Kaleem gazed through the window of the apartment he'd been given. This was a real view, not a holoed one. The lemony sky reflected on the deep red rocks. The green water glistened in the strong sunlight. A gentle breeze made the long frond grass sway. Zenoto was still amazing, even if it was having problems at the moment.
He was reasonably comfortable here. The apartment was light and airy. The furnishings were smart. The food was very good. He couldn't really complain.
He needed air, today, though, but he'd been forbidden to go outside if not accompanied. At least they allowed droids to accompany him. They had not been intrusive. They'd just let him get on with his exercise. He wondered though, what they might do, if he tried something unorthodox. He just might today. He'd been getting nowhere.
Exton had been polite enough. He'd even shown him certain aspects of Zenoto that he'd changed. He'd answered Kaleem's questions calmly and fully but Kaleem was no nearer understanding why Exton was behaving the way he was.
The barrier was now more solid. Many supercraft and other space vehicles were being turned away. Zenoto was becoming a closed planet. Yet President Exton was making trade deals with individual planets all over the place. None could have been fulfilled yet, surely, as the new monetary system was not yet in place. If it all happened, it would bring so many changes throughout the civilised universe. If it didn't, there would be so much anger directed at Zenoto. He shuddered to think what might happen.
The Zenotons were divided, just like the Zandrians. Was it all the same cause?
He'd been here three months now. He was getting nowhere. He was in effect under house arrest. He wasn't allowed to communicate with the outside world. He'd not heard anything of Rozia and Petri. He was only allowed access to local news channels.
He commanded the dataserve to show him the latest. There was another protest march against Exton. It was becoming violent as Exton's supporters started attacking them.
Then he noticed a woman in the crowd. That was surely Jadee Elliott. How had she got here? It made some sense, he supposed. She was a correspondent and it was her job to be here. Yet she wasn't acting like a correspondent this time. She was trying to hide. She was also talking to a Zenoton who had a large red scar across his face. How had that man got that? Zenotons usually didn't get into fights.
She disappeared from the screen.
That was it. He was going to find out what was going on out there.
"Inform droids I'm going for a run," he commanded the dataserve. He would have to find a way of getting rid of them. Perhaps if he headed for where he'd seen those crowds they might get separated anyway.
He was soon out on the road and hurrying in the direction of the town. He had gone a few hundred yards when the droids caught up with him.
"Sir, you must wait until we arrive," one tinny voice said.
"Well, you take too much time," Kaleem muttered. "I'm only going for a run."
"We are the latest spec," the other droid answered. "And you know our presence is required at all times when you are out of your apartment."
"So let's see if you can keep up with me." Kaleem started to speed up. He must try and find Jadee. What was she doing? He was pretty certain he knew exactly where she'd been when he saw her on the video clip. Not that he could guarantee she'd still be there.
He made his way down the hill towards the nearby town.
"Sir," said one of the droids. "You are going towards a built-up area. That is not desirable. May I suggest that we turn off unto the park?"
No, you may not.
He accelerated again and was soon at the centre of the town. As he slowed his pace and the droids actually stopped running – their walking pace was the equivalent of Kaleem's slow jog – he found himself surrounded by crowds. He enjoyed for a few moments the sensation of being amongst ordinary people. It was busy here but relatively calm. People were just going about their normal business.
He noticed one of the droids was sending a message. Was it requesting reinforcements? Should he just comply and go back with them?
No, enough! He had to get something done.
He saw his opportunity. A man was negotiating with a market-stall holder who was displaying some fine textiles. At least money had not yet come back to Zenoto. He ran over to the stall and pushed the Zenoton out of the way. "I think my need is greater than yours." He pulled the roll of cloth off the stall and threw it over the droids.
The droids whirred and spluttered for a few seconds and then shut down.
He knew it wouldn't be too long until someone else found him. The chip in his right arm would help Exton's people to locate him. But he had a little time. He was now pretty near where he'd seen Jadee.
Then he saw him – the man with the scarred face. That was a bit of luck. He might be able to take him to Jadee. He started to follow him.
The Zenoton walked briskly but with a bit of a limp. Every so often he looked over his shoulder as if he was expecting someone to be following him. Kaleem had gone to that place where he couldn't be seen again and the man clearly had no idea he was being followed.
They took a zig-zag route through the town. It was clear that this man knew what he was doing. Kaleem recognised where they were. They could have got there in a third of the time. The Zenoton was certainly trying to confuse anyone who was watching.
At last the man made his way into a shop. Kaleem stood outside on the street, looking into the window. It appeared to be an antique shop. Some of the items on display were really old. A large musical instrument made out of real wood dominated the window. There was also a small table with wooden legs. It looked like real wood again. Its top was made of a very yellow metal. Then there was a small figure of a woman in the same metal. He had the feeling it was some sort of bell. His mother had talked about her grandmother owning something similar.
An elderly Zenoton appeared in the doorway. "Can I help you, young man?" Thank goodness he didn't recognise him.
Kaleem pointed to the metal figure. "Is that a bell?"
The expression on the Zenoton's face changed. His eyes narrowed and he frowned. "Come in quickly. The others are already down there."
The man ushered him across the shop and through a door hidden behind a curtain. He slammed the door behind Kaleem. A set of uncarpeted steps led down to another door. The light was dim in there but as soon as he started walking again the staircase lit up. The door at the bottom swung open and Kaleem found himself in room with about twenty other people. There sitting right in front of him were Jadee and the man with the scar.
Jadee sprang up out of her seat. "Kaleem, what are you doing here?"
"I followed him." He pointed to the scar-faced man who was now looking at Jadee, obviously expecting some sort of negative reaction to the fact that he'd been followed.
"Zabren. Kaleem." She waved her hand vaguely as an introduction. "But how did you get in?"
"I asked if that metal figure in the window was a bell."
Jadee chuckled. "Thereby showing that you understand about antiques. Yes, that would be enough for old Gentio to be convinced that you were one of us."
"Well, who are you?"
"We are the resistance. I'm working with the anti-monetary Zenotons to resist a return to monetarism. And you'd better sit down for the next bit of information."
Everybody in the room was staring at Kaleem. They looked as if they were trying to stop themselves from laughing. He sat on the comfisessel that Jadee had pushed towards him.
"Our founder was Pangwit Exton."
A few of the others nodded.
"What? So what happened?"
"Power went to his head. He was actually making some crazy suggestions and first of all he was replaced as leader and eventually asked to leave. So he then chose to do everything he could to undo what we were doing. Including becoming president and changing the regime."
"What made him so motivated?"
"His parents were high achievers. He always had to prove himself. Of course I 'm no psychologist but that's my guess."
"So this resistance existed even before Exton got into power?"
Jadee nodded. "There was always some dissatisfaction amongst the Zenotons. Pangwit is just using that as a tool."
She'd called him by his first name. That was interesting. He would find out more about that later.
"How did you get through the barrier?"
Jadee tapped the side of her nose. "I'm not going to give away all of my secrets. Not even to you. But let me show you around."
The resistance centre was impressive. Kaleem found the people interesting and friendly. They were doing really good work and they were clearly using many of the diplomatic techniques he was familiar with. The most important though was that he now knew that Exton didn't really believe in what he was doing. That was useful. But he couldn't stay here for ever.
"I suppose I should get back. I'm surprised they haven't found me yet."
"They won't get a signal on your chip down here. The minute you step outside they'll probably pounce. But do come back here as often as you can now – if you're allowed out again after your escape." Jadee grinned. "Your expertise would be useful."
Kaleem braced himself to go outside. They would probably swoop on him as soon as his head was out of the doorway. At least now though he had something pretty powerful he could use against Exton. No, against wasn't the right word. He wasn't against the man. He wanted to understand him, persuade him that peace rather than conflict was the better option and that peace could mean everyone could win.
He was soon out in the open air. Nothing happened for several seconds. Then, though, much as he had expected, a police transporter drew up. Two droids and a Zenoton stepped out. Kaleem held his hands above his head. People stopped to stare.
"I'm glad that you're coming without a fuss," said the Zenoton.
"I was just curious about that antique shop," said Kaleem. Would this man know about Exton's former activities? "You droids obviously cannot cope with crowds very well."
The two droids in the transporter clicked and whirred.
"I'm sure police droids are finer-tuned."
The droids settled down.
"Well, you will be interviewed," said the Zenoton officer.
A blast suddenly shook the transporter. It stopped. Kaleem and the Zenoton officer turned to see what was happening. A ball of fire was rushing towards them along the street. People were running and screaming. The air was hot and smelt of melting plastic.
One of the droids became very active. "The explosion seems to have originated in the antique shop, sir," it reported. "All occupants have been killed. There are no survivors."
It was a strange day. Kaleem had woken as usual and gone through his normal morning routine but today he just didn't feel like working even though he knew had a lot to do. There were mild flutterings in his stomach. It was as if he were nervous about something but he had nothing to be nervous about. Something was going to happen today, of that he was sure. This had happened before. He'd had this overwhelming feeling several times that drama was about to unfold and it always had. He didn't know why or how this happened but he was certain that it was more it do with some deeply seated awareness than any form of magic. He didn't really believe in magic.
He became aware as well of a faint throbbing in his forehead. Yes, a headache was developing. It would be easy enough to apply a Zandrian wand. That would cure it in no time. Yet he had the strangest feeling that this pain was actually useful. Was that to to do with the deep inexplicable understanding? The pain was increasing and he was beginning to feel nauseous as well. Something was pressing outward from behind his eyes. His field of vision was narrowing. It was as if he were looking through a tunnel.
He still wanted to resist the wand, though. More than anything he wanted some fresh air. Difficult to get on a supercraft but at least there were effective holoscenes that offered a good approximation. He would take advantage of one of those. He could return for a wand later. Maybe he could also then eat or drink something. Not just yet, though; he would probably throw up. Yes, it was a bit stupid he knew, not applying a wand, but there was something he wanted to find out here. This was madness but it seemed important.
He found a scene that represented a small park. He began a gentle jog. The nausea was becoming milder now but he could still only see a very narrow field in front of him. He could only go very slowly and had to look mostly at the ground. It was boring though, just looking at gravel and grass. He rarely did this. Normally he just felt the ground beneath his feet. Why was he so intent on looking down? Perhaps because he couldn't see that far in front of him? He usually looked at his surroundings, didn't he? He always knew what his feet were doing.
He stopped. He looked up. Goodness. It was spectacular. The trees were covered in jewels. What was that? Why had he never seen it before? One tree near him had some rather low branches. It too was covered in what looked like fine necklaces. He touched one gently and the chain broke. Now, though, even with his disturbed vision he could see exactly what it was. A spider's web was covered in dew and the droplets were catching the light of the early sun. Had he never seen that before? Well, yes he probably had. But had he noticed it? Was he seeing it more easily at the moment because his vision was a bit odd?
Another pain shot through his head. Maybe he should go to one of the medi-centres and get wanded. He took a deep breath and the pain eased a little. He closed his eyes. He wanted darkness but could still see light and orange and purple patches. Was the sun so bright already? Nonsense, it was just a holoscene. They were cheating a bit, making the sun rise high into the sky more quickly. He opened his eyes and could see nothing but the bright colours of the leaves on the trees. Some were still green but others seemed to hum and vibrate in their ethereal yellow, orange, red and pink.
It was too much. It was on overload on his senses. He retched and then the bile rose up through his gullet and he threw up. His vomit tasted vile. Thankfully no one saw him. Vomiting was rare these days. It was so easily prevented and if it happened it looked like a lack of control. He immediately felt a bit better but there was still some pressure behind his eyes and his vision had only improved a little. Time to find that medi-centre. He was relieved to see a Cleansing Department droid approaching. There would soon be no evidence of what had just happened.
It was too early. The nearest medi-centre was not open. He considered going back to his quarters instead. He was still curious, though, about something. He didn't know what and he wanted to stay out. Again it was if he was noticing everything for the first time. Or was it still that funny vision? The whiteness made his head hurt.
He found a pharmacy open.
Fortunately the pharmacist was a Zandrian and not a droid. It would no doubt be easier to explain to her.
"My goodness," she said after Kaleem had told her about his symptoms. "I've not heard of a case of that for a long time. You have a good old-fashioned migraine. It's been eradicated from the Zandrian race but you're not pure Zandrian are you?" She put her hand in front of her mouth. "Oh gosh, I didn't recognise you at first. You're so pale."
Kaleem nodded as she fumbled in a drawer. "It's not a problem."
She took out a wand and charged it. Then she held it to Kaleem's forehead. The pressure went away immediately and he could see properly. But the pure whiteness of the place had disappeared also.
"Better?" she asked.
Kaleem nodded. "But the colours don't seem so vivid either. That's a shame."
She frowned. "Mm. I think I've heard of something like that." She then spoke to her dataserve in words Kaleem did not understand. Neither did he understand its reply. She nodded. "Yes, it seems that that heightened awareness can be a warning of an eminent seizure. The wand will also have prevented that so there's no need to worry. You should book in for a thorough examination, though, so that we can get to the cause of it. Sometimes, you know, space travel can upset our systems and rhythms. And the good news is that once you have experienced this type of awareness you can bring it on at will."
"Thank you. I really feel much better now. Thank you for the information, too."
"My pleasure. Don't forget to get checked out."
Soon Kaleem was moving along the corridors of the supercraft as if nothing had happened. He decided to do an extensive circuit instead of going straight back to his cabin. He still noticed new things, though. It wasn't quite as intense as seeing the jewelled spider webs or the vibrant colours in the leaves as he had in the holoscene. Yet each deck and corridor was different from each other. Some windows sparkled more than others. Each new passage was quirkier than the one before it. Did this represent someone trying to be cleverer that the rest? Was this snazz? And why had he never noticed these things before?
There were now a few more people walking the decks. He started looking carefully at their appearance - the way they were dressed and the way they had applied any make-up. At first there was nothing too spectacular. Everyone was wearing a fairly normal combination of a plain coloured tunic and leggings.
But then he started seeing small differences. A few wore a tunic in a different colour from the leggings and in some cases the colours didn't go together at all well. In other cases the colours enhanced each other. Some people had a little decoration on their clothes or even on their skin. There was nothing as spectacular as Meelak and no sign of the House of Clementine. Kaleem was astonished that every outfit seemed exactly right for its wearer. Was that another possible definition of "snazzy"?
Did he look the same to other people?
He was getting hungry now. He would go back for breakfast and take a look at himself in the mirror.
He stared at himself while he waited for the drawer delivery.
Yes, his outfit was pretty plain. He knew that his overall appearance was strange to most people. He was neither Zandrian nor Terrestran. Was his outfit "snazzy" because its plainness contrasted effectively with his oddness? Or should he in fact go in completely the opposite direction and dress as Meelak did?
As he looked in the mirror he remembered the strange blue stick he'd found after he'd first met Meelak. He felt for it at the back of his drawer. Yes it was still there. He took it and carefully shaded above his right eye. Suddenly Meelak was looking back at him. Just for a fraction of a second. Then he was himself again. Then Meelak. Meelak grinned. "Go Kaleem," he said. "Welcome to my world."
The images in the mirror started to change faster and faster. A pain shot through Kaleem's head. He thought he was going to vomit again. Before he could though everything went black.
"Ah, you're back with us now."
It was white here. Very white. The light was bright. His head was no longer hurting though and he had the feeling that quite a lot of time had passed. His vision slowly cleared and he could see that he was in a medi-centre.
"How long have I been here?"
"48 universal hours. Two whole Zenoton days."
"Where am I exactly?"
"Medi-centre West 3."
"West 3?" That was the biggest medi-centre on the supercraft, wasn't it?
"Yes, you were transferred across from your local one."
"Why?" Kaleem's throat threatened to close and he started to choke. The medic handed his a tumbler of water.
"This has got the correct nutrients in it. Drink it slowly."
Kaleem felt himself calming down as he drank. Had it only got nutrients in it?
"You had a massive seizure."
"Yes a full-blown attack, very unusual these days."
"How did you know though?"
"Your dataserve alerted us and you were taken to the nearest medi-centre. Fortunately they managed to stabilise you very quickly."
"So why have I been brought here then?"
"My colleagues detected that your brain waves were not behaving either the way that those of a normal healthy humanoid’s should or the way that those of someone prone to seizures would. So they put you into an induced coma, transported you here and we've now completed some investigations."
Kaleem became aware that his head was a little sore. He rubbed his scalp and was surprised to find that it was partly bald.
"That scar will heal in a few hours and your hair will grow back quickly."
"So it's not another headache starting?"
"No not at all."
"So what did you find out?"
The medic sighed. "Nothing really. By the time we'd got into your brain everything had completely normalized. You are a complete mystery. There is absolutely no indication that you'll ever have another seizure or indeed a migraine."
"So what caused it?"
The medic shrugged. "No idea. You've puzzled us all."
This was annoying. Yet another oddity about him.
The medic folded his arms across his chest. "We've installed a chip to further monitor your brain activity. It will alert us if anything untoward threatens to happen."
Kaleem nodded. "Won't the chip itself have some effect?"
"Unlikely, and you'll never know it was there."
"It can't be used for anything else?"
"Not at all. Are you feeling okay now?"
"Yes." He was actually. His head had stopped being sore and he was beginning to feel full of energy.
"Then you may go."
Kaleem stood up and made his way to the door.
"There's a transporter pod just outside."
Kaleem shook his head. "It's fine. I'll jog."
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