There were no lights on in Rozia's apartment. He buzzed the intercom, just in case. Perhaps they were sleeping. No response. He buzzed again.
"Residents away. Please call again later."
Odd. Rozia didn't usually leave that message. She must be intending to be out for some time. That was also unusual.
Dare he key in the code? Perhaps they'd changed it. Best leave it a while; otherwise the surveillance system would become suspicious.
He looked up at Rozia's window. There was still no sign of life. Right. That did it. He would let himself in. He held his breath and mentally kept his fingers crossed as he typed in the code. He breathed out when the door opened and the lights came on in the foyer. Seconds later he was speeding up in the lift. He held his breath again as he tapped the code into the apartment door. That worked as well and the door slid open.
It looked as if Rozia and Petri had left in a hurry. The apartment was normally so tidy. Today, though, several of Petri's clothes were strewn over the furniture. Half a dozen or so medi-wands lay on the coffee table. There were two cups half full of what looked like tea that had gone cold.
Kaleem tried his communicator. No, it still wouldn't work. Could he use Rozia's dataserve?
He sat down at the console. "Serve!" he commanded. It booted up. So, they really had been in a hurry. He knew that Rozia was fastidious about shutting everything down properly and she changed her pass code at least once a month. This time, not however, apparently. Whatever had happened must be really bad. "Come on Rozia," he whispered. "Where are you?"
"Location not tracked," the dataserve informed him. Well at least they'd got that right.
Kaleem commanded up the news feed. He soon found the video clips where he'd seen Rozia and Petri. He froze the picture and zoomed right in. He couldn't recognise where they were but he could see that Petri was in pain. What on Zandra was going on?
He glanced back at the medi-wands. Was there something wrong with Petri's meds again?
Then he heard them. Petri was whimpering.
"Who's in there?" called Rozia. "I'm calling security."
Kaleem sprang up and rushed to the door. "It's only me."
"What are you doing here? How did you get in? Where have you been? We've all been so worried?"
"I could say the same about you. I saw you on the news video. Where was that?"
"It was near one of the old medi-centres. We were trying to find Joahnsa Brooken. The last three wands have been duds."
"But isn't she at the medi-centre just near here?"
Rozia shook her head. "She seems to have disappeared. They were all a bit cagey there. But one of the nurses told me that she thinks she's had to go into hiding. She's been threatened by some of the brown tunics because she's too keen to help non-Zandrians – like us."
"Did you find her? Did you get some good wands?"
Rozia shook her head and tears began to form in her eyes. Kaleem just wanted to hold her but he suspected she wouldn't let him.
Just at that moment Petri squawked.
"I need to get her into the dark," said Rozia, picking up the little girl and taking her towards her bedroom.
"Let me help."
"There's not a lot you can do. I'm used to this."
Rozia took an age. He could hear Petri crying.
"It'll be all right," he heard Rozia say. "When you've been in the dark a little longer it'll settle down."
He busied himself with Rozia's dataserve. It was useless, though. If Dr Brooken was in hiding, and it looked very much as if she was, there was no way he would find her without dragging Rozia into Hidden Information as well. He wouldn't dare do that.
Rozia at last came back into the lounge.
"She's really uncomfortable. The blisters don't seem to be subsiding. In fact, they seem to be getting worse. She's sent herself to sleep though. Let's hope she sleeps for a long time and that they sort themselves out by the time she wakes up. "
"Should I stay for a while?"
"Yes, please. I'd like that."
Dare he put an arm around her? Perhaps not. She must have been exhausted though. Two comfisessel hovered over to them and they both sat down. The sessels styed so close together that after Rozia’s head had nodded a few times it dropped on to his shoulder. Soon she was asleep and breathing evenly.
He dared it. He wriggled a little and managed to get his arm around her back. She hardly stirred. It felt so right. Her hair was soft against his cheek and smelt of roses. Oh, he still loved her so much. All that drama with Ella had just been nonsense.
"Dim lights," he commanded the apartment.
The lights did go down and some soft music began to play. This was exactly how it was meant to be. Would she be cross when she woke up?
He didn't have time to find out. Petri suddenly screamed. Rozia leapt to her feet and rushed to her bedroom. Kaleem followed her.
"What is it darling?" Rozia uncovered the girl. It was dark in her room but Petri protested at even the gentle light that shone from the hallway.
Kaleem's eyes adjusted quickly. He could make out the raw weeping sores that covered her skin.
Rozia touched her lightly. "She's really burning up."
"Make it go away," Petri whimpered. "I don't want this." Then she vomited over Rozia. She started shaking and convulsing. Foam came from her mouth.
"We've got to do something!" Rozia cried
"Has she ever been this bad before?"
Rozia shook her head. "No, never, it's almost as if..." She bit her lip.
"As if what?"
"Not only are the wands not working but they've somehow poisoned her. Made her worse."
That was it. Kaleem knew what he must do. "I'm going to get some help."
Petri's shaking became even more violent. Rozia tried to hold her down. "What can we do?"
Kaleem found it difficult to ignore them but he made his way to Rozia's dataserve. "Contact Executive Tyler. Emergency protocol. Kaleem Malkendy Peace Child reporting back."
Ella appeared in a holo. Her face gave nothing away. Decidedly frosty then. Well, they'd just have to work beyond that.
"I need your help," Kaleem said.
"Really? And what do I get in exchange?"
"You know I'll be back to help sort out the tensions. You know I only accessed Hidden Information in order to help me do that." He wouldn't say anything else. Not what she wanted to hear, most likely.
Ella just about nodded. Her lips remained pursed. She sighed. "So what's the problem now?"
"Petri's really ill. The medi-wands seem to have failed. In fact we even think ... "
"You think what?" Ella drummed her fingers lightly on the table.
"Some attempt may have been made to harm her."
Ella's face softened slightly. "All right. I'll get you some help straight away. You're at their apartment now?"
"There will be somebody there in less than ten minutes. I'll link you up to the emergency medical line as well right now."
"Thank you." He could trust her, he knew that, even though she was a bit cross with him at the moment. He went to go back to Rozia.
"I've reinstated your communication system. Welcome back."
The screen went black and Petri yelled again.
"At least she's stopped convulsing," said Rozia as Kaleem arrived back in Petri's room. "But I don't like the way she's swelling up."
Neither did Kaleem. At least though he could now use his personal communicator to talk to the medics.
"It sounds like anaphylactic shock," said the medic. "I presume you have no adrenalin wands?"
"No." They only had useless or perhaps even poisonous wands.
"Lie her as flat as you can and tilt her head backwards. My colleague will be there in two minutes."
Kaleem helped Rozia to lie Petri back and the girl's breathing eased a little but she was now swelling even more and there was a blue tinge to her lips.
"Hurry," whispered Rozia.
The intercom buzzed and Kaleem quickly verified the ID of the medic and let him in. Seconds later the medic was wanding Petri.
The swelling subsided and Petri began to return to a more normal colour.
"That's the allergy dealt with," said the medic. "Now to treat the blisters and give her the meds that will stop them forming."
He had to use six wands before Petri was completely back to normal. "I've also brought along a month's supply. In future Executive Taylor will personally authorise her meds. So, there shouldn't be any more problems."
"Do we have any idea how it all went wrong?" Kaleem asked,
The medic shrugged. "Who knows with everything that's been going on? The world's gone crazy, it seems. But she should be all right for a while now."
"Thank you so much," said Rozia as they let him out of the apartment.
Within ten minutes, Petri was sleeping peacefully.
"You should try and get some rest as well," said Kaleem. "I'll stay just in case. I'll get some work done, if you don't mind."
Rozia nodded. Her eyelids were drooping and she was very pale. "Go on then." She made her way slowly out of the room, her shoulders hunched up.
A few moments later Kaleem was engrossed in searching through some Wordtext files Ella had sent to him. There was nothing very exciting there. His own eyes began to close.
He decided to have a power nap and removed himself to the sofa. He lay on his back and felt himself relax deeply. He was just at that point where he was still awake and conscious that he was having surreal thoughts when he felt Rozia shaking him.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I just had to tell you. I couldn't sleep. And I've made a decision. We're going back to Terrestra."
Kaleem was now wide awake. "You can't do that. Petri won't be able to get the treatment she needs there."
"We can control her condition. We did before and I expect Terrestra has moved on as well. At least nobody will try to poison us there."
She couldn't go. He mustn't let her. He would lose her all over again. Just as he was beginning to win her back. "Please don't go." He went to touch her but she folded her arms across her chest.
His communicator buzzed. No! Ella. He couldn't ignore her. It was marked urgent and this was his work now.
He reluctantly accepted the call.
Ella's face now filled the screen. "Get your butt over here. Have you seen the news?"
Rozia and Kaleem exchanged a glance.
"News," commanded Rozia.
A human reporter was speaking. "This is unprecedented news from Zenoto," he said.
It's getting more and more complicated here and very frightening.
Kaleem asked me just after the Referendum what I thought about the One World Community and whether Terrestra, Zandra and Zenoto should be members. It seemed like a no-brainer to me at first. Obviously we all should. For sure it's better to have us all working together, isn't it?
But some things are beginning to happen now that are making we wonder.
Kaleem is being ambivalent as well. Not long ago he invited us to have breakfast with him. It was almost like old times and having Petri along almost made me feel as if we were a family. Actually, Petri is getting to be quite the little madam about that. She keeps on dropping hints that Kaleem and I should be together. But then I tried to contact Kaleem to get him to help me decide whether I should go back to Terrestra or not and he didn't reply. So we started getting all packed up, then we had all the trouble with Petri again and he just walks in as cool as you like. He was a great help, though. But I just don't know where I am with him.
They still haven't solved the problem of my credits. Nazaret and Marijam have been great but I can't go on taking from them forever.
There are some very strange things happening here on Zandra. We keep getting reports of riots and protest marches. And then there are all those people wearing brown tunics. What does that mean?
As far as I can tell, nothing like that is happening on Terrestra. It will be a safe place for me and Petri. It may be that Terrestra becomes isolated again and that may be the safest place for us. So, clearly the One World Community isn't working any more.
It's horrible sometimes, out on the streets. I've heard people whisper and say things like "Go home, parasite." Oddly though I've never been able to see who's made the remark. I'm beginning to think I might actually be imagining it. I think I might only be able to get over this paranoia if I get away from this place.
Then when Petri became ill again it was terrifying. It was almost as if the wands were not just useless, but that they were actually making her even worse. We tried to get in contact with Doctor Joahnsa Brooken but totally failed. She seems to have disappeared. Petri was really ill - she kept vomitting and having fits. It was terrifying.
Then Kaleem turns up just at the right moment. It was so reassuring having him there. He also managed to get help from Ella Tyler, an executive he knows. She will guarantee that good wands will be supplied to us. The medic she sent was also able to help and eventually we got Petri calm and asleep. All good then in the end but I'm still worrying about Doctor Brooken.
Kaleem was such a support so it made it all the more difficult telling him that we were going to leave.I still care about him a lot but I'm having difficulty figuring out whether we mean anything to him.
I'll keep you all posted,
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