Kaleem made his way back to his own apartment and got into the shower. As the water flowed over his body he tried to think what he was going to say to the executives. How exactly was he going to talk his way out of this one? Now it felt cowardly to run away from his duty. But then there was Rozia. He had to look after her as well.
The water cascaded over his body and soothed him. Oh, yes life was good on Zandra. Even things as simple as hot water and toiletries were more effective than anything he had ever used on Terrestra. They were certainly having the desired effect here. He felt clean and he could also feel his body relaxing. They might not solve his immediate dilemma. They did make him care a little less.
Just as he began to think he'd had enough, the water stopped and the drier clicked on. The warm air was soothing as well.
It was maybe all a little too relaxing. He felt decidedly sleepy. He returned to his dressing room and selected a grey silky tunic and leggings to match from his closest and pulled them on. Yes, grey was a good choice. It was a solid neutral colour. The silky material suggested sophistication. These would certainly be right.
It was no good, though. He was just too sleepy. It was understandable, he supposed. He hadn't had a lot of sleep over the last few days. He staggered into the kitchen and commanded a coffee. Then whilst it was preparing he stretched out on the sofa in the lounge. His eyes closed.
He must have only slept for ten minutes. Maybe even fewer. He woke with a start. The machine was bleeping telling him the coffee was ready. That wasn't the only thing that had woken him, though. The main dataserve screen had opened and a familiar face was looking at him. Saratina. These days he just didn't see the distortion of her features and the ugly scars. She was just Saratina. She was one of his best friends. That was all.
She beamed at him. The smile came mainly from her eyes. Her lop-sided mouth couldn't make the right shape. It was so clear, though, that she was pleased to see him. Naturally he was pleased to see her.
But why was she contacting him from Terrestra? That was an expensive thing to do. Had something gone wrong there as well? He was wide awake now. He didn't really need the coffee anymore.
"Hello, Saratina," he said. "It's lovely to see you. There's nothing wrong, is there?"
She shook her head. "I just wanted to see how you were. It doesn't sound good there."
He could understand her perfectly these days. That was something that had actually only happened after they had both been prisoners on Zenoto during his earlier visit there. She did speak slowly but she always got there in the end.
"I'm fine. Though I have a bit of a dilemma."
"They want me to go to Zenoto and find out what is really going on there. But I don't want to go."
"Well, there's plenty to do here. And I want to keep an eye on Rozia and Petri."
"You should go to Zenoto. It's a good place."
"It was. I'm not so sure now."
Saratina shrugged. "It's a good place where something bad is happening. Bad things happen in good places. They need a Peace Child to bring the order back."
"Oh, I don't think I'm that good."
"You are, Kaleem. You are. Nobody could be better." She giggled. "Especially as you know so much about what they eat. Do you remember when we used to cook?"
Could he ever forget that? It was working alongside her in the kitchen for all of those hours and days on end that had made him finally understand her. She became great at cooking the Zenoton way as well.
The smile escaped from her eyes for a moment. "Seriously, Kaleem. You must go. You know them so well. It won't take you long to dig out what's really happening there."
She was right. His mother was right as well. This wasn't really helping. The dilemma remained.
"I wish you could come with me." Saratina was always so wise.
She laughed. "I'm too old for another big trip like that. But I could manage a shorter one."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll come to Zandra and look after Rozia and Petri."
"Of course. I like Rozia and I'm sure I'll get on well with Petri once she gets to know me."
This would be a good solution. Rozia did get on so well with Saratina. Saratina was very good with children anyway. Just look how she and Rozia had looked after the Adulkis.
"And if she insists on coming back to Terrestra, I'll look out for her here."
Of course she would. That was so much in Saratina's nature. Why hadn't he thought of that himself? Maybe she would even be able to talk some sense into Rozia about staying on Zandra.
Well, he probably hadn't considered it because she'd done so much for them all in the past. Last time he'd been with her she'd seemed tired. He hadn't wanted to impose. She glowed with health and energy today. This now seemed like an excellent solution.
"You have to be the Peace Child again, Kaleem. You're needed now more than ever."
"Yes, but really, why not here?"
"Lots of people can work with Zandrians. You have all of that experience with Zenotons. "
"There are a few more who might be able to take them on.”
"Yes, but not the people who have your diplomatic skills or your ability to blend in. This is about how you helped to get Terrestra and Zandra talking. How you reached out to us in the Z Zone and how you got rid of Switch-Off. How you appeased the Zenotons earlier. Just think as well of all the trouble Razjosh went to to train you. "
A bolt of pain passed through Kaleem's chest at the mention of his former mentor. He still missed him. It seemed such a waste that they'd saved him from Switch-off only for him to die naturally a short time afterwards.
"You need to think of making Razjosh proud."
Kaleem nodded. He most certainly did. Staying on Zandra was no longer an option.
"You'll go then."
He nodded again.
Saratina jumped up and down and clapped her hands. "I knew you'd come through. One more thing though."
"You must go and see Rozia. You must persuade her to stay on Zandra if you can. If she won't, well, yes, then she'll have to come back to Terrestra. If she stays on Zandra, I'll come to help her. I promise I will."
That would be a relief. If Saratina were with Rozia all would be well, he was sure of that. Then though he had a disturbing thought. What would these new Zandrian racists make of Saratina? Wouldn't they reject her because of her otherness? "I'm not sure you should come. It's not easy here now. Things have changed."
"I know. I know all about that. You don't think I'll let that put me off do you? It's not really new to me, is it?"
Well, she had a point. "I guess not."
"So, you'll go and see Rozia?"
"Right away, after we've finished this conversation?"
"Right away, after we've finished this conversation."
Saratina clapped her hands. "Good. Let me know what she says. I'll hear from you soon."
Kaleem smiled to himself. That wasn't a question.
The screen went to black. He started to call up Rozia. Then he thought better of it and left the apartment.
The lift deposited him on the street within seconds.
He started to jog towards Rozia's apartment.
"They look all right, don't they?"
Kaleem nodded. They certainly did. Just ordinary school kids who'd been called into a meet and who were now making their way home. There was the usual excitement, caused in part by whatever the subject of the meet had been and in part because so many of them were together which was something that happened only rarely.
"How do you know they're House of Clementine?"
"Just intelligence we've gathered. But I'd put money on there being some symbol on their clothing. It may only be tiny but it will be there. Besides, can't you see how confident they look?"
Kaleem watched a few of them closely as they walked past. Yes, every single one of them had either an orange stripe somewhere on their clothes or wore a small badge or brooch. Some of the girls had slides in their hair and some of the badges, brooches and slides were even shaped like very small clementines. All of this was hardly visible but, yes, if you looked carefully, you could see it. And Clem was right; they did all look very confident. Couldn't that, though, just be the effect of their teachers being good at their job?
He was glad, though, that he'd been invited to look at this. He was beginning to understand the House of Clementine a bit more now.
Kaleem shrugged. "They seem so normal, though."
"Part of the subtlety of the Order, I think. But these kids will have the edge on others, you'll see."
They watched the last of them make their way out of the building and towards the public transporters.
Clem nudged Kaleem. "It looks as if they're not going straight home." He pointed to the entrance of the transporter station. Most of them were making their way down a passage to the side. "Let's go and take a look. I think I know where they're going and it will all be visible from the transporter platform."
The platform was quite empty when they arrived. A transporter had just left.
"They'll be late home for lunch," Clem muttered. "Their mothers won't be too pleased. There they are, look. Just as I suspected." He pointed up to a pathway that ran above the platform.
The students were gathered there in small groups. The noise level was growing as they all shouted above each other, trying to make themselves heard. There were one or two play fights going on.
"That's all just normal, though isn't it?" asked Kaleem. He could still remember his own school days.
Clem nodded. "But House of Clementine kids are supposed to be a cut above the rest."
"Aren't we really pleased that they're not, after all?"
"I guess so. But I can't help feeling there's something extra going on. Oh, now look." Clem was pointing to the group at the far right of the walk way.
Two boys and a girl were pushing their communicators together as if the girl was collecting currency. She then took a packet out of her bag and took two smaller packets out of that and handed them to the two boys. Kaleem watched one of the boys sprinkle some white powder out of the packet and snort it up his nose.
Clem nudged him again. "Look at the guy with the red bandana."
The student, who was definitely taller and looked older than the others, took a medi-wand out of his bag and passed it to another student who handed him something tiny that Kaleem couldn't quite see.
"I'd imagine that that's some sort of expensive jewellery."
"But what's with the medi-wand?"
"Oh, it's not a medi-wand. It's a wand charged with some sort of mind-altering drug."
"Where would they get that sort of stuff?"
"There's probably a whole drug-trafficking ring set up."
"So they're not so squeaky clean as they'd like us to think?"
"It would seem not. And you have to ask who is behind all of this."
"You don't mean...?" Could it be an inside job?
"If it's House of Clementine it will be damned efficient."
The students started to disperse.
Clem nudged Kaleem again. "Here comes the cavalry."
Some adults were now making their way on to the walkway.
Clem nodded. "Knights."
They looked like ordinary Zandrians to Kaleem. "How do you know?"
"Well, look who's with them."
Of course. Arboth.
"How would they have known about this? And look at how effective they're being." It was clear that the adults commanded the respect of the youngsters straight away. Maybe this was a little different from what happened normally.
"Their spy network is at least as good as ours. Clementine excellence again."
Most of the students were now making their way down to the platform accompanied by the adults. They were talking quite seriously. Arboth and another knight had remained behind with the girl and the older student. They handed the wand and the packet of powder over to the two knights.
"Pretty good at clearing up, then," said Kaleem, "even if it is an inside job."
Clem nodded. "Let's see if we can find out more."
Arboth looked down at them suddenly and nodded.
The café was just as deserted as the first time and the ancient droid had not improved either.
"You're sure he'll come again?" asked Kaleem as the cranky machine trundled over.
"Gentlemen, I'm sorry for the delay," said the robotic voice. "The good news is, I do have Clementine tea in stock today. Would you care to try it?"
Anything would be better than the coffee.
"Yes please," said Kaleem and Clem together.
As the droid squeaked over towards his drinks machine the door slid open and Arboth walked in.
"Told you," whispered Clem.
Arboth's face was red. He pushed his dark hair back from his face. "Bring me a cool frega," he called to the droid. He almost collapsed onto the comfisessel.
"That bad?" asked Clem.
"Young people on drugs? Who's selling to them? Outsiders or is it an inside job?" asked Kaleem.
"Actually both. And what's more there's other corruption."
Arboth nodded again.
"Some knight trainers are taking bribes." He looked straight into Kaleem's eyes. "You could buy yourself a Clementine knighthood. Very easily. Why don't you?"
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