"Bakewell tart and builder's tea. That do you?"
Marijam placed the tray on the low coffee table. The tart, Kaleem noticed, was slightly oddly shaped. Why was she carrying the tray herself anyway? What did she think the kitchen droid was for after all? Oh yes. Right. It was obvious. "You made it yourself?"
"Because I can and I wanted to."
"Why though? The droid would make it near perfect. And it would be more economical."
"Who knows how much longer we'll be able to have droids and all this fantastic technology? The world's going mad."
"You don't think it will get that bad do you? Surely not?"
"I hope not. We never seem to learn from history. We're repeating ourselves."
Kaleem shrugged. Well, maybe. He took a bite of his tart. Gosh it was good, even if it was a funny shape. Both the pastry and the cakey filling were extra light. You could really taste the almonds and the raspberry jam as well. "This is good, Mother."
Marijam laughed. "I always could make pastry. Don't you remember when we lived in the caves?"
Oh yes, he did. He nodded and took a sip of his tea. That was good too. It was unusual as well. Zandrian water did not usually make good Terrestran tea but this was really convincing. "How did you manage this then?"
"It cost a fair amount. I'm just making the most of it all while the communications are still open."
"You think it will get that bad?"
"It's best to be prepared for the worst. Anyway, now that you've enjoyed my afternoon tea, talk. I know you’ve come to tell me something. You've got that look about you. "
"I'm going to Zenoto. I'm to find out what's really going on."
"What?" Marijam's eyes flashed. She blushed. "You're going to be a spy again?"
"It has to be done."
"Because as you said, the world's going mad." Would they go as far as being without droids and all the new technology, though?
Marijam shook her head. "If we have to go back to living in caves would it really be so bad? Don't you remember what it was like?"
He did. Only too well. They were dark and a little damp. They'd had some technology though it had been inferior compared with what had been up on the surface. The main problem, though, had been his isolation from other people. He looked different and he was different also because he had a poorer life physically. The life there hadn't been unhappy in other ways.
Now, though, they were used to a much higher standard of living. He gestured round the room. "You'd miss all of this, wouldn't you?" He knew his mother had adapted very well to luxury. Anyway, she'd been born into it in the first place.
She glanced at where he was pointing. "Maybe. A little." Then she turned back to him. "But I'd miss you more."
"Nothing's going to happen to me."
"Oh, you can be so sure of that, can you?"
Well, he had to be didn't he, or he'd never do anything.
Marijam now looked straight into his eyes. "Look at what happened when you were in the Z Zone."
Yes, that. He had mixed memories of that time. The conditions there had been really squalid compared even with the cave home he and Marijam had shared. But he had shared that time with Rozia and it had been wonderful until it became dangerous and Rozia had been hurt.
"Mother, I can take care of myself. I really can." Even if he couldn't take care of the person he loved most in the world.
"Let somebody else do it this time. You've done your share."
"You know I can't."
"You won't have the protection of the Prophecy this time."
Kaleem sighed. "Mother, you know that there wasn't anything in that in the end. It was just a recording of Davina Patterson's therapy sessions."
"Yes. All right. But wasn't it odd how she sensed you?"
Yes, well that was a bit of a mystery, how a 20th century woman under hypnosis had described some of the things that happened to him. Might it, though, be a question of making the story fit? A bit like the way fortune-tellers could say something so general that it would actually suit anyone.
"Or it could have been Kevik."
Kevik had also been born in a cave in the Z Zone and his mother had thought he had been the one mentioned in the "prophecy" until Kaleem came along. Both of their names began with 'K' after all.
Marijam shrugged. "Or it might not have been."
"Mother, you know that it was all the excellent training Razjosh gave me that protected me. Not some mumbo jumbo."
Marijam frowned. "All right then. We don't know what might happen if you go all that way and they're as hostile as they seem on the news here."
"Well Exton's an oddball, and it's puzzling how he got into office, but he's actually seeking connection with others. He doesn't want to be hostile. Just the opposite. He wants more connection with people." Kaleem wished he could actually believe himself. There was really something disturbing about the man. He had to reassure Marijam some way though.
"For goodness sake, Kaleem, isn't there enough to occupy you here? People wanting to leave the One World Community. Brown tunics marching on the streets. Nasty racist incidents."
"It's all part of the same thing isn't it?"
"Oh yes. So if you find out what's causing the trouble here, you could apply it to what's going on on Zenoto, surely."
"I guess it's bigger on Zenoto. They need me there. A Zandrian can sort it out here."
"Who would you suggest?"
"Ella Tyler, for example." He felt himself blush.
"Ah. There we have it."
"Mother, I'd be getting away from her, wouldn't I, if I went to Zenoto?"
Marijam sighed. "What is going on here, Kaleem? It's frightening."
Kaleem nodded. "And Zenoto, the old Zenoto, might have been able to save us. They need me to uncover it again." He wondered whether it all had something to do with the House of Clementine. He suspected it probably did. That was now becoming just as much a mystery as the Babel prophecy had been. Would that have a rational explanation in the end as well?
"Would it? And you're a bit arrogant if you think you'll be able to persuade them to go back to their old ways and help us. That you can do this better than anyone else. "
Ah. There was his mother speaking.
He sighed. "Mother, you know I have to do it. That's all there is to it."
"What about Rozia and Petri? Are you going to abandon them?"
Oh, yes she'd got the measure of him, most certainly. Kaleem swallowed the huge lump that had formed in his throat. His mother was right. Of course he couldn't abandon Rozia a second time. Surely, anyway, he needed to stop her from going back to Terrestra. However bad it was getting on Zandra, there were still so many advantages for her and Petri if they stayed here.
"Well? You won't will you?"
He looked at his mother. "I don't think I can. You're quite right. "
"Good. I'm glad we've got that settled. So you'll go and talk to them?"
"As soon as possible."
He got up from the table and started getting ready to leave. "The sooner the better, I guess."
This wasn't going to be an easy
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