Snazzy. Of course he'd got a sense of what it meant. Slightly flamboyant. A bit eccentric. Sparkly. Maybe. But he wasn't like that, was he? If anything he was just plain old, slightly ugly Kaleem. And why would a droid bother with any subtle message like that? Droids weren't supposed to be subtle.
He decided to do a dictionary search. The dataserve whirred and clicked away but gave him hardly anything. The New World records got him nowhere. There was nothing for it but to look at some Wordtext. Even that took an age.
"Stylish", "well-dressed", "flashy", he read. No, that certainly wasn't him. It wasn't really anybody on any of the One World planets. You didn't need to show off how you were different.
Was that what the droid and the man meant then? That he was making a show of himself?
He needed more examples. "Give me stories," he commanded the dataserve.
The dataserve clearly was doing something but not fast enough for his liking. He helped himself to a frega and decided to use the exercise machine for a while. Soon he was pounding away and was lost in thoughts about what it would be like to lose the One World status, whether he and Rozia could ever get back together and what would happen if Petri's meds failed completely.
He was startled when the dataserve suddenly announced that it had something for him.
He stopped and watched as the screen loaded. A square still picture of three young men appeared. The word "Snazzy" in Wordtext was printed across the top of the picture. Those men did look strange. They were wearing uncomfortable looking leggings and tunics that were too short, one tucked into the leggings and the other not really fitting over the top. Around their necks they wore knotted pieces of pink cloth. Their hair was very short. Suddenly they came to life and started singing and dancing. It was a bit of racket, actually.
"Next clip?" asked the dataserve.
The noise faded and the picture disappeared.
Next came a strange two dimensional figure, wearing a similar combination of odd leggings and an ill-fitting tunic. The tunic was a little longer this time as was the young man's hair. His outfit was covered in brightly coloured flowers, many of them different shades of pink. Did snazziness have to have the colour pink in it then? Again the figure sprang to life and started dancing this time to some slightly more palatable music. As the figure gyrated, it legs and arms stretched and shortened and his eyes bulged. Kaleem caught himself smiling. Then the clip stopped abruptly.
"Load third example?" he asked the dataserve.
This one seemed to be in the present day. Two young people were getting ready to go to a party.
"What do you think?" asked the girl.
"Snazzy," said her boyfriend or brother or whoever the young man was.
The girl became angry. "Snazzy? Snazzy? That's my grandmother when she puts on her holohead to go out for lunch."
So 'snazzy' was these days a bit lame as an expression? Interesting ....
"No others currently found. Continue search?"
Kaleem sighed. "Yes please." He didn't have much hope, though.
The search had got him hardly anywhere. It would be better to continue with his exercise and think about it a bit. He opted for the exercise machine again rather than going for a jog; it would be a bit cold by now and he wanted to be near his main dataserve in case it came up with any more ideas. Soon the treadmill was putting him through his paces again.
Running wasn't clearing his mind. Better run harder. He increased the speed and the incline.
Yes he always had to fit right in. He had to blend with others despite not quite being any one thing. He couldn't ever be completely Terrestran or Zandrian as he was a mixture of both. Anyway, over and above that he'd acquired so much understanding of other cultures that little bits of all of them had rubbed off on him. Could he ever really be snazzy, then? Was snazzy normal to him?
He increased the incline again. Now he was working really hard, becoming breathless. Good. His exercise would be effective.
He couldn't think so much now as he had to concentrate on his breathing. An image suddenly came to him. Plants like the ones his father grew. Only this time they weren't laid out like they would be in the growing fields and veriglass units. They were set out decoratively over a few steps. So "snazzy" could apply to objects as well, could it? Could this be defined as simply arranging things differently? Using something for an unusual purpose?
He slowed the machine and gradually stopped running. He was delightfully out of breath now.
"Send via dataserve," he commanded.
Nazaret grinned at him. "Hi. How's it going?"
"Just trying to work out the meaning of something."
"Can I help in any way?"
"Would you ever arrange plants to be purely decorative?"
Nazaret shrugged. "If I had some to spare."
"And what would you call it if you did?"
That was a good point. "Hmm."
"Well you know, on ancient Terrestra, they had a tribe that kept lettuces in pots to decorate their tables and rooms. They also used to talk about weeds. These were really just plants growing in the wrong place. We don't have that problem on Zandra. It's difficult enough to get the right amount to feed us."
"But if you did have any spare... maybe if you arranged them over a series of steps. Say on a ladder or a staircase in a house?"
"That would be delightful. Very snazzy."
"Aha. That is the word I'm trying to define."
"Yes. What do you understand by it?"
Nazaret shrugged again. "Flamboyant? Fun?"
"Yes, I still don't get, though, why they call me "snazzy boy"."
Nazaret smirked. "Neither do I. You're much too serious."
Kaleem tried to look offended. "So, anyway, was there anything specific you wanted to talk about?"
"I just wanted to invite you for dinner tomorrow. If you come you ought to talk to your mother about "snazzy". I think you'll find she has plenty of ideas about that. She used to use the word a lot when we first got together."
She did? Well, that would be interesting. "Okay I'll see you then. Usual time?"
Nazaret nodded. "We are creatures of habit."
Nazaret's head appeared as the door to the kitchen slid open. "Estimated eating time, ten minutes."
He'd better get on with it then. "So, Dad said you might be able to help me understand the meaning of "snazzy"."
Marijam blushed and cleared her throat. "I haven't really got much to say. But they did use it a lot, you know. When they brought us from the Z Zone to the cave apartment. There we were in one of the poorest places that was allowed to exist in the Normal Zones and they thought it was the height of luxury."
"Well, what did you think?"
Marijam shrugged. "It was coming home for me, in some ways. It was what I'd known before I'd gone to the Z Zone. But I was terrified. I would actually have preferred to stay with the Z Zoners. I was going to be on my own with a small baby. Even though everything seemed familiar I just didn't want to be there. But you should have heard them: “Have you seen the way this cupboard works? And look at that light-well going up to the surface. Goodness, this dataserve's dead snazzy. It's all so snazzy.'"
Kaleem nodded. He knew only too well about the contrast between what had been the Z Zone and the Normal Zones on Terrestra. Even though he'd been brought up in a cave apartment, the Z Zone had seemed really desolate when he and Rozia had lived there. Rozia had brightened it up for him of course.
"I began to understand what they meant," Marijam continued, "when I eventually got out and about a bit. What they'd done up on the surface on Terrestra after the poison cloud had shifted was like some sort of miracle. Everything worked so much better."
"So it's not just flamboyant and fun?"
"That definitely, but also extremely clever ... and a bit sophisticated."
Nazaret came back into the room. "You know back on Terrestra, long before the colonisation and also before the poison cloud arrived there had been two terrible wars. Lots of different factions, Terrestrans fighting against other Terrestrans. It took a long time to get over it but then suddenly everything was fun and people starting dressing in very bright and unusual clothes. Despite another terrible war going on. Perhaps because of it. Young people had had enough. And those who approved of what they wore and what they did would definitely have described them as snazzy. But once that third war was over and the planet really began to function properly again all that fun and those bright and colourful clothes looked silly. Especially considering the glories that came afterwards."
"So it's about contrast as well?"
"Oh well." Kaleem wasn't sure he was going to get to the bottom of it. But the food looked and smelt good even though it was machine-made. That was snazzy, wasn't it? It still didn't explain why he been picked out as being snazzy, though. "I guess I'll figure it all out eventually."
The meal had as usual been filling and the conversation had gone on for a long time. The topic of snazz had been well and truly exhausted. Nazaret also told him about all of the new experiments at the plantations. Marijam talked a little about her work and had constantly tried to find out about how he and Rozia were getting on. Then of course they had to talk about the current political situation.
"Will they be using you again?" Marijam asked.
He'd shrugged. "I expect so. It's what I do. It's my job, Mother."
Definitely time to go now. Besides it was late and the table was covered with dirty dishes. The house droid was already starting to pack away.
Kaleem sighed. "I'd best get going."
"Well keep us informed about everything, won't you?" said Marijam.
Nazaret gave him a knowing look and inclined his head slightly. "Shall I call up a transporter?"
"No, I'll run."
Marijam frowned. "But it's so cold now."
"Jogging will keep me warm enough. I'm so full anyway. I need the exercise."
And without another word he'd left.
He wanted to think.
As he pounded along the frosted streets he half expected another droid to jump out and accuse him of being snazzy. It didn't happen though. No one else, not even a machine, was out in this cold. Was it difference that did it? But it had it be a marked difference didn't it? And that droid had seemed accusatory, hadn't it? Fun, but frivolous, perhaps? Oh he didn't know. One thing though, being so preoccupied made the journey go quickly. Before he knew it, he was home.
He woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. It was so clear now. Snazzy. Flamboyant and extravagant, yes. Quirky and different too. Cleverly different. Often extremely clever. But it was the effective difference that was the most important. And oh yes; he was different all right. Was he effective?
How was this happening? What had got into people? He'd never seen anything like this - neither here nor on Terrestra. There must be thousands of them. They were running now towards the area of town where Rozia and Petri lived. The streets were unusually dusty and the air hurt his lungs. It was rare to have so many people in the same place. There was a loud murmurring from the crowd and the faint smell of sweat. Kaleem desperately wanted to call Rozia and check that they were both all right, but he daren't; somebody might be listening in and that would blow his cover. That could put them all in danger. Besides, he needed to keep his channel with the Executive Council open.
Well, he was certainly amongst them now but he still couldn't figure out who they actually were and why they had become the way they were. Nor for that matter why they were running like this. It seemed some sort of madness. Hysteria. Almost as if they were programmed droids. Was that it? Had some sort of brainwashing happened? Well, his mission now was to get close to one and for the moment that meant following the crowd until he could make contact with someone who would believe he was on their side.
They were now making their way into the second urban band. Wasn't that where most of businesses owned by people from other planets were? It was almost mid-afternoon and it was getting very hot. Why must they charge about in these temperatures? No time to ponder on that. He had to keep up.
The people in front stopped suddenly.
"Snazzers!" someone shouted. There was the sound of something breaking.
More cries of "Snazzers" and "Scum!" followed, and more sounds of things smashing. The crowd edged slowly forward. Kaleem was amazed to see broken veriglass. Veriglass just did not break. What was this new technology? Where had they got it from?
"Snazz" was at least becoming clearer. It was obviously being used in a new way for something that people didn't like. Probably people from other planets like Rozia and himself. Ah well. They'd never guess at the moment. The Executive Council's disguise department had done wonders.
The group was getting away from him a little. Another was coming up behind now. He mustn't dawdle or he'd draw attention to himself. He rushed forward, shouting "Snazzers".
The crowd now stormed one of the warehouses. It wasn't just a matter of breaking veriglass anymore; they were bypassing all of the electronic locks on the doors without apparently doing anything. He would have to find out more about that.
The warehouse contained catering equipment. The crowd rushed forward, ripping open containers and strewing plates, dishes and mugs all over the floor. Much of the crockery smashed as it hit the tiles. Kaleem watched in horror as many of the rioters picked up the big chefs' knives and stashed them into their rucksacks. He had to do the same. At least that would be a few more knives that couldn't be used for some sort of bad purpose.
He watched one man rummaging through a cutlery drawer. It was full of innocent-looking knives, forks and spoons.
"Man, what are you looking for?" he asked. "Shouldn't we be concentrating on the big stuff?"
The man stared at him and shook his head. Had his Terrestran accent come through? There was something a little bit strange about this man anyway. He didn't look completely Zandrian himself.
"Come, on man," Kaleem continued. "We don't want to get left behind."
"We won't. But these are important. House of Clementine." The Zandrian showed Kaleem the spoon he was holding. It had a tiny embossed pattern on the handle. It looked a little like a branch from an orange tree: leaves and tiny oranges.
"What does that mean?"
"The House of Clementine has suppressed Zandra for centuries. Now it's time to break away."
"But I thought we were rebelling against the One World Community."
The Zandrian nodded. "That's what most people think. But it's really the House of Clementine that's caused the trouble. They control the One World Community anyway. "The Zandrian stared at Kaleem for a few more seconds. Then he nodded. "You seem a bit different from the others." He took a handful of spoons and thrust them into Kaleem's hands.
A new wave of rioters rushed past. The Zandrian touched Kaleem's arm. "Meet me at the Refreshment Park pavilion at autumn-winter interface. He got up on to his feet. "Snazzers!" he called and hurtled after the others.
Kaleem started running after him.
It was freezing at the Refreshment Park pavilion. There was no sign of any life there. That didn't surprise Kaleem. It usually closed half an hour before the summer-autumn interface. He was surprised, though, that the door was open.
As he walked in, the lights came on. Would that mean that he could be seen from the outside? Probably not. It wasn't quite dark outside yet and anyway nobody would be near the Refreshment Park at this time of day. People would be making their way indoors if they weren't there already.
Something rustled behind him.
Kaleem turned to find himself facing the Zandrian. "You came then?" the man said.
Kaleem nodded. The man puzzled him. There was just something not completely Zandrian about him but he couldn't decide quite what.
"Let's not tell each other too much about ourselves. Just call me Clemens. Clem for short."
"All right. I'll be Kay."
"Follow me, then."
Clemens led Kaleem into the kitchen. He opened a cupboard door and pulled a handle that was inserted into the side of the cupboard. A trap-door opened in the floor and a staircase led down to some sort of basement. He gestured that Kaleem should follow him.
They made their way for about eight hundred metres along a stone-tiled corridor. Lights snapped on as they approached them and then switched off again as they passed. The corridor then opened out into a wide room. About twenty people sat in front of dataserve screens.
"Welcome to operation Take Down Clementine."
Kaleem nodded. "What do I need to know?"
"It's a long story. Best start straight away." Clem pointed to an empty dataserve terminal.
Kaleem sat down at the work station.
"Go on," said Clem. "Command it on."
"Serve," said Kaleem.
Images started flashing across the screen. An icon of a stylised clementine appeared in the corner of each picture.
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