boulevards. The streets and alleyways were wide enough to let a cart through and that was all. There was also a complicated one way system which all beings followed, even now.
Few of those early merchants could afford a home after stumping up for a plot of land in the Goojan Quarter so many lived above their shops and businesses with their families. In order to maximise the amount of living space they would build the floor above jutting out a few feet over the shop window below. As time went by they built more and more floors, each one jutting further out than the ones underneath, until the streets below became darker and darker and, at the upper levels, it was often possible to reach out of the window and shake hands with the people living in the property opposite. Because of this, the Goojan quarter was one of the few places where The Pan couldn’t really stick to the roofs, or at least not if he wanted to find anything, it was impossible to read the house numbers from above.
Luckily it didn’t matter as much as it should. The Grongles didn’t venture into the quarter often. So, much to The Pan’s relief, he only had to look out for any K’Barthans who might be following him as he moved through the streets at ground level. He wasn’t sure why the Grongles left the Goojan K’Barthans alone. It might possibly be something to do with the height of the first floors jutting out at every street corner. The properties in this part of town had been built hundreds of years previously when all the beings using them were universally smaller and shorter. Even The Pan had to duck sometimes and he was a lot less tall than the average Grongle. He could imagine an unwary might smack his head on every single building.
Yeh, perhaps that was the reason.
On the other hand, The Pan reflected, it might just as easily have been the smell that kept the Grongles away. Goojans used spice, they used spices in ways that even Hamgeeans hadn’t thought of. A visit to the Goojan Quarter was always an aromatic assault. It made The Pan feel hungry, but since many Grongles preferred plain boring food, they probably had a different reaction. Grongles were much like the inhabitants of Ning Dang-Po in that respect.
The mixture of strange and exotic perfumes in the air was particularly strong in the heat; spices, cooking food, aromatic teas and herbs, plus the odd whiff of drains. It was even strong enough to cover the aroma of the spiced sausage in The Pan’s bag. Or at least, if anyone noticed the smell as he passed, they made no sign.
At last he found the place, he checked the address on the card in his hand one more time and knocked on the door.
Silence. Maybe Goldy McSpim was out. No, The Pan had rung the number on the card and asked him for a valuation of goods, hopefully that was vague enough not to bother the Grongles listening in. He checked behind him again, just in case, but he knew, categorically, that he wasn’t being followed. Not at the moment. Then again, The Pan supposed, if he was checking for anyone tracking his movements. Maybe Goldy McSpim was doing the same, for himself. Finally a window opened far above him.
‘Just on my way down!’ called a voice.
‘Right,’ said The Pan. Presumably that was the man, or at least the Spiffle, himself. The Pan slipped the card into his pocket and waited.
At last the sound of bolts being drawn back came from behind the door. Clearly Goldy McSpim was careful about security as there appeared to be about ten bolts. After that The Pan listened to a lot more unlocking sounds and the door finally swung open. It was opened by two ferocious looking Blurpons, creatures related to Spiffles in that they are short and furry but in all other ways about as different as it is possible to be. Blurpons have red fur, as opposed to the orange fur of Spiffles, and are known for their unsurpassed skill at laundering and a tendency to psychotic violence and ease of offence. They have one leg but The Pan knew, from experience, that this wouldn’t present them with a problem if they decided to get antsy. These were Goldy’s bodyguards. They had to be; employed on account of their violent streak rather than their laundering abilities.
‘Ah gentlemen, thank you,’ said a voice from inside. ‘Do let the young man in.’
The Pan was ushered into the coolness of the interior where he listened to the sounds of the many bolts and locks being re-secured behind him. It suddenly occurred to him that if Goldy wanted to steal the sausage and send him on his way with a flea in his ear, it wasn’t going to be difficult. Oh dear had he walked into a trap? Idiot, he should have left half the sausage in the SE2.
Goldy was wearing a beret, which was surprisingly understated for a spiffle, it was only when he smiled that The Pan realised why his hat was so restrained. He supposed the traditional Spiffle love of decoration had to come out somewhere but his teeth? The Pan speculated to himself that Goldy’s nickname was probably something to do with the entirely gold contents of his mouth. Not only were his teeth gold but they were studded with precious gems cut cabochon style; emeralds, rubies and the odd diamond. The Pan realised his own mouth had dropped open and closed it quickly.
‘If I should ever need to leave here in a hurry, the sausage will not travel,’ Goldy explained, ‘this way,’ he flashed The Pan a blinding smile, ‘I will always have some assets with me.’
‘Won’t people notice?’
‘Not if I do not smile,’ said Goldy. ‘Now. Come, come,’ he said and headed off down four stairs at the back of the shop and through a large metal safe door into a back room.
The Pan followed, slightly nervously because if there was any trouble, the only way out was past the Blurpons and he didn’t fancy his chances. Goldy took his place on a tall stool behind a table spread with a crisp white damask cloth. In front of the table was a battered antique dining chair with arms and an open back, the seat upholstered in worn leather.
‘How is Mrs McSpim?’ asked The Pan politely.
‘She is very well, yes, yes.’
‘Please thank her and send her my best wishes.’
‘Ah I think you should wait until I have valued the goods before you thank either of us yes?’
The Pan’s eyes were drawn to the blinding whiteness of the tablecloth. Maybe the two Blurpons did the laundry as well as the bodyguard duties. Yes, of course they did, and come to think of it, there’d be more than two, they would be part of a team and someone would always be on duty, round the clock.
The Pan turned in a circle, examining the rest of his surroundings. Ranged along all four walls of the room were glass fronted shelves. Airtight and climate controlled they were divided into square units like some huge safety deposit area. Well, yes, The Pan supposed, it probably was, he cast another quick glance at the foot thick metal door. He was clearly inside a giant safe.
One of the Blurpons had flicked a light switch and a dim glow illuminated all the boxes. There were a few empty ones, but most contained sausage, some contained two.
‘This is …’ what to call it? ‘Impressive,’ said The Pan. ‘Are these sausages all yours?’
‘Oh no! But as you know a good sausage is expensive! It needs to be kept securely. A bank vault is not good for that purpose, the air is stale. No-no-no, a sausage is a living thing, starve it of the correct temperature or humidity and it will pine away and die, the balance of spices will soon fall off, mould will grow,’ he shuddered, clearly that would be bad. ‘These storage units are state of the art. For a small fee you can keep your family heirlooms here and my assistants will deliver slices of your precious treat to your door, as and when you require.’
‘Yes, yes! Some of these sausages have been in the same families for centuries. Our climate controlled storage keeps them at the optimum temperature for years of enjoyment. And we are fully insured, of course, so it is more cost effective, as well as safer, to keep them here than at home.’
‘Yes, I can imagine,’ said The Pan.
‘The service is very competitively priced, if you are interested.’
‘I— well, I suspect I will be selling.’
‘You have debts huh?’
‘Something like that.’
Goldy stared at The Pan, a long hard stare, he had the same look of shewed intelligence as his wife and was clearly missing nothing. He nodded slowly.
The Pan did as he was told, seating himself in the chair and placing the bag with the sausage inside on his lap.
‘Do these all belong to actual beings?’ he asked looking at the shelves around him.
‘You are wondering how there can be so many rich people in the world I would guess. Some are,’ Goldy paused for thought, ‘how would you say it? Unclaimed, they belong to the blacklisted, or the mislaid. They will have family, descendants. One day, I will find them, or they will find me.’
He smiled almost blinding The Pan with another flash of his bejewelled teeth despite the ambient dimness of the lighting.
‘And the others?’
Goldy gave The Pan a long, hard look.
‘The richest few percent of the population have ways of surviving anything. Very little changes for them, no matter who is in charge or what is happeing to the rest of us. It is all a game to them. Now. You have a sausage to show me.’ He held out his paw and wiggled it in the type of beckoning gesture that is the universal sign language for gimme-gimme the world over