Tuesday 28 February 2023

Everything She Thought He Was by Margaret Karmazin, espresso

For a long time, she studied the photo of the four of them. Was it 1994, maybe '95? They'd rented the upper floor of a beach house at the Jersey shore and had a great time. She remembered how Michael had loved everything, how excited he'd been over eating lobster for the first time, squishing his feet in the sand, and his bright eyes watching the fireworks set off from that big boat offshore. He was such a sweet little boy then, aged nine or ten, thoughtful towards his mother and excited about everything.

What had happened now to his sweet easygoing nature? How had he ended up on the national news, an example of the kind of person everyone in the country hated? Surely, they had not taught him to disrespect black people or anyone for that matter. He played with black kids when he was in grade school and junior high though not after that. She thought back – had she or Jim said things? Well, Jim now and then had used the N word, not often. He got mad at things on the news sometimes. Had he ever specifically told Michael not to associate with or respect blacks?

"Oh, Mom, don't be stupid," her daughter said after it happened and Evelyn had wondered and wondered out loud to her about these things. "Dad is a freakin' bigot. And so are you!"

"Me? Why would you say that?"

But Kristen had claimed someone was at the door and gotten off the phone.

Was she a bigot? She didn't think so but why did Kristen think she was?

Evelyn looked around at her beige and brown kitchen. It definitely needed an update; they'd lived in this rowhouse since 1981, the down-payment a gift from her parents. Jim hadn’t wanted to accept that at first but she'd talked him into it and eventually he got over his uncomfortable sense of being obligated. Jim came from a long line of cops and army men and he believed in being self-sufficient if you were a man. It was okay for women to take gifts and handouts.

Right now, he was stony and silent down in the basement, supposedly working on one of his projects but more likely drinking and staring into space. She decided to take the risk of going down.

"What?" he said angrily when he saw her. He was at his workbench and yes, drinking a beer, probably his fourth or fifth. Anymore, she hated his days off and dreaded his coming retirement.

"I thought we could take a ride up to New Hope this weekend. Have some of that flourless chocolate cake we had last time. Just walk around."

He turned on her with fire in his eyes. "What? And have someone figure out who we are? Spit on us? Maybe worse?"

"Oh, Jim, how would anyone remotely know who we are?"

"It's just a matter of time. Some fucking reporter or something."

"No, Jim. I don’t think so. Only one has asked to interview us and I said no."

"Those assholes in church. That woman yelled at me."

He was right; that had happened. And Kristen had called her again, all worked up. She was hardly speaking to any of them now. "I'm so glad I'm married with a different name," she barked on the phone. "And that I live in Wisconsin. I can pretend I never heard of Michael. I told you he was a moron, Mom! I know him better than you do and he's a blood thirsty, macho idiot! So embarrassing for the rest of us. Once someone here figures out who I am, I could lose my job!"

"Oh, why would they do that to you?" Evelyn said. "They'd have no legal ground."

"But they could drum up something," Kristen insisted. "The other teachers are having class discussions on police brutality and I should be doing it too. But how can I dare bring it up?  If any of them find out my connection to Michael… Well, I'm afraid to think of it what some people might do. My very life might be in danger."

"Well, honey, you could just admit who you are and make a point of not condoning what he did."

"Oh yeah, Mom. You're assuming humans behave rationally. News flash – they don't. Some asshole would throw paint on our house or cars, maybe run us off the road, who knows?  We're in danger now, Mom. Scott is in danger; the kids are in danger. I hope Michael knows what he did and doesn't make excuses for himself because there aren't any."

Evelyn felt as if her heart was sinking into the floor and down into the earth. Was her life over? Would all their friends abandon them, would Jim turn into a hermit, would she be left alone in the world, an eternal outcast?

The phone rang. It was not a friend, but Michael's lawyer. Michael was being held in jail and the bail was set at $350,000. "We're not paying it," Jim had barked and she didn't have access to that kind of money herself. Though their savings were in CDs with "and/or" both of their names, she wouldn't dare sneak the money out. In matters of finances, Jim was in control.

"No," she told the lawyer for the second time. And then she hung up. It hurt her but she had no choice.

"It's not," she'd heard Jim say to one of his cop buddies on the phone, "that no one has ever roughed up a suspect, but why did they need to do what they did?"

The friend must have talked a while because next Jim said, "Kicking in the head. I never kicked anyone in the head."

And later in the conversation, "I'm thinking of taking an earlier retirement. Who wants to work in this environment? Our hands are tied, yes, but someone might try to-"

He stopped the sentence there but she understood. All of the family was in some degree of danger. Two nights later, someone spray painted the garage door with MURDERER in tall jagged red letters and the night after that, a brick had broken a side window. Even though Michael didn't even live with them. He had his own apartment, formerly with a girlfriend but she'd left him before all this happened.

According to the news and visible on an endlessly playing video, what happened was this: Michael, his partner and two other cops were present at the scene. Michael and his partner had forced off the road a black man in his thirties who'd been driving erratically. Or so Michael's lawyer stated. They dragged him out of the car, tased him, cuffed him and continued to kick and abuse him until he stopped moving. He died the next morning.

"Michael," she said, unable to hold back her sobs when she'd been allowed to see him one time. "Why? Why did you and your partner kick him when he was face down on the ground and cuffed?" She pleaded with him but he wouldn't look at her and would not answer. Finally, since she wouldn't stop asking, he said gruffly, "I was afraid for my life."

"But he had no gun," she said.

"How was I to know that?"

"How would he have shot you face down on the ground and cuffed?"

He shook his head and wouldn't look at her and after four more silent minutes, she stood up and signaled to the guard that the visit was over.

Jim did not know that she'd gone. "I don't want anything to do with it," he mumbled.

She knew how hurt and disgusted Jim was. But she did wonder. Had her husband ever done the same kind of thing but just gotten away with it? Had he beaten people, even caused a death? Before cellphone cameras, anything could have happened and gone unreported. Days passed and she wanted to know the answer to this but was afraid to ask. As it stood now, she felt that her family, her marriage and everything she knew was heating up while sitting on thin ice. If it all fell through, what would happen to them all? And this whole thing would drag on for months – constant coverage on news channels, there would be a trial – it would be endless.

Reporters started showing up and the entire street knew who they were. Her best friend Pat had not abandoned her but Evelyn noticed that she would not come to the house. Mostly they talked on the phone and twice, she went to Pat's house. Out of concern for her friend, Evelyn wore sun glasses and a brunette wig when she went over there and for that matter, anywhere she went. She stopped going to church and the priest somehow had neglected to visit after she called him. She debated whether to call again.

Pat set out coffee cups and brownies and the two women sat down together as they'd so often done but everything was different, no longer cozy.

"I am so afraid," Evelyn said. "He's put us all in danger."

"Maybe you should go on TV, go public and disown him. Just say that he wasn't raised like that and that you never taught him to disrespect black people and that you don't know what came over him. Make it clear that you do not approve of or support him."

There was a long silence while Evelyn wondered if Pat had lost her mind. She had kids herself – would she disown any of them? She tried to think of a good enough reason for that when her friend broke into her thoughts. "What if you found out your child was a pedophile? What if he raped and murdered a little girl. What would you do then?"

"Well, he hasn't done that!" Evelyn snapped.

"No, but…what would you do if he had?"

Why was Pat asking her such impossible questions? All she really wanted by coming here was a moment of peace, of escape. A moment of pretending that things were normal. Maybe discussing their current projects, Pat's quilting and Evelyn's lamp making – not this endless despair with no way out anywhere she turned.

"I'd better get home," Evelyn said, gathering her purse and jacket and standing up. "Better get some dinner on."

"But you just got here," Pat said. "I'm sorry; I know I said the wrong thing."

Evelyn shook her head. "I know, it's hard to know what to say. I'll see you another time when things cool down a little." And no matter what Pat said, she would not stay.

A terrible thought came to her in the middle of the night and she sat bolt upright. "Jim, Jim!" she said, poking him in the shoulder until he awoke.

"What?" he said gruffly.

"Please don't hurt yourself out of despair, honey. Please, please don't leave me. I couldn't bear it."

"Why the hell would you think I'm leaving you?"

She paused. "I meant…I meant like hurting yourself, you know."

Long time before he answered. "I'm not going to do that. But I'm filling out the paperwork now for retirement. And then we're going to move."

"What? You mean leave our house? Our home?"

"If you want to stay here, be my guest, Evelyn. But I am getting out."

Her heart pounded and she wondered if her hyperthyroidism was back. For a moment she felt she might vomit.

After a long time, he said, "You have to do some messy things when you're a cop, but you don't do it on film."

"What do you mean?" she said, her heart really racing now.

"People don't just do what you tell them to," he said. "Drunks and people on drugs don't just get out of the car like meek little mice and stand there while you frisk them. They fight back, they run, they spit in your face, they-"

"Jim," she said slowly, "why is it aways black people? No wonder they run or fight – they know they're probably going to die!" Was he an idiot?

"It's not always black people. I deal with white trash all the time – druggies, meth dealers, you name it!" He was getting riled up.

"I just read the statistics," she said. "Like fifty percent of those bad stops are black people, but black people are only thirteen percent of the population."

He shook his head. "You don't know what it's like out there. But I'm not excusing Michael. He's an idiot."

"An idiot for getting caught or for beating the man to death?"

He didn't answer. And in that moment, she felt rage. Not fear, not hurt, not embarrassment, but pure rage. It wasn't like her to feel this so intensely.

She got up out of bed and started to dress.

"Where are you going? It's the middle of the night?"

She didn't answer. She didn't know herself, but she was definitely going somewhere. 

About the author  

Margaret Karmazin’s stories have appeared in North Atlantic Review, Mobius, The Speculative Edge, Another Realm and many other magazines. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. 


Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Monday 27 February 2023

WHAT’S IN A NAME by S. Nadja Zajdman, a tall glass of amber tea sweetened with a spoonful of raspberry jam

I was five years old and in love with Dr. Kildare.  Whenever I’d see him, I’d wrap my soft, pudgy arms around our TV set and give his screen image a great, loud smooch.  “I love you, Dr. Kildare!”  I’d announce, to the silent living room.  “I love you!”  My mum was just outside the room.  She must’ve been listening. 

             I had a steady Saturday night date with Dr. Kildare.  He was on TV every Saturday night between 7:30 and 8:30, though we were allowed only half an hour together.  At eight o’clock, precisely at the time of the program’s second commercial, I had to go to bed.

            Coming up to one Saturday night, my mother informed me that I would be allowed to stay up until 8:30, so that I could have a full hour with Dr. Kildare.  I was thrilled.  I did not yet realize that Mum had an agenda.

            At 8:30 on Saturday night, as the weekly program came to an end, I saw something I had never seen before.  The TV screen filled with two columns of names which I couldn’t yet read.  Out loud, Mum read them for me, and to me. “Dr. Kildare….Richard Chamberlain….Dr. Gillespie….Raymond Massey…”  What did this mean?

            “Sweetheart,” Mum broke it to me gently.  “Dr. Kildare isn’t real.  He’s a character played by an actor named Richard Chamberlain.” 

            I was gobsmacked.  Dr. Kildare wasn’t real?  I looked to my mum for an explanation.  “What’s a (sic) actor?”

             Patiently, Mum explained.  “An actor is a person who pretends to be someone else.  When he’s very good at it, he gets to be on TV.”


            “Yes.”  I gazed into my mother’s sad and haunted eyes.  It appeared she was telling the truth. 

            “But why do they have two different names?”  My five-year-old world view had just been shattered.  I couldn’t keep pace with this turn of events.

            “They don’t have two different names.  Richard Chamberlain is an actor who is pretending to be a doctor called Dr. Kildare.”

            I stared at the two columns of names scrolling relentlessly down the screen.  I was terribly confused.

            “This means that everybody on TV is an actor with his own name who is pretending to be somebody else with a different name?”

            “Yes, slodka.  On uttering this term of endearment, Mum slipped into her mother tongue.  They call it ‘credits.  The credits.’"

            This was far too much information.  Yet a glimmer of understanding was beginning to peek into my five-year-old mind.  The same person with two different names pretending to be someone else.  This was not a foreign concept.  Not to the family I was born into. 

            “You mean like a ‘war’ name?  Like the way some people who knew you in the war call you Krystyna?”  My mother’s name wasn’t Krystyna.  A Jewish female was never called Krystyna. 

            Mum flinched.  “Yes, slodka.  Something like that.”  A five-year-old child isn’t supposed to know about war names.   When I asked Mum about her other name, she told me it was her middle name, yet no one called Mum Krystyna except for a few people who’d known her during the war.  There was no name for them, then.  Today, we call them Survivors.  It’s a fitting description.  Though I became an actor, it was my mother who had gotten so good at pretending to be someone else that she survived.   

About the author 

S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. In 2022 she published I Want You To Be Free, a memoir of her late mother (Hobart Books, Oxford) and the story collection The Memory Keeper (Bridge House Publishing, Manchester). In 2021 she received an award from The Society of Authors in London. 


 Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Sunday 26 February 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clementine, Chapters 21 & 22 by Gill James, orange juice



Flanda Regan paused as she made her way through the Great Hall. Everything seemed to be ready. It was to be the biggest ceremony yet. They were to confirm one thousand new ordinary knights, six hundred ordinary knights were to become knights of the second order and three hundred knights of the second order were to move on to the first order. One thing was going to be hard, though. Tamsin Lampeter, Tomik Lampeter's daughter was going to become the youngest knight ever.

Oh, Flanda knew she had a fantastic life as Head Knight. She loved her job. It didn't feel like work. Looking after all the other knights was a real privilege. She had to keep up standards and at the same time empower people to attain these highly set goals. It still hurt, though, fifteen years on, the way Tomik had broken off their engagement. He didn't love her any more, he'd said. She was sure really that it was because he'd never managed to become a knight himself. Then after just a few weeks he was engaged to Tamsin's mother and they were married two months later. Tamsin had been a honeymoon child. She was a sweet girl and Flanda had been pleased to oversee her training, yet those deep eyes of hers tortured her always; they were so like Tomik's.

Well, never mind all of that. It would soon get so busy here she would have no time to notice. Yes, the Hall was ready. The floor was polished. The windows shone. There were huge floral arrangements all around. The room was filled with the scent of the sweet-peas. The seats were numbered. The orchestra was warming up. Outside she could see the crowds beginning to arrive. The first ceremony would begin in forty-five minutes. Several of the knights were already robed up and looking splendid in their blue velvet cloaks. She was so glad that that had become part of the graduation uniform.  

A noise from the ante-room caught her attention. Someone was in there. Maybe it was just her assistant. Why, though? She didn't need her. She was already robed and the lists were ready.  

"Marita, is that you?" she called.

There was no reply. Should she call someone? She dug her nails into her palms and held her breath.

A young man appeared in the doorway. He looked harmless enough. He, too, was already robed up in the uniform of an ordinary knight, minus the bandanna that would be given to him during the ceremony. No threat, then, probably, but what was he doing here? All of the graduands had been told to wait outside until they were called in. Besides which this room was private. And how had he got through the door that was locked from the outside?

"Can I help you?"

"Maybe. It depends." He looked up at her through a curtain of hair. He couldn't quite let his eyes contact with hers. Why was he like this? Even an ordinary knight should have more personal confidence.

"Is there any way I can go straight into the second order?"

"Why do you think we should allow that?"

"Well I've been working on it for a while now. My instructor thinks I'm ready."

She wished they wouldn't do that. They really shouldn't start on the next level until the knight was established on the current level. Some were beginning to do it, though, and she hoped it wasn't just for the money. "You know you have to wait at least two years to graduate to the next level, don't you? You do need that time. Why are you in such a hurry?"

"It would help me to get a better job and it would impress my girlfriend."

Flanda laughed. "Fair enough. We all want to improve. You shouldn't need to impress your girlfriend, though. She should take you the way you are. But I'm wondering whether you should even be knighted at all if you're that impatient. Patience is a top quality for ordinary knights."

The young man went pale.

Flanda touched his arm. "I'm joking. Of course I won't stop you being a knight. I hope your ceremony goes well. Are many people coming to watch you?"

He now went red. "You do know, don't you, that some people buy their way up the ranks? That it's a matter of who you know and how much you can pay? You need to get that sorted." He stomped off towards the main entrance to the Great Hall. He turned towards her as he reached the door. "You do realise as well, don't you, how easy it was to get into that room? I should have done it sooner. Then I would have had time to change the records before you'd noticed I was there." 

Then he was gone. She wanted to go after him but she couldn't move.


The six ceremonies proceeded without any other problems. Flanda couldn't enjoy them, though. Were people really buying their way to the top? Yes, she'd been concerned that some trainers were pushing people through a little too quickly. She'd been beginning to work on that anyway. But people actually paying to get a pass when they didn't deserve it? That was just not House of Clementine.

She looked out for the young man but it was impossible to recognise him: they all wore the same uniform, they all had the same floppy hair style that was fashionable at the moment and they were only in front of her for a few seconds. Well she hoped he'd be pleased to get his knighthood, even if it was only an ordinary one.

Processing that many knights was exhausting.

"Here, sit down," said Marita when they were back in the office at the end of the day." You look in need of a hot drink."

"I'd prefer just a cold clementine juice. You don't have to serve me. I can get it myself."

Marita shook her head. "You've been on your feet for hours and it looks as if you've got something on your mind. Even the Head Knight is supposed to rest from time to time."

Well yes, it was good to relax into the soft armchair. She shivered though when she thought about how easily that young man had got into their office and how he'd tried to amend the records. That sort of thing just shouldn't happen in the House of Clementine.

Marita came back a few seconds later with a large jug of clementine juice and some fruit segments. She placed the tray on the small table next to Flanda's chair. "This will raise your blood sugar. Eat and drink."

Flanda smiled at the older woman. Marita was a good sort. She always managed to do exactly the right thing.

"And now - tell me what's on your mind."

Flanda sighed. It's nothing. I just think we'll have to go for smaller ceremonies but more often. That was just too big today." Perhaps she shouldn't trust even Marita.

Marita nodded but something in her eyes suggested that she didn't quite believe what Flanda was saying. 


Flanda stared at the document in front of her. This must be the millionth time she'd gone through the records and still she couldn't see anything that suggested there was any real bribery going on. Yes, what she did see here confirmed that some trainers were rushing some knights up the levels, and they were probably doing this for extra pay. That ought to be reasonably easy to fix though she was so tired now she couldn't think how.

"Nothing?" asked Marita.

Flanda shook her head.

"Well you need to stop now." She offered Flanda a fruit tea. "I've added some cold water so you can drink it straight away."

Flanda sipped the drink gratefully. Yes, Marita knew her so well. It was just the right temperature and just the right strength. She felt herself both relax and wake up as the tangy clementine-flavoured drink slipped smoothly down her throat.

"What about paying them more and giving them a bonus for producing the very best quality in the new knights and making sure that they really are worthy of the new levels?"

It was obvious really. Marita was always so pragmatic. It couldn't really be that simple, could it? She sighed. "I'm sure they'll still find a way of cheating."

"But it might make it easier to pinpoint."

Flanda nodded. "I suppose we could try it."

 "I'll get some suggestions drawn up."


"Superb," said Flanda. "They are so nearly ready. Two more months, perhaps?"

The trainer grinned. "That's what I thought."

Flanda nodded. She looked around the sports studio with a sense of satisfaction. She was glad they'd introduced fencing for second order knights who wanted to progress to the first order. That couldn't be learnt too quickly. Now that the trainers were being paid properly all of the knights were making a steadier progress. The studio had been another of Marita's brilliant ideas. Flanda loved watching the trainees. This all now seemed to be working.

There was a soft knock at the door and then it opened.

"I think you'd better come and see this." Marita's face was flushed. She certainly wasn't her normal calm self.

Flanda followed her as she walked briskly towards the office. She was frowning and her lips were pursed.

"What is it, Marita?"

The older woman shook her head. "Unbelievable."

They arrived at the office. There were some papers spread out on the desk. Marita pointed to what appeared to be a letter.

Flanda read it quickly.

Dear Madam Regan,

You may remember me from my approach to you before my graduation as ordinary knight. I am pleased to inform you that I am now well into my training as a knight of the second order and am glad that I am doing this the right way. However, I also have to inform you that there is still one person accepting bribes. I have evidence of this. I would like to meet with you to discuss this in more detail. I look forward to meeting with you soon.

Arten Mitren

There was a knock at the door.

Marita nodded. "That's probably him. I took the liberty of contacting him and asking him to come in."

"Okay. Let's see what he's got to say."

Flanda recognised him as soon as he got into the room. He was clearly a bit more mature now and his hair style was much more sensible. He had the proper bearing of a knight of the second order. He must be almost ready for graduation.

"Well," said Flanda, "what have you got to tell us?"

Arten Mitren took a deep breath. "Tomik Lampeter has been accepting bribes from knights who want to circumvent normal training."

Flanda clutched the sides of her desk in an attempt to stop the room from spinning. "You know this how?" she just about managed to ask. How could he anyway? He wasn't even a knight himself.

"Because he offered me a place as a knight of the second order. He said he could alter the records. I turned it down of course. I just thought you should know."

Flanda nodded and sat down quickly. How could he do this? How could Tomik threaten his own father's order?             


Tomik still took her breath away. Tears pricked at her eyes when she remembered how they had first met. There was a lump in her throat that she couldn't swallow. She'd gone over it so many times before and here she was still trying to figure it out. Why had he suddenly turned against her?

He smiled. His dark eyes were looking straight into hers. He lent forward and stroked her cheek. He shook his head. "You just don't get it, do you sweetie?"

He pulled her towards him and she thought he was going to kiss her. He didn't. He whispered in her ear instead. "Just can't have you making better progress through the Order. It's not right. But oh my goodness, I still want you." Now he was going to kiss her.

And now she wasn't going to have it. She pushed him away. "Why are you accepting bribes from trainee knights? Why are you ruining your father's order?"

Tomik laughed. "If I can't get what I want I'll make the whole thing look like a sham. Besides it gives me great satisfaction to see young people graduate without having to go through all the nonsensical hoops you and my father have devised. And you have to admit: it keeps you well supplied with knights."

"Just how many are we talking about here?"

Tomik laughed again and looked up to the left as if calculating. "About one third of them."

Flanda thrust the fencing foil towards Tomik's face. She was appalled to hear him scream and to see blood pouring from his eye. She hadn't meant to hurt him that much.

"Bitch! You'll pay for this." He tried to stem the flow of blood. "Marita, send for the Guard," he called.

Marita appeared at the door. She went white and put her hand in front of her mouth. She turned and hurried away.

Flanda sank to the floor.      







Kaleem had never been to this side of this town. He was astonished that anything like this could exist on Zandra. Zandra was the smart forward-thinking planet. There was not supposed to be any poverty or any class distinction. All were welcome. Normally. 

It must be near a rubbish dump and a sewage farm. He could smell both at once. The road here had potholes in it and there were weeds coming through the cracks in the pavements. How could that happen? At least, he reflected, his father would be fascinated. Plants normally had to be forced on Zandra. Here they were growing freely.

The Shack, as Clem had described it, was made of some sort of metal. It had huge holes in the roof and the walls and looked as if its protective covering needed replacing. He'd never seen anything on Zandra be allowed to decay so much. He shivered as he remembered how Terrestra's Z Zone used to be. Well, it was much poorer than this. But why was this even here? He just didn't understand.       

He'd better go in, he supposed.  It would be dark in there if there was no electricity and he suspected there wouldn't' be.

He pushed open the door and walked in.

"Glad you could make it." As soon as Clem spoke the lights came up and Kaleem found himself standing in a vast space full of dataserves and big screens. A lot of humans and droids were very busy processing information.



Of course. The Zandrians were always so clever at that.

Clem laughed. "Fooled you, did it?"

Kaleem nodded. He ought to have realised.

"Well, Kaleem, we thought it was about time we were a bit straighter with you. We haven't really told you all that we know about the House of Clementine. Yes, we weren't lying when we said it has always tried to control Zandra and Terrestra before that. We just weren't honest about exactly how much."

"Kaleem. You called me Kaleem.  How did you know?"

Clem smiled. "That's what happens if you go fooling around with Hidden Information. You get found out."  Clem shook his head. "Anyway, I kind of recognised you. Not so much by the way you looked but by the way you acted."


Clem nodded.

Ah well. It was out in the open now. Perhaps it was better that way. "So are you saying that the House of Clementine is behind what's happening now?"

"We think so."

"The brown tunics? The racists? The questions about human rights?"

Clem nodded. "Yes, all of that and more."


"Yes more. But let me introduce you to Sofia. She will take you through the history. We want you to know everything."

"Sofia? She doesn't have a code name?"

"We don't bother with those here."

"So what's your real name?"

Clem laughed. "It actually is Clem. Short for Clemens. Ah, here she is." 

Kaleem gulped when the young women appeared in the doorway. She could have been Saratina when she was younger. Her face was distorted in a similar way though her body was a little straighter. She held her hand out to receive the Zandrian hand shake. Kaleem fumbled and shook her hand the Terrestran way. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "It's just that ..."

"You're wondering about this?" She pointed to her face.

That was different from Saratina for sure. She spoke clearly. Whatever had damaged her face had not affected the inside of her mouth.

Kaleem felt his cheeks burning. "It's just that I knew someone else ... ."

"Well mine was a birth defect."

That was unusual on Zandra.

Kaleem shook his head. "I'm sorry for staring."

"Not a problem. Yes, unusually they didn't detect it when I was in vitrio but they have managed to build me a bionic mouth." She opened her mouth and pointed to a set of metal and plastic devices. "They offered me facial reconstruction but I turned it down. I kind of like this. It gives me some character. Much better than typical Zandrian good looks. Shall we?"

He followed her along the corridor and into a small windowless room. A hoversessel came over to him and Sofia nodded that he should sit down.

"In this little room we have all of the records that we could find of the House of Clementine. Sit back and enjoy the show."

The holo presentation started. It was truly impressive. But if they were operating outside of normal society how did they get the money for this?  And where was the hard evidence?

"You see," said Sofia, "it started on Terrestra, centuries before we colonised." A vehicle pulled by horses rumbled out of the screen. It was decorated with a branch bearing seven clementines. "It seemed quite benign in those days. In fact, they did a lot of good. They educated poorer children. Then it started going wrong."

Kaleem did notice the subtle changes as they worked through the Terrestran centuries.

Sofia nodded. "You can see that they encouraged the poison cloud – they kept hidden the types of fuel available to Terrestrans and encouraged the use of the ones that would guarantee climate change. And by the time the colonies were formed they were influencing pretty well everything."

"But they weren't' necessarily evil, were they?"

"No. But it is worrying just how much influence they had. We're sure they're connected to the brown tunics and the racist incidents that are happening now. That is bad and probably getting worse."

Where was the evidence, though? "You know, this just looks like a pretty little story put together for tourists or college students. Is it all based on critical evidence?"

"Oh, it most certainly is." Her jaw was tense and her lips were pursed.

Darn. He'd irritated her. He ought to be able to do better than this. Wasn't he supposed to be the ultimate in diplomats?

Sofia closed down the holo presentation

"You read Figurescript and Wordtext, don't you?"

Kaleem nodded.

"Here's your critical data then."

Kaleem watched as file after file loaded on to the screen. Yes, it was all there. Goodness, they'd worked hard at this.

Someone cleared their throat. Kaleem turned to see Clem standing in the doorway. "So, you can see how widespread it is?"

"I most certainly can."

"Will you work with us more closely now?"  

Why not? What else was he supposed to do?  He shrugged. "I need to keep away from the normal channels for a while."

"You do, don't you?"  Clem laughed. "Well, there's plenty of work needs doing. We need to find out what they have planned, where they're getting their people from, how they're maintaining their influence, how they're infiltrating into our society, why they're doing all of this. Most importantly as well: who is behind all of this."

"How are you going to do all of that?"

"Well it's already happening. We have agents in the field. Some people out there aren't quite what they seem."

"And you think there is just one person behind it all?"

Clem nodded. "Person. Or maybe entity."

Kaleem shivered. "What do you mean exactly?"

"This is something really huge. Maybe the biggest thing that has happened ever to humanity. Well, are you with us?"  

"Yes, of course I'm with you. But what exactly do you see me doing?"

Clem laughed. "You don't get it?"

Kaleem shrugged, shook his head and raised his hands in the air.

"Well young man, we want you to find out exactly who or what is at the bottom of all of this. You're the best person for the task."

Kaleem's personal communicator buzzed. How could they reach him if he'd been cut off?

Clem nodded that he should answer.

Kaleem stared at the communicator. There was neither a face nor a symbol on the screen.

"Anonymous caller," said the tinny voice.

"Answer it," said Clem. "If they've found you it must be important."

Kaleem nodded. "Accept," he mumbled. Was he about to be called in and at best reprimanded though more likely to be incarcerated?

"You're needed. I know you've done something you shouldn't have. But have you seen what's been happening in the last few hours?"  

Nazaret had managed to find him again. 

About the Peace Child Series:

Book 1 The Prophecy
Kaleem Malkendy is different – and on Terrestra, different is no way to be.
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.    
Book 2 Babel
Babel is the second part of the Peace Child trilogy. Kaleem has found his father and soon finds the love of his life, Rozia Laurence, but he is still not comfortable with his role as Peace Child. He also has to face some of the less palatable truths about his home planet: it is blighted by the existence of the Z Zone, a place where poorer people live outside of society, and by switch-off, compulsory euthanasia for a healthy but aging population, including his mentor, Razjosh. The Babel Tower still haunts him, but it begins to make sense as he uncovers more of the truth about his past and how it is connected with the problems in the Z Zone. Kaleem knows he can and must make a difference, but at what personal cost?
Book 3 The Tower 

Kaleem has given up the love of his life in order to protect her. He now lives and works on Zandra. A sudden landquake, not known on the planet for many years, destroys many of the forests his father has planted to bring life back to the planet. The new relationship Kaleem has helped to establish between the Terrestrans and the Zandrians is also under threat. A third party gets involved and Kaleem has to use all of his diplomatic skills to keep everything on track. Mistakes cost him dearly and he looks set to lose Rozia for a second time. The Babel Tower mystery, others mysteries and sadness plague him. Can he find a way through to fulfil his role as the Peace Child?
Find out more here.  

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