Sunday 19 February 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clementine, Chapters 19 & 20 by Gill James, orange juice



 "I really haven't ever seen anything quite like this," said Nazaret. "It's hard to take in. It's just not what happens on Zandra."

Kaleem and his parents were watching the news reports. He had gone round to their home half hoping he might get the courage to discuss, man to man with his father, his encounter with Ella Tyler.  There was no chance, however. His mother was there as well. In any case the news reports were much too important.

It seemed that the transporter Kaleem had travelled on was not the only one to have had a nasty incident occur on it. Similar things had happened on several transporters, in a couple of the parks and in one or two cafés.

"Do you think there's any risk for me and Kaleem?" said Marijam. She was pale and frowning.

"I'll be all right. I can look after myself. I'm more worried about Rozia and Petri."

Marijam nodded. "I can't look at this anymore. I'm going to go and lie down."

Kaleem and Nazaret exchanged a glance. Kaleem knew his mother wouldn't cope with this. She'd protected him so well when he'd been a child and had odd looks on Terrestra. She couldn't look after herself so well. 

Nazaret touched his arm. "Don't worry. I'll see that she's all right. I promise. You do know that, don't you? "

Kaleem nodded.

Then the screen grabbed his attention again. Six men were attacking a middle-aged woman whose skin colour showed that she was clearly not Zandrian.

Nazaret zoomed the picture in. "Are they anyone we know?"  

No, Kaleem didn't recognise them. He did notice, though, that a couple of the men were wearing brown tunics. "Do you know what that's about?" he asked his father.

Nazaret shook his head. "I can only think that it looks a bit military. As if they're trying to look like soldiers."

Three of the men in the group were young, two were middle-aged and one was quite old.

"Definitely something odd," murmured Nazaret. "They just don't look right."

Kaleem could see what his father meant. There was something very strange about their eyes. Their pupils were very small as if they were trying to keep out the light.

"We are seeking the public's help in identifying these people," said the droid newscaster as pictures of thirty or more people began to load. "These individuals are refusing to give their names, their identity chips have been disabled and voice, iris and profile recognition are all coming up blank. They have covered their tracks very well. They are refusing to talk and are also refusing all nutrition. "

Kaleem shivered. This was so bizarre. Were these people even human?

"I think I'd better get going," Kaleem murmured. "I need to get some work done."

"You wouldn't rather stay here?"

Kaleem shook his head. "No, I'd better not."

"Take care."

Kaleem nodded.       


Just twenty minutes later Kaleem was sitting in front of his own dataserve screen. For once he had taken a private transporter home. Tonight it had become very cold very quickly so jogging was out of the question. Many of the public transporters had been suspended.

He actually hated going by private transporter and the luxury of it meant nothing. This time, though, it had been the only solution.

Now he stared at the faces again of the thirty people who had been arrested. Soon it was a lot more than thirty. More and more incidents were taking place. All of the people arrested had that same strange look about them. Had they been drugged or hypnotised or something?

He had access to some programmes that even some of the security people couldn't touch but these didn't help either.

He was about to give up when he suddenly recognised something in the face of one of the detainees. It was a mood or an emotion. He couldn't quite work out what it was. He was still trying to analyse what he was seeing when the dataserve pinged. "Would you like to access Hidden Information?" said the electronic voice.    

Kaleem's mouth went dry and his skin prickled. Why would he want to access this forbidden intelligence from Terrestra? Was there anything he wouldn't know, in fact? The authorities on both Zandra and Terrestra gave him access regularly to material that was deliberately kept from ordinary people. He'd even been able to sample some Golden Knowledge that was normally the preserve of the Terrestran Elders. Because he was the Peace Child he'd even been able to scrutinise such information from other planets from time to time.

The very fact that someone was contacting him implied, though, that either the authorities were keeping something from him or that this problem was even bigger than he'd thought. Had someone got at his dataserve? It was quite new. These days he always got the best available. He was used to how good they were getting at anticipating what the client wanted to know. This was particularly uncanny, though. Should he accept?

Now he began to sweat as he remembered an earlier encounter with Hidden Information. It had been when his mother had been so ill. At the time he'd also felt very insecure about his Peace Child role. To his shame as well he'd rebelled at that time against the mentor he later grew to love and respect and whom he still tried to match. The world of the Hidden Information peddlers was not at all nice and there were severe punishments for people who were caught indulging in it. And yet. His encounter with it had made him stronger.

 "Would you like to access Hidden Information?" the dataserve's electronic voice repeated.

"Proceed," said Kaleem.     

The dataserve whirred and clicked for a few seconds. The screen went black. Was it shutting down? Had he breached a security protocol? The machine was still ticking though.

Just as suddenly has it had appeared to stop it started up again, now loading file after file rapidly. He couldn't identify them. Chains of Figurescript flashed by. Then there came a loud ping and a face appeared on the screen. It had a mask covering it, though the wearer's nose, eyes and lips were visible. The hair was hidden under a scarf so Kaleem could not tell whether the person was male or female.

"You are aware of the consequences of accessing Hidden Information?"  Female, then.     

"Only too well. But I've done it before and survived. I have to now. Anyway, if there's any problem I'm sure I can find a diplomatic get out clause."

The woman laughed. "Oh don't rely too much on your role, Peace Child baby."

So, she knew who he was.

"I need the information, whatever the consequences."

"So, what do you need?"

"The identities of all of the racists and who's behind them."

"Okay. Here they come. You'll have to memorise them. You won't be able to record them. And hurry. They already have a trace on your machine."

Kaleem watched fascinated as the pictures and profiles of the racist attackers flashed by. All of the information was given verbally by voice-over. He did notice, however, that each profile picture was labelled in Wordtext. "Non-native Zandrian." This was bizarre. Why would non-native Zandrians want to get rid of other non-Zandrians? People had come to Zandra just to be disruptive? And if the authorities knew who they were why weren't they doing something about it?

He made a mental snapshot of each one. Thank goodness his memory worked well.

"Record complete," the dataserve announced. "Incoming message." 


The dataserve spluttered a couple of times. Then Clem's face appeared. What? He was daring to appear over an ordinary data connection?

"Not exactly wise. But you've done it now so we may as well meet up and I can tell you more. Meeting place three. But get out now. They're coming to arrest you."

The screen went black. So, they'd shut him down. How could Clem know about all of this?

Arrest him? The world's ultimate peace-maker? Why would they do that?

Kaleem made his way out of the apartment as fast as he could. He took the back stairs, running down each flight and swinging himself across each landing. At last he was at the bottom of the building. He gently pushed open the emergency door. He made his way out and walked softly and cautiously around the side of the block, his feet making little impression on the ground. If anyone was around they would not notice him. He knew how to walk though crowds without people seeing him. He would avoid eye contact and he would dodge people before they needed to get out of his way.  Just another Peace Child trick.   

He saw them arrive. That was a bit heavy-handed, wasn't it? For goodness sake, they knew who he was surely? Or was that good old-fashioned Hidden Information too? But why the stun-guns and the paddle-shields? And by the looks of it the beefiest and burliest of the security personnel? They hadn't even bothered with droids. Was he that much of a threat?

Fortunately the air had turned a little milder. He set off in a well-controlled jog towards his meeting with Clem. He mustn't let his anger get the better of him. That would make him too conspicuous.




"How did you manage to get through to me? I thought I'd been totally closed down."

"They asked me to use my personal override."

"Your what?"

"Most parents have them. Didn't you know that?"

"No. And I would have thought that it might be appropriate for children but not for a grown man." This seemed ironic. Nazaret had never been there when Kaleem was a child. Now he was monitoring him as if he were a baby.

"Well it's just as well we have it. It's like the emergency channel. It works, no matter what."

"Okay. So what do you want?"

"You need to see what's been going on. Then you need to contact Executive Tyler."

Kaleem's stomach flipped at the mention of Ella's name. Another meeting with her was going to be extremely awkward. Maybe she would regret as much as he did what had happened last time they met. Or she'd be ravenous for more. Either way it would be really uncomfortable.

"Are you still there?"

"Yes, I'm listening."

"Take a look at the news channels and then contact Tyler."


"And of course let me and your mother know what's going on. Rozia as well."

He was about to ask if Nazaret had any news of Rozia but then realised that his father had ended the call.

"Well?" asked Clem.

"Can we access the news channels here?"

Clem nodded and pushed a button on a nearby dataserve.

The main news channel opened up. Chief Executive April Septimus was being interviewed by a human reporter. It must be important if they were using a human.

"So Ms Septimus, what are your main concerns at the moment? Would you agree that what is happening is unprecedented?"

"Certainly nothing like this has happened since centuries before the Terrestrans colonised. Never in living memory have the inhabitants of one planet been so divided. We need to root out what is causing this malaise and return to the normal Zandrian position of peace, strength and stability."

"Have you any idea what's causing this, as you put it, malaise?"

"Not yet."

"Is it really the will of the Zandrian people, as you so often say, or do you think there is something more sinister behind it?"

"The House of Clementine on the rise, I'd have thought," whispered Clem.

The Chief Executive tossed her silver curls back and smoothed down her tunic. She seemed vulnerable.  "We can't be sure at this stage. But we need to take notice. In some ways we should welcome this. We suspect that the malaise was always there lurking below the surface. At least now it's out in the open and we can deal with it."

It was all just empty words. There was very little substance to what she was saying. Her normal style, unfortunately. How on Zandra she had managed to become Chief Executive Kaleem had no idea. She had as much charisma as a piece of tired lettuce. 

The reporter turned and faced the camera. "That was Chief Executive April Septimus. Thank you so much Chief Executive. Now I'm going to talk to Jansen Poplar. "

"Heaven help us," whispered Clem, "if there is such a place."

That buffoon. This was supposed to be a time of extreme crisis and they were interviewing two of the most inadequate executives. At least the junior executives like Ella had common sense and integrity.

Poplar, Executive of Foreign Affairs, gawped at the camera with a silly grin on his boyish face. He muzzed his hair before he started talking. That had become a trademark. Kaleem knew it was all an act. The man was actually dangerously clever and could well be a little devious, he suspected. Up until now everything had been so ordered that he'd not really been able to do any damage. Things might be different now.

"I gather," said the reporter "that some measures have already been put in place."

"Indeed. We've now restricted migration, particularly immigration. We're only now accepting persons with Zandrian blood. And of those of mixed blood only the ones who have a secure work position on offer."

This was madness. Zandra always benefitted from the mixture of ideas that came from people from other planets.

"Is this because of the referendum result? Isn't it an odd thing to do if 52% of people are in favour of staying in the One World Community and allowing freedom of movement? Indeed, would we not be contravening a One World Community directive by not allowing this free movement?"

Poplar ran his fingers through his hair. For once he looked quite serious. "There will be riots if we don't do something. We have to respect the wishes of the 48%. We're bringing in the protocols for a state of emergency. The One World Community will have to respect that."

The buffoon did have a bit of a point for once.

The reporter turned to the camera again. "Thank you Jansen Poplar. Now let's take a closer look at the state of emergency the executive has alluded to."    

A series of video clips followed. It was like what Kaleem had seen before: men – and a few women- marching in brown tunics, pure-looking Zandrians attacking non-Zandrians and mixed-bloods, and protest marches, some silent, some more vocal and tending towards violent. Both sides actually – those wishing to remain in the One World Community and those wishing to leave. Except now there was a lot more of it.

"Shocking," said Clem.

Kaleem nodded. What was going on here?

Clem sighed. "We've got our work cut out here all right."

Still Kaleem didn't recognise any of them. "I think it's an outside job," he whispered.

Clem nodded. "It has all the signs of being to do with the House of Clementine."

Then Kaleem saw something that horrified him even more. He recognised someone now. He saw a young Zandrian taunting Rozia and Petri. What were they doing out with the mobs? Did he recognise the people who were doing this? They looked familiar but maybe that was just because so much of this was going on now. "I have to go now," he murmured.

"Have you seen someone you know?"

Kaleem nodded.

"Well, get back in touch as soon as you can."

Kaleem made his way to the door. Just as he was about to leave, however, the video clips stopped and the presenter reappeared. "It's clear that we need the help of Peace Child Kaleem Malkendy. Kaleem, if you're watching this will you please make contact. Your recent illegal access to Hidden Information will be overlooked. "

Yes, well. If they knew the identities of the troublemakers as his visit to Hidden Information had implied, why weren't they doing something about it?

"Will you give yourself up?" Clem was gripping the side of his desk. His knuckles were white. "Will you still be able to work with us?"

"Yes and yes. But there is something else I must do first."

He had to find Rozia. He just had to.

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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