Kaleem felt sick as he watched the continuing news. Had he woken up in a different world? This was a major event. Yet it was a droid presenter speaking quite calmly as if nothing in particular had happened. Surely something like this merited a news override and a human presenter. Could this be just a bad dream?
Why had this happened? How had it all changed in just a matter of hours? This position was really unheard of. How could it all work now with 48% of the people wanting to leave the One World Community and only 52% wanting to stay? Nearly half of the people would be extremely, unhappy wouldn't they? Why were they unhappy?
Or could this be a trick? Was it some sort of extended cyber-attack?
He'd better get in touch with Rozia. She would be worried as well. He called her up on the dataserve but nothing happened. The machine searched for a long time until at last it uttered "Addressee not found." What the heck? What was it talking about? This must just be a malfunction, surely?
He had to find out.
Immediately he called up the Executive Palace. He was normally allowed an open link with a secure connection but this time he was waiting and waiting just as he had been with Rozia. At last, though, a robotic voice answered "All of our portals are occupied. Please try later." So, there was some worry then? The executives were probably having some heated discussions right now. Using the droid presenters was just a ploy to keep everyone calm? Suddenly he longed for Terrestra where in a situation like this he would be summoned to the Citadel of Elders even before he'd realised there was a problem.
The dataserve buzzed. His father's face appeared on the screen. "Do you know what's going on?" asked Nazaret.
Kaleem shook his head. "I can't get through to anyone. I'm worried about Rozia."
“Petri’s been very sick again. And Rozia was terrified about the way the referendum went. She’s not responding to my calls. Something’s happened.”
"Shall we go over to her place? I'll meet you there if you like."
That would be good. His mother and father lived a little nearer to Rozia. They could be there in minutes.
"What about Mum?"
"We might get her to wait in. In case Rozia and Petri had been on their way over to us.”
Kaleem nodded. Yes, it would be a good idea.
He finished the conversation and got ready to go out.
The streets were crowded. It was difficult to move. People had gathered on the corners and were talking excitedly. The cafés and bars were full. It was clear that personal communicators weren't working properly. The few people still trying to use them were giving up in frustration after a few seconds. Kaleem had not seen anything like this for a long time. This was usually a sign of major news breaking and the networks being overloaded. Something really big was going on. And it had never been quite this bad before.
He wanted to get to Rozia's apartment as quickly as possible but he couldn't resist going into a crowded news café. There were so many people there he couldn't see the screen properly.
"Anything new?" he asked the tall man standing next to him.
"Currency's dipping. The inter-planetary exchanges have gone mad. Our imports will cost."
Kaleem pushed forward so he could see the screen. The charts showed the full horror story. Of course after major news like this it was bound to happen. "Nothing about why the vote came out as it did?"
The man shook his head. "I can't work it out either. There must be some very unhappy people around. Nobody saw that one coming. Well, I didn't."
Kaleem nodded his agreement. He couldn't think of a single person he knew who would have voted to leave the One World Community. Looking around this room now you had to assume that just under half of the people here wanted out. Was it that old man over there with the crooked back? Or that young woman holding a baby in a kangaroo carrier? Or even the teenager there who looked as if he may have voted for the first time this week? It was impossible to tell.
Well, he hadn't really found out anything new except that it was bad. He needed to get on now. He made his way out of the café and started jogging towards where Rozia lived. He really had to find her. If this was scaring him, just how might it be scaring her?
He ought not to arrive empty-handed, though. Was Nazaret already there and had he thought up an excuse for popping by? They ought to make it look like a visit to someone who had been ill and was now on the mend. That was precisely Petri, wasn't it? It shouldn't look as if they were checking up on Rozia. She liked to be so independent. What should he take? Flowers for Rozia, maybe, a toy for Petri and something nice to eat for all of them? Would that be right?
There was a merchandise hall just one block from where Rozia lived. That would do the trick. Even if they hadn't got the items in stock they would normally be able to get them to the apartment within the hour though that might be difficult if the systems were struggling.
He was pleased to see when he got there that they did in fact have some Terrestran flowers – presumably produced here - a fluffy toy that looked a bit like a Terrestran dog and some fresh fruit juice. That would do. They could dial up the rest of their breakfast through Rozia's kitchen.
He took the items to the shop droid and offered his iris to the scanner.
"Insufficient funds," said the droid.
"What?" He usually had so much credit on his account that he didn't know what to do with it. He'd always thought that was sign of being content. This now didn't make any sense. The systems must be really playing up. Perhaps it would clear the second time. "That can't be right. Can you try again?"
The droid obliged. "I regret sir. Prices have been raised in anticipation."
What a cheek.
"You could take either the flowers, or the toy or the fruit juice," the machine offered unhelpfully.
"Best not," mumbled Kaleem. They would have to sort this out and presumably the executives would soon. He might even be summoned to help.
He now thought it best to get to Rozia as quickly as possible.
When he arrived at Rozia's a few minutes later his father actually came down to entrance of the apartment block. "The systems are being so slow, this was quicker. Anyway I wanted a word first."
"They're all right aren't they?"
Nazaret shrugged. "Petri's okay now. But Rozia's in a bad way."
"Oh?" What had happened to her?
"Don't look so scared. There's nothing wrong, physically." He sighed and shook his head. He took a deep breath. "All of her credits have been wiped. Nothing works in the apartment now."
"So how did....?"
"I've put everything on to our account. It's working again but it's all so sluggish at the moment."
Kaleem didn't stop to ask for more detail. He didn't even bother summoning the lift. He just started to run up the stairs.
"You'll listen carefully won't you? You'll do what your teacher says?" Penni stroked her son's hair.
"Of course I will, Mummy. I want to grow up to be clever like Daddy. How much do you think I'll learn today?"
Obek laughed. "Lots and lots I should think. Especially if you do listen well like you promised."
Obek was proud of his little son. He looked so smart in his orange and brown uniform. Clementine money had set up the new primary school for all the orchard workers' children. They employed the very best teachers they could find and Obek knew that Tomik would be in good hands with Miss Silverton. She was patient, kind, energetic and set high standards. Yes, she would certainly do for his son.
They were almost there now. More and more children in the orange and brown were converging on the pleasant single-storey white-washed building that housed the school. Obek spotted half a dozen or so other children carrying the big cones of sweets that all were given on their first day. These youngsters would no doubt become Tomik's friends.
The children gathered with their parents in the pleasant garden in front of the school.
"Miss Silverton or one of the other teachers will come outside and ring a bell," Penni explained. "Then you'll have to line up with your class and Miss Silverton will take you to your classroom."
Tomik slipped his hand out of his mother's. Penni exchanged a glance with Obek. He could see there were tears in her eyes. "He'll be fine," he whispered.
It was Miss Silverton who came out with the bell. As she rang it, the children carrying the cones of sweets, Tomik included, scurried over towards her. She smiled at them. Tomik looked happy.
"I told you so." Obek took Penni's hand as they made their way out of the school grounds.
She sighed. "Yes. It's a great thing that you're doing."
He nodded. "And now I must hurry. The meeting starts in twenty minutes."
The other members of the committee were already there when Obek arrived at the board room of the grand lodge.
"How did it go?" asked his father. "Was he all right?"
"Yes. He seemed to love it. It was Penni who found it difficult."
His father nodded. "Your mother was exactly the same when you went to school for the first time. She'll be fine. She'll soon have the new baby to worry about."
Just like his mother had? Hopefully not. Neither his mother nor his baby brother had survived the birth. At least things were different now. Very few women died in childbirth these days and there were very few still born babies. Hopefully, too, precisely what they were going to discuss today would ensure even better standards in the future.
Suddenly the room went quiet. It was like a signal for him to start the meeting. "All right everyone. Let's begin. As you know we are here today to establish the rules and regulations for our new order, the House of Clementine. The school is hopefully a good example. Let's now extend those standards to other schools, hospitals and means of transport."
"And sports?" suggested one committee member.
"What about banks?" said another.
"Retail outlets?" suggested a third.
"Are we talking inclusivity or exclusivity?"
Obek recognised the speaker as a friend of Penni's, an intelligent young woman to whom he was keen to give a role within the Order. Penni had shown no interest at all. She was much too focussed on providing a good home for him, Tomik and the new baby. Thank goodness for that, though. With all the responsibility he carried he needed it.
"Inclusivity, I should think," he replied slowly. What would they do, though, if someone failed to conform? Would there be an outside? Should they keep everyone, no matter the cost? Or should being a member of the Order be a privilege that you had to earn? "All would initially be welcome." This was something they would have to think about later.
They debated for a couple of hours and by the end they had a set of 100 rules.
"The bottom line is that the good of the Order is put before the good of its members," said Obek. "That good, of course, is the pursuit and attainment of perfection."
There was a general consensus, then one man raised his hand. Obek nodded that he should speak.
"Is this to be our constitution, then?"
Well he supposed they should have a constitution. But was this enough? He looked at his father.
"It's a step towards it," said the older man. "But we probably need to fine-tune it. These are really more like guidelines. We need some fundamental principles. Maybe five. Perhaps we should all think about that for the next meeting."
There were murmurs of agreement. The meeting ended.
Five weeks later they stood in the garden of the grand lodge.
"We bury this for posterity," said Obek's father. "But before I put the box containing our constitution and our guidelines into the ground, I will ask my son, the founder of the House of Clementine, to read out our five fundamental principles." He handed the document to Obek.
Obek took deep breath and started reading. "The needs of the Order are greater than the needs of the individuals in it.
"The Order has a duty of care to its members.
"Members of the Order will always pursue excellence and perfection, each according to his / her abilities.
"No one member will judge any other member but will trust that he / she is doing all that they can.
"The Order is bigger than the sum of its parts."
The crowd cheered.
"All workers on our clementine orchards are already considered as members of the Order. You will all receive copies of this. Welcome to the House of Clementine."
They cheered again.
Obek handed the documents to his father who placed them in the small chest and lowered it into the ground. The two other men shoveled earth on top of it. The House of Clementine was established.
"So what will happen the minute somebody starts acting up?" Silvana was dangling baby Harissa over her shoulder, trying to get her to burp. She was just three days old and Penni was asleep. The birth had been much more difficult this time and no one had been sure why. Penni had been as healthy as before and Harissa was quite small. It ought to have been easy. Silvana tapped the baby's back. "See, this wasn't exactly perfect was it? Yet it was nobody's fault."
"Well, that's one of the principles anyway. No judgement"
"You mean, if someone doesn't go for perfection or doesn't put the needs of the Order above their own you'll just ignore it?"
"No, we'd re-educate."
"I see. Easier said than done I'd imagine."
Harissa let out an enormous burp.
"Good girl." Silvana looked sternly at Obek again. "So, are you going to let just anybody into the Order? What about those people who can't be perfect or even excellent? Even your little one, see."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at her face." She handed him the baby. "Look at her eyes and her nose. There's something not quite right."
She was beautiful, his daughter. But yes, her eyes were a little odd. More like slits than almonds. And her nose was a bit squashed. Oh, why worry? It didn't matter all that much and she would probably change as she grew.
Her eyes closed. Silvana took her back. "There, my little lovely. Time for a nap." She got up and went to take the child back to her mother. She turned to Obek again when she reached the doorway. "So, you'll have anybody will you? Even if they've got two heads, and three legs or are so dumb they'll just use up resources without giving anything back? Hmm. It's all right to have fine ideas."
"We're going to be inclusive, no matter what." Oh, this woman was a tyrant. Maybe he should consider excluding her. He immediately felt bad about having that thought.
Later that evening Obek sat on the veranda with his father. It was mild but raining softly. It was good to be able to sit and look out on to the garden and to trees, waving gently in the breeze, in the orchards beyond. The damp air didn't bother him. They were sipping one of the orchard master's favourite malt whiskies.
"You should take no notice of Silvana," said the orchard master. "Yes, she's wise and she's old enough to have seen a lot of life but she's very opinionated. Set in her ways too. She's clinging on to the old way of life. We must look forward to the new."
Obek nodded. He took a sip of his drink. It was rich and invigorating.
He felt a rush of sharp warmth through his sinuses and his mind relaxed. "Let's hope it all works."
"It will," said his father. "It will. But you'll have to old tight to the dream. There'll be obstacles much trickier than your old nanny." He raised his glass. "To the House of Clementine."
Obek grinned. He held up his glass. "To the House of Clementine."
As the two glasses clinked Obek promised himself he would succeed.
About the Peace Child Series:
Everything about Kaleem marks him out form the rest: the blond hair and dark skin, the uncomfortable cave where he lives and the fact that he doesn’t know his father. He’s used to unwelcome attention, but even so he’d feel better if some strange old man didn’t keep following him around.
That man introduces himself and begins to explain the Babel Prophecy – and everything in Kaleem’s life changes forever.
Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.
She edits CafeLit.
She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation
She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing
See other episodes: https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20House%20of%20Clementine