Sunday 5 February 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clementine, Chapters 15 & 16, orange juice,


 Kaleem was still feeling groggy from the strange dream. He'd woken late and felt exhausted. Clem had now rearranged the meeting but he would be late if he didn't get a move on. Yet he couldn't help revisiting that dream over and over.  He must have been dreaming he was somebody else, mustn't he?  That was another person's story, wasn't it? Although he hadn't known what was actually going on he'd had the very strong feeling that the person whose body he'd taken over did.

Or was it simply that he was still trying to work out how Karlo Dunston's mother could be half Terrestran? Certainly the man he'd dreamt he was could have been her father. That was possibly the explanation.  It had all been so vivid though. It had actually seemed more than a dream and the emotions he'd gone through had left him exhausted. And now he had to muster some energy for Clem.    

As he turned the corner, he was confronted by a sight that made him wake up straight away. A gang of Zandrians was marching towards him. Their eyes were glazed and they were all wearing brown tunics. He'd never seen people march like that before on Zandra or even on Terrestra though it did remind him a little of what he'd seen in the Z Zone when Kevik had produced his army.

Were these people real?

One turned to face him as they marched past. His deep blue eyes looked into Kaleem's.

He counted them as they went past. Thirty in total. It had seemed like more. They were marching with such force.

They stopped, clicked their heels and saluted, then started to disperse. What were they trying to do? Several made their way into a nearby café. He followed them. 

He quickly counted again. Just eight of them here? The others had marched on. The ones who had stayed behind hardly seemed to speak to one another. They were using their personal communicators frenetically, however. Occasionally one would look up at one of the others.

They were working together. Like bees or ants. But why like this out in the open?

He kept his own head down, but was glad actually when the droid waiter appeared, giving him a chance to look up. This was so bizarre. They were clearly colluding, but why were they doing it in the open? And why did the need to be together physically?

Kaleem watched the behaviour of the other people in the café. They seemed fascinated. Were they afraid? Maybe a little. Then just as suddenly as the brown tunics had decided to stop, they all started to leave. One by one they got up and made their way to the door. It seemed random but as soon as they were out of the door, they fell into line and started marching again.

Just one stayed behind.  He nodded at Kaleem and indicated that he should join him. Kaleem hovered the sessel over to the table.

"Peace Child, eh?" The man was sneering slightly. His dark eyes looked at nothing in particular. 

"You recognise me?" Kaleem went hot and began to sweat. This should not be happening.

The man laughed. "We have our spies as well. Someone will always find out. You should know that."

Well he was right to some extent. There were spies, counter spies and double agents everywhere. But why "as well"? Kaleem never had been nor never would be a spy though he'd had to do his fair share of spying.

"You need to listen to what I've got to say. It's important."

"Go on then."

The man looked around, probably checking to see whether anyone was watching him. Then he tapped his personal communicator. "Come on, let me link to you."

Kaleem nodded and held his communicator near to the man's. The download only took seconds. It was in Wordtext. So this guy had some form of special education.

"Read it," said the man. "I guess you can."

Kaleem nodded. Not only could he read it but he recognized it quite clearly. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All interplanetary law was based on this. It had been important to civilisation since the middle of the twentieth century and had survived until now despite some attempted interference in the twenty-first century by one of the richest nations on Terrestra, the very planet where these rights had been established. Why was this man looking at it in Wordtext, though? Why was he concerned about it?

"Article 1 is incorrect," whispered the man. "We are not all equal. Some of us are superior."

Kaleem shivered. He'd heard that somewhere else before and it hadn't been good.

"Articles 14:2 and 29:2 don't protect us enough."

Kaleem quickly reread the two articles. Yes, these were the ones that allowed them to deal with anti-social behaviour effectively. "Surely they do?"

"We're challenging this. We want Zandra to be great again."

"Zandra is great."

The man shook his head. "There are too many foreigners. Sucking out the life-blood."

"Surely not. Surely more like making a positive contribution?"

"No, it's all getting diluted. Where is the purity now? Zandra is losing its essence." The man nodded and looked right into his eyes. "See, you and I read Wordtext. Not many others can. We need to build up that sort of superiority."

"I'm not pure Zandrian either."

The man laughed. "You'll probably be fine. You have many of the talents we admire. Be careful, though. All other things being equal we may choose to eliminate you as well."

What did he mean "eliminate"?

"You could make it easier for yourself. You can help us in our fight against impurity." The man got up from his chair and sneered at Kaleem. "Your choice."  He laughed as he made his way out of the café.

What did this all mean for him and Rozia? Or for Marijam for that matter? And for thousands like them? He remembered a quote from somewhere: "Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need."" Where had that come from?




No, he couldn't let him get away with this. He must find out more and he must stop him. He glanced out of the window. Yes, he could still see him.

The waiter droid hovered over to him.

"Yes, settle," mumbled Kaleem, pointing his iris at the machine.

"Both covers?"  the machine asked.

Drat the man. Not only had he rushed off but he hadn't even paid his bill.

"Yes. Please hurry."

The droid whirred and clicked for what seemed like ages but was he realised in fact only a few seconds. At last the transaction was complete.

"Confirmed," murmured the droid but still stood in Kaleem's way. Kaleem pushed it gently away. He could still see the brown tunic but he would get away soon. He had to hurry.

"Security," screeched the droid.

Too bad, thought Kaleem. He just had to get going. Brown tunic was just reaching the end of the street.

He rushed through the door. As he started to pound down the street Kaleem could hear a lot of fuss in the background. Hopefully they wouldn't catch him before he caught up with brown tunic. When they did, if they did, it could all be easily resolved. He just had to get this man and set him straight. How dare they mess with human rights? How dare they?

He was soon running faster. He was gaining on the man.   

Luckily all of that running everywhere was paying off. Kaleem was soon at the corner and a brief glance in either direction confirmed that the man had turned to the left. This was quite a busy little street but was too minor to be divided into walking lanes. He had to concentrate really hard to be able keep the man in sight.

The man reached the end of the street and turned left again into a wider, more controlled road. And there they were again, all of them, marching on mass.

Kaleem watched as his man stepped into line with the others. It ought now to be reasonably easy to keep him in view as long as the crowds watching didn't get too dense and as long as he didn't let his eyes wander. If his eyes strayed away from the man he might not be able to pick him out in the crowd again. They all looked the same. It was some uniform, this brown tunic.

It was easy at first. He found that people stepped out of his way. He was sure the man couldn't see him. The brown tunic had his eyes fixed forward. He didn't look though as if he was just looking where he was going. He was looking at something much further afield. Something intangible most likely.

It was clear that the brown shirt really believed this was right. Incredibly.  

Suddenly there was a kerfuffle in the crowd.

"Damn fascists," Kaleem heard someone shout.

He could see an elderly Zandrian shaking his fist at the parade. Others were turning away from the marchers to see what was going on in the crowd.

Kaleem looked back to the brown tunics. All he could see now was a mass of brown. He scooted forward to catch up. Was that him there maybe? He fixed his eyes on the face of the man on the left of the third row away from him. Yes, he was sure that was him.

A shot rang out. Somebody in the crowd had fired some sort of gun. This time he chose not to be distracted. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on his man. The brown tunics dispersed. His man darted down a nearby alley. 

Kaleem hurried after him down the alley. There was no way out. Was the man some sort of fool or was this a trick? At least he might get to talk to him again now.

The man turned to face him and grinned. "You didn't think it would be that easy did you?"

Kaleem heard two sets of running footsteps behind him. Someone punched him from behind. Someone else grabbed his arm.

"Get out of this one, then, Peace Child," one of them snarled.

How did they know? This was really worrying.

"Yes, hold him there. Perhaps we can make him negotiate a deal for us."

"On what grounds?" Could he stall them?

"Preservation of human purity, of course."

"It could be up for negotiation, I suppose," said Kaleem, "but only if you let me go."

The brown tunic signalled to the other two. Kaleem felt the pressure release from his arm. He could still hear the other two brown tunics breathing. They didn't move away.

"What can you offer, then?" asked the man.

"I can take you to someone who will listen." 

"How would we know it wasn't a trick?"

Kaleem shrugged. "I always go for win win. It's just what I do."

"Boss, it sounds dodgy," one of the men behind him said. "Don't trust him."

"Who is this person?" asked the brown tunic.

"Ah, that I can't say. That would be the deal. We meet them without identities being revealed. I don't know who you are anyway. How do you know about me?"

The brown tunic grinned. "Let's just say I keep myself very well informed. Can my two companions come along as well?"

"Absolutely not."

"Boss, it's risky. We can't let you go alone."

"It isn't and you can." He nodded at Kaleem. "Turn round and start walking."

Kaleem felt something sticking in his back. Was it a gun? The brown shirt kept his hand on Kaleem's left shoulder.

"Let's chat as if we're the greatest of buddies," said the brown tunic. "All lies, of course."

Kaleem concentrated on not taking the most direct route and on talking about nothing more meaningful than the habits of the cyber red dog. That topic had saved him once before when the Zandrian prosecutors had tried to read his mind. Brown tunic kept to the latest sports and music news.

Kaleem zigzagged across town. He was a little puzzled that his companion didn't query this. Didn't they recognise that they were going past some of the same places twice? Was he not from this township then? 

Eventually though he mumbled: "How much further?" and poked him hard with whatever he was holding to his back. 

He would have to take him there now.

The back entrance of the building lacked the splendour that people usually saw at the front. Basic service droids were emptying rubbish into some large grinder-bins. Old technology. The windows here on the lower floors at the back were mere plastiglass. They needed cleaning but would never gleam like veriglass anyway.

Kaleem lined up his iris with the scanner.

"Special code?" asked an electronic voice?

Kaleem tapped the code on to an old-fashioned key pad. The door glided open and he and brown tunic stepped into a gloomy hallway.

"Where exactly are you taking us?" asked brown tunic.

"To someone who could talk to you about Human Rights."

"You're sure about that?"

Kaleem nodded.

"Well, let's get going, then."

The object that the brown tunic was holding against Kaleem's back seemed even bigger now. He called the lift and soon they were speeding up to the tenth floor.  

The lift only took seconds to arrive. It seemed like forever as the brown tunic continued to hold him tightly and keep whatever he was holding up against his spine.

At last the door slid open. "Tenth floor," said an electronic voice.

"Now what?" Brown tunic jabbed him again.

Kaleem nodded and pressed the intercom on the door to the familiar suite of offices.

She answered straight away.

"I've code mauve," said Kaleem. "One of the brown tunics from the parade wants to talk to you about human rights."

"Give me two minutes."

"Why does she need two minutes?"

"You'll understand when you see her."

The two minutes passed eventually. The door to the office suite swung open. Executive Tyler was completely covered with a long tunic and veil. Only her eyes and her toes showed.

"This gentleman wants to talk to you about Human Rights."

Tyler nodded. She invited them to sit down.

Brown tunic released Kaleem and placed a plain metal canister on the coffee table. Not a gun then, after all.

Tyler blinked twice. "So, tell me about your concerns."

Brown tunic drew a large breath and started to speak. Kaleem couldn't concentrate on what he was saying. He could only stare fascinated as Tyler gave the brown tunic a run for his money with her words. She was as clever and as charming as ever. She was all the more intriguing because she was so mysteriously covered up.


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

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