Kaleem decided to take a public transporter. His communicator was back on but he was ignoring the missed messages and missed calls. He now wanted to get back home, have a shower and change, then get down to some work. He hoped everyone he was ignoring would just assume he was on some sort of secret mission and he was incommunicado. There was a message from Rozia but he couldn't bring himself to answer even that one. Not after what had just happened. He now wanted to absorb himself in some demanding work.
How had that happened actually? What had he been thinking? It had been that mysterious clothing hadn't it? It had made her all the more desirable. She'd been wearing it apparently to try and understand better some ancient people who had worn similar garments. And it had changed her, making her even more attractive.
How was this going to affect his relationship with Rozia? Had he just thrown away months of careful work? For goodness sake, she was someone else's attachment. He had no right.
Wasn't she partly to blame, though? It had been just like the old days. That overwhelming desire and the ecstasy of climaxing at exactly the same time that she did and then as soon as it was finished starting all over again.
One touch on his bare arm had been enough to start it all off after they'd got rid of the brown tunic. It had added to the mystery when he'd had to fumble to find her under the shapeless robe. The second and third time they had both been naked. The fourth time had been the most intense ever but as soon as they'd finished the guilt flowed in. This should just not have happened. He now felt sick at the thought of it.
Something going on in the transporter awoke him from his daydreaming. He could hear raised voices.
"You'll have to go home soon," he heard a young voice say. "There are too many people on this planet."
Kaleem turned to get a closer look. He could see a young Zandrian standing up and cowering over a middle-aged man who was sitting on one of the seats reserved for disabled people. Kaleem guessed he was Terrestran or at least partly so.
The younger man now jabbed the older one in the shoulder. "You're just a health tourist. You've just come here to get your gammy leg fixed."
"Actually my leg is gammy because of an accident I had here working on maintaining the food-producing systems so that you and other Zandrians wouldn't starve."
"There are Zandrians who could have done that if they'd been given the chance."
"Really? So why didn't they?"
The young man looked puzzled for a moment.
The older man shook his head. "You see I've lived on this planet longer than you have. I came here before you were released from your growing cell. I've paid taxes for years and years. They've tried hard with my leg but this now is the best it will ever be. I can live with that. I'm still working for this planet."
The rest of the people on the transporter were now silent. Everyone was staring at the two men. The younger one now lent forward and head-butted the older one. There was a loud crack and blood started pouring from the older man's nose.
A young woman pushed forward and faced the younger man. "Is there really any need for that? Anyway, we haven't actually voted to leave the One World Community and even if we had, it wouldn't necessarily mean that valued people like this gentleman would need to leave."
"It would," hissed the younger man. "We just don't like the look of his face."
That again. It never went away.
The young man was now standing with his arms folded across his chest. "If we had another vote tomorrow, it would be to leave the One World Community. More and more people want this planet back for themselves."
The transporter stopped.
"Code red security alert," said an electronic voice. "Please all remain calm until the security force arrives."
A middle-aged woman was now attending to the older man. She was clearly a medic and the wand she was using was being very effective. His nose had stopped bleeding and the swelling was already going down.
Another man stepped forward. Goodness, it was a Zenoton. This would be interesting. Zenotons were a different race altogether and didn't come from the original Terrestrans who colonised so many of the other planets. Plus they had a peculiar monetary system that even he'd found difficult to understand though he had been able to enjoy some of its benefits. What was a Zenoton actually doing on Zandra and riding on the public transporter systems at that? Normally only high-ranking officials visited and they never engaged with the general public.
"Son, what is actually troubling you?"
"What's it to you, snake head?"
Several of the Zenoton's snake-like curls twitched and he blushed. He cleared his throat and carried on. "There is abundance. There is enough for everyone. Leaving the One World Community won't increase the abundance – in fact it might make it harder to access."
The Zenoton was right but this would go above the young man's head. He wasn't ready for this.
The young man kicked the side of the transporter. "What the fuck snazz talk is this? Get home, snake-head."
There was a general murmuring. Several other people came forward now.
"There's no need for this sort of talk," said one woman. "You're being personal."
"It affects us all, you dick-heads." The young man kicked the side of the transporter again.
"Let's not get physical. We can talk it through calmly when they let us into the station, can't we?"
"Well somebody should do something." He kicked out again.
"You can't talk to people like that. Let the politicos sort it all out calmly."
"Wait for them and we'll wait forever." He now lashed out at one of doors.
"You need to calm down, sunshine."
"Why should I?"
"Because this isn't getting you anywhere."
Kaleem had the sudden thought that 48% of the people on this tram agreed with the young man's sentiments yet everyone was condemning his behaviour. That at least gave him some hope. Most people were good-hearted.
It was probably more than 48%, actually, given the type of people who would travel on a public transporter at this time in the morning. Oh, dear. What was he thinking?
A tall man grabbed the young man from behind. "You really need to calm down."
It was clear, though, that the younger man wasn't going to be happy about this. He began to fight back and it was obvious that not only would he get out of this man's grip quite easily, he would not hesitate to hurt other people.
Kaleem knew he would have to do something. He pulled himself up tall and abandoned the stance he took when he was trying not to be recognised. He probably would be recognised now. Well so be it.
He went right up to the young man and stared straight into his eyes. He watched him flinch and try to look away. "What exactly are you afraid of? What do you think you might lose?"
The young man tried to look away again.
Kaleem nodded. "What is it then? Come on, what is it?"
"Room to breathe. We need room to breathe."
Kaleem took a big breath. He looked around the whole of the transporter. He shook his head. "Can't see that that's a problem. And here you are on a crowded tram, in the company of a Zenoton and a half-Terrestran. There's plenty of air for everyone."
The young man shrugged.
"Well, then, what else?" Kaleem deliberately folded his arms across his chest. He didn't want this young man to feel too comfortable.
"They're taking all of our jobs."
"Oh, you have no role at the moment?"
"Cheek. Are you saying I don't contribute?"
"But isn't that what you're saying?"
"Listen. I do my part. It's just that they're taking the better jobs."
"So you're fluent in over twenty languages and you have advanced negotiating skills?" He nodded over towards the Zenoton. "And you know the intricacies of Zandrian plant life? You can do what we can do?"
The young man frowned then shrugged. "Well, they're using up all of our medical facilities."
"You do know, don't you, that in fact that the immigrants from other planets give far more in taxes and insurance than they use up accessing our welfare systems?"
"That can't be right," mumbled the youth.
"I'm afraid it is." Kaleem unfolded his arms. "And even if it wasn't, is there really any need for you to be so nasty?"
The transporter suddenly started to move. "Approaching next station," its robotic voice said. "Please allow the security operatives on to close down this incident."
The young man had now gone pale. He was going to be detained, perhaps imprisoned. Kaleem touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Tell them who put you up to this. Explain your feelings. They'll be more lenient if you're honest."
The transporter stopped at the far end of the platform. The doors swished open and five security droids and one human stormed in.
"Thank you everyone. We'll take it from here," said the human. He grabbed the young man's left arm and held it behind his back. One of the droids used force-field cuffs to attach him to the human.
This was all a bit excessive, wasn't it? Why did they need six anyway?
They marched the racist out of the carriage. The doors swished to and the transporter pulled into the station properly.
People started to clap and cheer. There was no need for this, really there wasn't.
"You did well, really you did," said the Zenoton.
He hadn't though, had he? He hadn't really got him to see sense and that young man would remain resentful and possibly become even more so if he had to go to prison.
Kaleem bowed slightly and hopped off the transporter. He would run the rest of the way after all.
Obek looked up at the high ceiling of the new Clementine Family Store. It was glorious. The tiles on the walls gleamed. The skylights let in air and light but an automatic system made blinds draw across when the sun shone too fiercely. The polished but slip-proof floors smelt faintly of orange and were orange in colour. The best quality goods were piled high. It was exciting and enticing.
The doors swished open. Tomik, Penni and Harissa came in. Tomik had not brought Flanda.
"It should be family only," he'd said to his father.
Obek thought it was a shame. Flanda would soon be part of the family and she would be a real asset. He was pleased that Harissa had been included, though, and that despite her problems she had been involved with the project: the orange and green theme in the window displays had been her idea and they did seem so right for the House of Clementine.
"Are we all ready?" asked Tomik as they rushed in.
Everyone nodded. If Harissa smiled any harder her face would split in two. Obek was continuously amazed at how well she understood the Order.
"Okay," said Tomik to the newly-appointed manager. "Let them in."
They looked almost frightened to walk on the sparkling floors at first. This was so different from the dusty little general store they'd been used to. Gradually though, the noise level went up as the sales assistants began to talk to the shoppers.
"We ought to play some background music," said Tomik. "It would stop it getting too noisy."
A good point. Obek nodded. Well this was Tomik's concern now. He could arrange it.
More and more people came into the store. Soon some were leaving, though, and they were carrying bags full of goods. Obek was pleased that there were such nice things for them to choose and that in fact they could afford them: they were able to pay their workers well. Now all of these sales assistants were going to enhance what was already a thriving economy.
A small lunch, accompanied by fresh clementine juice, had been set out for Obek and his party in the meeting room upstairs.
"We can't stay too long." Tomik touched Obek's arm as they sat down. "We have to get to the Elders' meeting."
Ah yes. That. He'd better enjoy this lunch while he could.
The board room in the lodge was getting too small. There were too many Elders now. Obek thought back to the time when it had been mainly he and his father who had dealt with the Order. It hadn't even been this crowded when his father had held meetings about all of his business interests. But the Order was getting very diverse now. It had been Tomik's idea to give the name of Elder to the representatives of each branch of House of Clementine activity.
"It's a bit of a romantic idea, isn't it?" he'd suggested to Tomik.
"I think it will command respect. Anyway, Elders should be elected for their wisdom and experience and you should be the first one."
So, ridiculous as it had sounded, he had become Elder Obek and was in charge of all the work in the clementine orchards. Soon there had been Elders to represent the health care system, the money system and a crude judicial system. Just recently Tomik, at the tender age of twenty-six, had become Elder of Retail. There was no one overruling Elder. That pleased Obek. They took it in turns to chair the sessions. It was Tomik's turn today. Had the boy been a little nervous? Was that why he'd been in such a hurry at lunch time? In the end they'd arrived much too early. Tomik always seemed so confident. Perhaps he wasn't though.
Tomik cleared his throat. "Everyone, will you please take your seats."
Well that seemed assertive enough.
They all sat down and the meeting began. Much of it was very routine. Obek resented a little how all this careful planning took away the excitement he'd felt when he first set up the Order but he supposed it was necessary.
"Any other business?" said Tomik at last.
Good. They would be able to get home soon.
"I have a proposal."
It was Janik Hanson, Elder of Law.
"Go ahead," said Tomik.
Was this about to become interesting?
"I think we should introduce a system of knights."
There was a general murmuring of what sounded mainly like disapproval.
"I don't mean men covered in armour who charge around on horseback. I rather mean a hierarchy of people, working towards being Elders, going through three stages: ordinary knight, knight of the second order, knight of the first order. They could apply or be nominated and they would have to work through a series of tasks. It could be very motivating."
Obek felt wide awake now as they began to debate the matter strenuously.
The documents that Hanson had supplied were spread out over the polished oak table in the larger meeting room of the grand lodge. There was so much paper that this was the only place where they could see them all at once.
"He's certainly put some work into this." Obek couldn't really fault any of the ideas the Elder of Law had put forward for how the knights on all three levels should be tested and trained. "I like the way the established knights will train and assess newcomers. But how are we going to test the first ones? And who is going to test them?" Tomik was frowning.
"I suppose it will have to be selected members of the committee. It would be only polite to include Hanson. I expect, though, we'll have to put it to a democratic vote." Always that. At times Obek thought he was beginning to lose control of his own order. His son was still frowning. "Do you want to be involved?"
"I don't think I should be."
Of course. Tomik would want to be a knight.
Tomik sighed. "It's important that the first knights are really special."
"Naturally. I'm sure you'll do a great job. There's no need to worry."
Tomik shook his head. "I was thinking of Flanda. She would be superb and she deserves this."
Flanda looked glorious. She had chosen a white, calf-length dress decorated with a red band which suggested the knights of old.
Tomik had been right. She made a splendid example as the first knight. It hadn't been that easy, even for her, though. Tomik had had to encourage her and even Penni had stepped in from time to time to reassure the young woman. Harissa had been the most helpful in the end. "You can do it, Flanda," she'd said. "You're not a poor empty head like me."
Then Flanda had laughed, stroked the younger girl's hair and said "You're not an empty head. You are the kindest, the most generous person I know. We can all learn so much from you."
"I have a present for you," said Harissa. She handed Flanda a bulky parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
Flanda blushed as she struggled to untie the knots. Harissa was always so good at wrapping up parcels. At last it was open and out tumbled a glorious blue velvet cloak. It was beautifully soft and it would keep her lovely and warm on the colder days. She held it to her cheek. "This is lovely," she whispered. "Thank you so much." She hugged the younger girl.
Flanda had succeeded and here she was, ready to be knighted. She knelt down in front of Obek. Yes, a democratic process had taken place but the Elders had been unanimous in putting him and Hanson in charge of the Order's knights and everyone had also agreed that he should conduct the first ceremony. Maybe the Order did still belong to him after all. Naturally it had been Tomik's idea that this should still be done with a sword.
He smiled at the young woman. "Flanda Regan, you have proved yourself worthy of the title of Ordinary Knight of the House of Clementine. You have proved that you are worthy physically, mentally and spiritually of this title, so I hereby name you Ordinary Knight of the House of Clementine." He placed the sword on both of her shoulders in turn. "In bestowing this knighthood on you, I tie your loyalty to the House of Clementine for as long as you shall live. Arise, Madam Knight and take up your duties."
Everyone in the crowd clapped vigorously. Flanda blushed then turned to Tomik and grinned. He smiled slowly back but his arms remained crossed over his chest.
"For goodness sake, marry the girl before someone else snaps her up," Obek muttered. What sort of fool was his son exactly?
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