issue 33: november - december 2002 

 | author bio

Mayor Rudloe

Mayor Rudloe:
Often mistaken for a sane man.
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The Velocity Gospel, from which this chapter is taken, is book two of the author's Accomplice series.  For a brief introduction to the town of Accomplice and its wacky inhabitants, see TBR's review of book one, Only an Alligator.  Or forgo that, jump on in, and enjoy the madness...

an excerpt from
Steve Aylett

Chapter 1


A story is ready when it falls out of your face

A massive hot ruby hung steaming in space a country mile beneath Accomplice. Its heart a turning red rind, it added colour to the skull-studded extravaganza of air pain and spinelight in that neck of the world. Lounging in a veined halfshell, a white mantid ghoul with complicated mouthparts had a famous time distributing nightmares and inconvenience through a network of thick coaxial nerve cables. Sweeney’s egg eyes and huge blown head like the skull of a whale - this was the first face a fool would see after getting his arse caught in the drum of a player piano.
      Branched glimpses of electricity banged across the walls and floor of the titanic cavern. ‘Night is never terminal,’ Sweeney sighed, turning his attention to the boulder-sized gemstone. ‘Where is the man Barny Juno?’
      ‘He is among a crowd of people.’
      ‘What’s he doing?’
      ‘He searches for a snake ...’

      The old blood clock counterweighted into motion and two mechanical knights propelled onto a narrow platform. As the blue and yellow figures clashed swords, Mayor Rudloe stepped onto the balcony above and regarded the broth of humanity which had gathered in the sun-white town square. Most of them were staring up at the palace like gooney-birds. The Mayor ballooned out, speaking. ‘I have asked you to infest this square in order to impart warning of a dire threat to our community. I’ve been passing myself off as the big authority round here for years. You granted me that honour at breakneck speed, all almond-eyed and eager. You turn in unison like pinstripe fish and I bless you for it. Maintaining m’stranglehold here’s the only exercise my brachioradial muscles ever get. Boy, is it ever sweet. But as Accomplice’s single organ of government and frankly the only man with any ideas around here, I must talk to you regarding certain bastards who would defame our imploded society. They call themselves the Followers of Cyril. A ravening rabble lacking the gratitude which most of us take for granted, they are workshy and pensive - and probably, if they’ve got any sense, armed to the teeth. Strictly speaking this is baseless but I love it. Revolution - how the cured thing dooms the rest of us. They’re playing merry hell with everything and this half-arsed development couldn’t have come at a better time. There’s a red deficit - isn’t it a pity? The mechanised knights below, ever toiling in their faithful service, require an extra bloody tribute to keep them clashing. I wept lard this morning as I thought of how vexing and costly it will be for you. Then I carved the lard into the shape of a raven. So you see how I put you people first? Nothing is wasted. I save on expense by shrugging with only one shoulder. Get a loada this - heyup.’
      Down among the socket-faced masses Barny Juno and the gangling Plantin Edge were discussing corpse praline and radio cartoons in an absent sort of way. Barny looked moon-faced and wondering through the crowd and occasionally crouched amid their shuffling legs. Plantin Edge was wearing a sheet and eating popcorn in the Accomplice heat. ‘So you went to the Garden with Madge yesterday Bubba?’
      Barny looked uncomfortable. ‘I had to borrow a book from someone. I’ve been boning up on moths. I reckon the one I ate was a geometrid. Maybe Fang could find a replacement for me - he’s a bug man.’
      ‘He’s a bog man. And you borrowed a book eh? I get it. From that little fringed musette at the Juice Museum.’
      Barny sighed dismally. ‘We pranced weak with joy through some of the big flowers they’ve got round there. She’s ... limber. Bendy. Fang says I’ve only got one tongue and I might as well use it.’
      ‘So what’s the problem?’
      ‘Magenta Blaze. She’s convinced I’m an interesting man and won’t let go of my leg.’
      ‘You’re sure you want Chloe Low at the Juice?’
      ‘I agree with all of her heart, Edgy. I can’t explain it.’
      Edgy crammed popcorn and thought. ‘Get around to Beltane Carom. He’ll give you some arcane and surefire method of dumping the Blaze.’
      ‘At least he’s not one those gurus who thinks he’s funny. They’re the pits.’
      ‘Yeah, and everyone’s too respectful to tell them? No, he’s a shaman, Bubba, a master. He’s giving me some advice about Amy. You know she wants me to help her publish that terrible poetry of hers, like I’ve got any influence on old Crash Test Nureyev over the publishers? The wand jockey listened to the problem and set me straight. His nose was pullulating the whole time.’
      ‘So what did he say?’
      Edgy frowned in recollection. ‘The object of many dimensions is to make all things ignorable by a simple manoeuvre.’
      ‘What does that mean? Is this stupid sheet part of it?’
      ‘No, I was halfway through a haunting at the motel when I heard about this little shindig. Well I had to come along Bubba. You remember last time? That massive galvanised tin head eating the populace? The bite radius on the thing, boy oh boy. For all his faults the Mayor knows how to put on a show.’
      ‘Why’s he going on about his shoulder?’ Barny muttered, preoccupied with peering amid the crowd.
      ‘Could it be otherwise? Misdirection, Bubba. Look at him. Too sure to look shifty. Unencumbered by memory of his mistakes, the man’s cheeks are completely out of control.’
      Barny glanced up. ‘His bones are coming through his mouth.’
      ‘Those are his teeth. They live to serve him.’
      ‘I don’t understand what he’s talking about.’
      ‘You’re not supposed to. What did old Bingo Violaine say? Deflate a gasbag at your peril.’
      ‘Right now I’m just worried about Misses Kennedy. This is no place for a puff adder, Edgy. Really big vipers need shelter and care. She’s excited now but she’ll get anxious later. I caught her tanning in the sandwich maker and she must have thought I was angry and ran away. Put a centre parting in the lawn by the roundabout. Maybe she’s nervous about the contest. She’s around here somewhere, maybe under some cycads.’
      ‘She’ll be fine. Hey Barny, can I go hang with the leopard with you? I think I could handle it, you know, if he took a swipe at me with his paw.’
      ‘Well Edgy, treat him with respect. His ears might be velvet but he has mood swings that’ll make your chin stand on end.’
      ‘You’re the best friend the winged and stepping animals of the earth could have, Bubba, but you should chill out. Take some popcorn. It always reminds me of little skulls or something.’
      ‘You know if they were real and had some meat on them, they might tempt Misses Kennedy. Are you sure it’s just popcorn?’
      Edgy sifted through the carton. ‘It’s a needle in a haystack.’ He emptied the carton onto the ground. ‘There - if there’s a skull we know who’ll find it eh? Lateral thinking.’
      ‘I never would have thought of that,’ Barny nodded in frank admiration. Edgy had a sharp mind in that tall, tufted head of his.
      Barny squatted amid the forest of legs and squeaked a beckoning call to the serpent.
      ‘Hey, you know who I can see, Bubba?’ Edgy called down to him, and squinted over the assembly. A keg-shaped man with a head like a potato stared up at the mayoral palace in rapt attention. ‘It’s Gregor. Yeah he’s right at the front of the crowd. It looks like he’s really into it. Hey, Round One!’
      The cry registered dimly on the Mayor’s consciousness and, thinking it referred to him, he discarded it. ‘We have yet to see the Followers of Cyril in the full bloom of atrocity,’ he was saying. ‘I don’t pretend to understand their contempt. I’ll not deceive you, I regard new systems of humour with suspicion.
      Accomplice is a community unto itself. Be vigilant. At a time of social emergency it’s crucial to abstain from riots as irksome to me as their necessity is to you. It is written here in our Constitution’ - and the Mayor dabbled his fingers in a tray of water - ‘that money’s an opinion we daren’t lose. However, the good news is, I can help you. First I declare a state of constant readiness. I will decide in due course that the levy must be increased to counter the baleful crisis. At that time I will set upon a policy greatly at odds with your wellbeing, squashing your faces as though against a rippled pane of glass. This will be followed by a root and branch review, a clamour of ear-grinding excuses and, finally, the really back-breaking work of denying everything. One or two timid witnesses will drift down a river and deal out into the sea. Then I’ll give a big horselaugh. We haven’t a moment to lose. I foresee a land positively blistering with safety. One of green television fields and beaches shut with tides. Pearls barricade the advancement steps, cranks watch summer from the porch. Working hands down, you shroud the dying in laughter. Exhaustions brow the night. Rejoice. These lofty notions are food and drink to you aimless wonders. You’re supported, you’re safe, you’re happy -’
      ‘You’re okay!’ yelled Barny, raising the venomous adder above the crowd. The assembly exploded outward like the primal bang. Screams wheeled and intersected as hundreds legged it and Edgy’s sheet was torn away in the commotion.
      Before the Mayor was fully aware of events, he was gazing down at an almost deserted town square. Only three people remained - the man with the deadly viper, a naked man who stood like a used match, and a spudlike creature who stared silently up with a look of gluey need. This last one, the Mayor realised with alarm, was playing pocket billiards. The other two seemed to understand this at the same moment and, rushing forward, bundled the round man away.
      The clock knights, swords locked in silence, finally disengaged and swerved backwards, doors of red gold flipping closed upon them.


Sweeney: Pure Bastard
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      ‘Business as usual above,’ Sweeney ruminated, turning from the Ruby. ‘But see how Juno and the scarecrow ran to the aid of their piglike friend, the creature they call the Round One. A weak link?’
      ‘Juno’s kept aloft and unreachable,’ said Dietrich the Hammer, entering the cavern astride a scuttling legal cadaver, ‘on the thermals of his own ignorance.’ He drew to a stop, all membrane wings and stained armour.
      Sweeney clacked his shoehorn tongue. ‘I’ve a mind to send Skittermite above.’
      Dietrich twitched his tomahawk head to peer at the emperor grub. ‘Kermit?’ he spat.
      ‘He’s been punching above his weight for a while now. Not still stuck in that pipe I suppose?’
      ‘Exactly. If he hadn’t the wherewithal to avoid the simplest drain, how could he navigate Accomplice? It’s chaotic beyond endurance up there - because those bastards are completely covered in skin they think they can deny their insides.’
      The sheer architectural extravagance of demonic biology was mostly open to inspection, infernodyne veins and pulsing bile yolk fully visible through wide-flung ribs.
      ‘You want to go back, after Juno’s sucker-punch?’ Sweeney leered like a burning snowman. ‘One of the best tunes and you’ve changed it. You didn’t used to think he was worth the candle. Pegged him as a simpleton.’
      ‘So he is - a man "simple and true", like the prophecy of your downfall, Your Majesty.’
      ‘Please don’t complicate such a simple matter. Fetch the imp.’
      Skittermite was tossing shoes into the smelter when Dietrich came for him. Victim blood still draining from his gills, he scurried after the bigger fiend like a charbroiled monkey, all pickbones and shoulderblades. From his wedge-shaped head projected two thin prongs, useful only for toasting mallows.
      Sweeney turned as they entered. Magnesium glares lit the heatblasted cowling of his skull. ‘Pay close attention, flydart.’
      Skittermite deployed his ears, flapping them like sparrow wings. Dietrich stood by with a twitching face.
      ‘You and your telescopic canines are going above to Accomplice. Barny Juno needs aggravating unto death. He’s hex-protected so nix on the nailwork, we need to operate through the social grind. Luckily there’s a political push on the go and mugs will be out in force. Concentrate on the man with the body of a potato, this barrel being they call the Round One. He’s got a medical bracelet that says "Just throw me away". I believe he’s the vulnerable point in Juno’s entourage. So get some scars, prove you’re not too new for the job. Need any of these?’ Sweeney indicated a wall of human faces which he called his ‘personality pelts’.
      ‘Please no your Majesty thank you,’ Skittermite sibilated.
      ‘Good, well, left and right, space is limitless - manipulation therefore is limitless. Dietrich here seems to think they dislike being tackled by the legs - you might try that.’
      ‘Thank you. By your command.’ Skittermite dipped his wedge-shaped head.
      ‘Off you go then.’
      Skittermite darted up a slope as though launched from a spring-winder, chittering his joy.
      Dietrich sullenly picked the eye from his mount - it squirmed in his hand like a fizzing Tylenol. As a paravamp demon his own eyes registered all one-and-a-half thousand shades of black but he could not understand the worth of Accomplice.
      ‘You’ve been grinding your head about the place,’ stated Sweeney, ‘since Gettysburg went renegade. You misplace blame. Getty was a good seed, that’s all.’
      Dietrich looked at the ivory king insect in wonder. It was rare for Sweeney to mention the defector’s name. The demon Gettysburg had started his conscientious objecting covertly by inventing the rule that to be invoked, his name must be repeated 86,400 times. Most people got bored or fell asleep before hitting the number and this gave him years to kick back and hang in the fiery deeps. The invocation procedure was clearly useless in an emergency and Sweeney queried it, but Gettysburg insisted that it was sly and evil since it led to people using his name casually and without regard. He claimed that the unsuspecting would one day cumulatively hit the magic number and find themselves confronted by the mirror-eyed shrike. His excuses for mellow behaviour became lamer by the decade. Finally he went out for cigarettes and never returned.
      ‘I’ve walked the floors of oceans,’ Dietrich explained, ‘and passed finer society.’
      ‘Look closer. I’ve known their world, leather to feathers. I even witnessed the grim, fateful appearance of the first herb. Mankind mines a stratum of the obvious so thick it occupies their lifetime. And more good news - every inch of flesh is carvable.’

Dietrich Hammerwire

Dietrich Hammerwire
click  image to see card

The Mayor walked in off the balcony and picked among the floor lobsters toward his darkwood desk. These large armoured roaches, physical evidence of spiritual corruption, had monopolised the floor space since the cleaner died. Rudloe kicked one gingerly and it curled up like an ammonite. It also resembled, the Mayor reflected vaguely, a cat which was quite at home. ‘I expected more merriment,’ he said, sitting down.
      ‘Well sir, pocket billiards,’ remarked the lawyer Max Gaffer. ‘What could be more merry.’
      ‘I looked away for a split second and the populace was reduced to a child-faced moron with a venomous snake, a rather gormless, uninspired flasher and a round man utterly absorbed with his own balls. Everyone else had done a runner.’
      ‘In record time.’
      ‘That’s no consolation, I’m afraid. Who was the one with the death-adder? Have I met him?’
      ‘Barny Juno. He’s the guy who held a funeral for a lizard and dropped his trousers during the eulogy. Came in here dressed as an ape. Flies around on a swan.’
      ‘This is all one man?’
      ‘He’s a notorious mooncalf, Mayor. A spooky simpleton. Doesn’t know enough to stop. Irritates everyone, up to and including our lord the devil himself.’
      ‘You seen him on the swan?’
      ‘Swans are very graceful.’
      ‘So that’s a no. Wait a second, this the guy I demonised a while back? Well there’s your proof, Max. Inventing a nebulous enemy’s the rage. We’ll never have Cyril barging in here in a monkey suit, the bastard doesn’t exist.’
      ‘Outstanding, sir.’ The lawyer, whose yellow eyes and fishbone hairstyle unnerved the living, conceded that the Cyril mirage was a sound tactic. The Mayor had been in a weakened position since going out on a limb with his ‘I am a Beautiful Woman’ campaign. Almost everyone agreed he had overstepped the mark, and those who had expressed hearty support became abashed and furtive. The new trap was spare and inexpensive. ‘Just keep ‘em blaming.’
      ‘Well, I’ve planted the seed. Get old Turbot to write us another speech, turning up the heat. Behind thick manoeuvres I’ll reduce my efforts. The scrap cost can be disregarded. The promises? Forgot into our pockets again. As Violaine said, timing is the knowledge that society may have been more ready in the past than in the present. Even the waking collective attributes tyranny to the assigned villain.’
      The Mayor struck a match on the armour of a passing bug and lit a cigar. The big wheel always came around.

© 2002 Steve Aylett (text and art)

This electronic version of  "Never Talk to Strangers" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author.  It is an excerpt from The Velocity Gospel, published by Gollancz, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, 2002. Book ordering available through amazon.comamazon.co.uk

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

Steve Aylettauthor bio

Steve Aylett was born in 1967. He is the author of The Crime Studio, Bigot Hall, Slaughtermatic, Toxicology,The Inflatable Volunteer, Atom and Shamanspace. His most recent work is the Accomplice series:  Only an Alligator, The Velocity Gospel, and Dummyland; book four, Karloff's Circus, is due out in 2003. He is published in Britain by Orion, in America by Four Walls Eight Windows and in Spain by Grijalbo Mondadori. 

For more of Steve Aylett, see The Waffle Code and Atom and Drowner from TBR's back issues.  See also:   The Siri Gun at RevolutionSF  And be sure to check out his website at www.steveaylett.com . For everything you need to know about the town of Accomplice, plus clues to understanding the books, go to Accomplice.info

photo: Deirdre O'Callahan


 tbr 33           november - december  2002

Short Fiction

Adam Johnson:Trauma Plate
Pedro de Jesús:The Letter
Steve Aylett: Never Talk to Strangers
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Deirdre Heddon:Still Life
Mark Anthony Jarman:Cougar


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