It was now five days since Exton had disappeared. Kaleem had somehow found his way back to the President's private residence. He was managing to live without it looking as if anyone was there. He'd found out how to make the windows dark all of the time. He wasn't using power from the main grid. There was a private generator that he could run long enough during the night to give him enough power for all day. He avoided using any of the communication systems. No one would guess he was there. That meant there was very little he could do, though. He didn't even dare use the dataserve. There may be some sort of trace on that, either by the House of Clementine or by the presidential team office or both. He knew that the next move would become apparent when he needed it to.
He spent plenty of time exploring the residence. It too had many aspects so like the old fairy tale castle. There were vast high-ceilinged rooms decorated with tapestries of hunting scenes. He'd even found a secret passage connecting a library to a bedroom. Each evening as it grew dark a holoed fire lit itself in the main room – yes, that happened even though he was using the minimum of power. And joy of joys, the library contained some old Wordtext books. That at least stopped him being bored. In fact, some of the stories were helping him to figure out what was going on. Wasn't that after all the purpose of stories?
It was a bright and sunny day. He had set the windows so that he could see out but nobody could see in. He had just finished reading a rather gruesome story about a girl who had been eaten by a wolf. What was that all about?
He didn't have too much time to think. The light at the window suddenly changed. A shadow crossed in front of it. He glanced out. There was someone in the garden. He or she was wearing a blue cloak rather like the ones the House of Clementine knights wore. Who was it? What were they doing there? He couldn't tell whether it was a woman or a man. Whoever it was actually seemed to be rooting around under some of the plants. Were they looking for something? Were they actually digging?
She or he suddenly stood up. There seemed to be something under their cloak.
Should he try and find out what was going on? Well, he did know how to follow people without being noticed and nobody suspected he was living there - probably.
He pulled on some outdoor clothes quickly. He made his way down into the garden. The mystery person was now leaving. Kaleem quickened his pace but kept in the shadow of the garden walls. He managed to keep the stranger in sight. He was certain he couldn't be seen.
There was something about the person's gait that made him think he was following a female. They were light on their feet and there was a slight sway in the hips. Yes, definitely female.
She started walking more quickly and was out of the grounds in no time. She stood at the edge of the road looking to her right as if waiting for someone.
After a few minutes a transporter drew up. There was no one else inside. She stepped into it and removed her hood – yes, it was definitely a woman - and was soon on her way. There was nothing more he could do.
He wandered back into the garden. He looked at where she’d been digging. The soil hardly looked disturbed. Maybe she’d put it all back. He dug down a little with his bare hands. Nothing. No sign, either, of much disturbance. What was that all about then? What exactly had she found?
Well this was going to have to remain a mystery for a time now. He looked around. No sign of anyone anywhere. He had blocked the signal from his communicator. Nobody could locate him. He was outside now, and rather enjoying it. Maybe he could venture a little further. It seemed quite safe.
He really ought, anyway, to find out what was going on. Could he get a signal on his communicator but keep it blocked? It might be worth a try. Even if he had to unblock it he might be able to move on quickly and then block it again.
He wandered a little way along the road. There were no transporters moving around here. It was pretty isolated. A pathway led off from the road and seemed to make its way into some woodland. He could see a small hill beyond the trees. Maybe that would be an ideal place, as long as he made sure he wasn't visible.
The path through the wood only took a few minutes and then he was out in the open. He would have to be careful now. He flattened himself against the hill-side and moved very slowly. He switched on his communicator but didn't unblock it. Good. It had some sort of signal.
He had a message from Rozia. His heart skipped a beat but he decided not to access it. That relationship had to stay on hold for a while.
"News," he commanded.
He was shocked as he found himself watching thousands of Zenotons rioting. It was difficult to work out which ones were on Exton's side and which ones were for the old regime. It was certainly very violent in any case. And so much against the normal nature of the Zenotons.
He skipped through various news channels and at last found some mention of Exton. No one seemed to realise he was missing. However, his own cover may be about to be blown. They were reporting Exton as holed up in his summer retreat and not answering messages. People were aware then that someone was living in the castle. Time for him to move on.
He pondered whether he should go back and kit himself out with a few supplies. Probably best not to. How he was going to get anywhere, though, he wasn't sure.
He started walking and was soon under the cover of the trees. He stayed parallel to the road but kept himself hidden by the woodland. He had a vague idea which way civilisation was. He decided he would stay in hiding even when he got back. He wouldn't go to his old apartment but would hide up somewhere until it seemed right to communicate with the authorities. He wanted to find out a lot more first.
He made good progress for a couple of hours but then his feet became sore and he was rather thirsty. This was going to take forever. Should he give himself up? He was going to have to at some point. It wasn't anyway as if he'd done anything wrong. Would it be useful to the Zenotons to know that their president was missing?
He could hear a stream not too far away. Fortunately he had a tester in his tunic pocket so there was no danger of him accidentally drinking acid. He found the stream and tested the fluid. Good. It was pure water. He cupped his hands and took several mouthfuls. He removed his socks and bathed his feet. That was better.
Yes, he was all right for now. But what should he do next? It was going to take him several days to get anywhere at this pace. The Zenotons needed to know what was going on. But he also relished the time this was giving him to find out a little more about what had been happening in the background.
He didn't have time to think for too long. The hum of a transporter was getting louder. Just at that particular moment he was unfortunately a little exposed. He stood as still as he could. It was clear, though, that the vehicle was slowing.
It stopped. Its windows were opaque and he couldn't see in. The door slid open. "You'd better come with me, don't you think?"
He recognised the voice but still couldn't see the woman's face. She had a mask over the lower half and the top was covered with a hijab that came down over her forehead.
As soon as Kaleem had sat down and fastened himself in, the woman removed her headdress. "Good to see you again," she said.
Jadee Elliott. But how could she be here?
"How did you manage that? The bomb...?"
She nodded. "Several of us got out. We quickly realised what was happening and there are several escape routes from the cellar. In fact we've only had a few injuries, none of them too serious. Not that we want Exton to know that."
"You know it was him that planted the bomb and they accused me?"
"I'd heard you'd been tried and found – well not exactly innocent. They didn't have enough evidence, did they? And he planted the bomb? Well, I guess I can sort of understand that."
It occurred to Kaleem that maybe Exton had just the tiniest bit of a conscience. He'd allowed the lack of evidence to stand. And although he'd made his house arrest stricter, he hadn't actually wished Kaleem any harm.
"You know the President's been taken?"
"No, but I'd guessed as much. Who do you think got him?"
"You have no idea?"
"Only one." She looked at him directly now, one eyebrow raised.
"And that is?"
She sighed. "You'd better take a look at this." She handed him a small package.
It was lightly covered in soil. So, she had been the mysterious woman digging in the garden. He didn't understand, though. That person had had the blue knight cloak on. And she had been hooded. He shook his head. "I don't understand... the blue cloak."
"Under your seat."
Kaleem felt underneath where he was sitting. Yes, there was something. He pulled it out. It was a blue cloak, made of a velvety material. Definitely the one he'd seen earlier. Definitely a Clementiner knight's cloak.
Jadee nodded. "The uniform of the Knights of the House of Clementine. In case I got caught in the act of stealing it. I could then argue I was working for the House."
"I don't understand."
She nodded towards the packet. "Go on. Open it."
Kaleem carefully unwrapped what turned out to be a small wooden box. Yes, it was real wood and had some suspicious-looking holes in it.
"I'm sorry about the woodworm," said Jadee. "A problem with the old materials."
The box came open easily. There were lots of papers inside, all covered in Wordtext. It wasn't a language Kaleem recognised, however and even some of the characters were foreign to him.
"By the look on your face I'm guessing you can't read it?"
"No. Sorry. I could probably decode it after a while, though. I need a lot of time and the help of a sophisticated dataserve."
"That's a shame."
"But how did you know where to find it? How come it was on Exton's land?" What exactly is it anyway?"
Jadee sighed. "It's a long story. But the short version goes a bit like this. Pangwit Exton is one of the Super Knights of the Clementine Order. And I'm a second-rank knight. And what you're holding there is the constitution of the House of Clementine."
What? And what was a Super Knight? He'd not heard of that rank before. "How can you be involved with something like that?"
"It isn't quite what it seems. I'll explain in full later. But look."
He looked to where she was pointing. They had arrived at the outskirts of a town. They now had a decision to make.
He lent forward towards her. "Should we go straight to the authorities?"
She nodded. "It's best to, don't you think?" She turned to the control panel. "Take us straight to the Zenoton council," she commanded.
The transporter suddenly zoomed up a small incline.
"Is it far?" asked Kaleem.
Jadee shook her head. "No. And before you ask, no I don't have enough time to tell you all about the House of Clementine and why Exton and I are involved in it. It's really complicated. It will all become clear eventually. Trust me."
The transporter drew to a halt in front of a tall white building.
"Are you ready for this" asked Jadee. "It's not going to be easy."
The Zenoton Council building was light and airy inside. The floors were covered in a polished grey material that resembled the old world marble. Kaleem and Jadee were shown into a room with high ceilings. It was obviously meant to hold a full council session but today there was just him and Jadee and three council officials.
The one who seemed to be of the highest rank and wore a red tunic braided with gold, spoke first.
"So you two say you have some information about the President? What might that be?"
"He's been abducted, sir." Kaleem held his breath as he awaited the older Zenoton's reply.
The senior Zenoton and the other two in grey talked excitedly but quietly together. They spoke too softly for Kaleem to be able to make out what they were saying.
The smallest of the junior Zenoton then spoke to him. "How do you know?"
"I was actually with him when it happened."
"Why didn't you report it straight away?" The Zenoton in the red tunic was now frowning at him.
"I couldn't. I was totally isolated. I had no means of communication or transport until Mz Elliott came along. We came as quickly as we could."
"Do you have any idea who might be responsible for this?"
It was looking more and more likely to Kaleem that this was all tied up with the House of Clementine. It was puzzling, though, that Exton was one of their Super Knights - whatever that actually meant - and yet was being harmed by them.
Jadee caught his eye. She shook her head slightly.
"No. No idea."
"And you didn't get a good look at them?"
"I'm afraid not."
Now Jadee nodded and smiled faintly.
Urgent running footsteps were heard outside. Everyone turned to the door. Two tall Zenoton guards rushed into the council chamber.
"Sir," said one of them addressing the Zenoton in the red tunic, "we have just heard from a group of people holding the President. They have asked for a ransom of five million bars of Terrestran gold."
The Zenoton in the red tunic went pale. "Who are they?"
"They claim to be the House of Clementine."
The senior Zenoton looked at the other Zenotons and at Kaleem and Jadee. "What on Zenoto is the House of Clementine?"
"No idea," said Jadee quickly.
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