Sunday 25 June 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clementine, Chapters 55 & 56, by Gill james, orange juice,


It was comfortable enough here. They'd even managed to grab a shower. They'd been given good food. They'd even been allowed limited use of their communicators: they could look up information but they couldn't make or receive calls. They'd been there hours and hours, though, and nothing much seemed to be happening. 

"It's a heck of a lot of money," said Jadee.

"If you can really call it money. Most Zenotons wouldn't understand what that meant."

"Yes, and it's a little bit crazy for a society that is supposed to manage without money."

"Except isn't that what they're trying to change?"

Kaleem's head was beginning to throb. He hated being cooped up indoors like this without anything to do. He sighed. "It's a lot for anyone. Any planet would find it difficult finding that amount of money. It really makes you wonder who would be behind this. Is it down to the Zenotons who want to maintain the status quo? Is it someone from the outside? If so, why would they want to harm Zenotons?"

"I'm still not convinced that it's just the House of Clementine." Jadee had gone pale and she was looking down at the floor.

"You're part of it? Could they do something like this?"

"Was part of it."

"Was? And why would they hurt one of their own?"

"It's easy to fall out with the Clementine regime." 

"So, tell me. Why do you think it's them?"   

"Well, I haven't actually left. As far as they're concerned."

"Wait a minute. You're in a lot of places all at once: Resistance worker, House of Clementine and a bona fide extra-planetary correspondent. How do you keep all of that going?"

Jadee laughed. "Oh ironically, it's down to the good training that House of Clementine gives us. We're taught to survive, to influence and to turn everything to the House's advantage."

"So, you use other people?"

"Not as much as we help other people. The House of Clementine is very rich but it is also very generous with its money."

"Perhaps it has to be if it's always manipulating other people," Kaleem muttered. He was beginning to get the impression that this organisation was part way between some sort of secret religion and a type of vigilante group. People who took the law into their own hands.

"I was born into it."

"Oh, so you couldn't help it? You didn't choose it? And it didn't actually choose you? Does it ever choose people?"

"Yes, most certainly." She laughed. "I'm sure it would have you. You're brave. You're good at handling conflicts. You're good at establishing strategies."

He wasn't so sure. He might be able to do these things but he wasn't good at them; he didn't do them easily. As for being brave, that was only because most of the time he was scared. "And Exton? I suppose he was chosen?"

She looked down to the floor again. She shook her head. "No. He was born into it as well. In fact, he's my brother."

Her brother? This just got better and better.

"So you're Zenoton as well?" She didn't look Zenoton. He guessed though that modern Zandrian cosmetic techniques made it easy enough to change appearances.   

She shook her head. "He's my half-brother. We share a father - one who wanted nothing much to do with either of us. But he insisted that our mothers should give us to the House. We didn't actually ever meet until recently. We knew of each other, though."

"So why are you trying to get away from the House of Clementine now?"

"It's become corrupt. It's all about power now. No one is allowed to think for themselves. That's why I stole the constitution."

"Surely they've got a more up-to-date one than that?"

"Naturally. But that is the original one. I wanted to help to bring them back to basics. If that's any better than the one they use now." She smiled at Kaleem. "I was rather hoping you would help me with that."

Kaleem shrugged. "Maybe. Sometime. But don't you think there are more urgent matters now?"

She nodded. "What are we going to do?"

"What do you know about Exton? I thought his parents pushed him but you say your father wasn't around much?             

"Well, our father didn't ignore us completely. He was interested enough in how our schooling went. He was very strict with us and our mothers. He was quite nasty to Pangwit. His mother was a high-flyer too; someone quite high up on the Board of Exchange."

"I thought Exton said his mother was an actor. What is the Board of Exchange anyway?"  

Jadee laughed. "They are the people who make sure that our exchange system works fairly. Anyway, Pangwit's mother had a lot of influence whereas my mother was just a regular Zandrian banker. And her being an actor? Oh I think my brother was being ironic. She certainly had to be very diplomatic. And that included pretending to be something she wasn't. Acting indeed."

"So what was it like, belonging to Clementine?"

"There was a lot about it that was good. They made sure that we had somewhere really nice to live -over and above what our mothers should really have been able to afford. We were schooled by them and they had very high standards and fantastic equipment. We lived near other Clementine families. It was good to be near people like us."

"But this had to be done secretly? How could they manage that?" Kaleem rapidly tried to remember anything he'd seen on Zandra, apart from what he'd seen with Clem, but there was nothing. Was she saying it was like some secret underground society?

"Yes. You're right. You wouldn't have known us from any other family. And if you'd looked in on one of our school meets you would never have noticed anything different. You'd have had to follow me very closely for at least six months to see anything unusual."                     

"What do you want to do, then?"

"We need to find him and get him back."

"But you were part of the resistance."

"Yes, and it's not just him that's involved in this. It's all part of something much bigger. Something we really do need to resist."  She paused and looked down at the floor. "And after all. He is my brother."

"You say that, even though you had little to do with him."

"We still shared a father."

That was important, Kaleem knew. He remembered back to the time before he'd met Nazaret. When he hadn't known who his father was and how important it had seemed to find out. And how now, gradually over a few years, he'd begun to understand himself better as he'd got to know him. 

"You know my position isn't so different from yours. You're supposed to negotiate with him and persuade him to do the best for everybody. You need to understand why he is the way he is. I do understand a bit already."

"And you still think it's the House of Clementine?"

Jadee nodded.

He still couldn't quite get this. "So why are they trying to harm one of their own?"

"Because he's turned against them as well."

It was possible perhaps.

Jadee sighed. "I want to get out there and look for him."

"Surely they'll be on to it already?"

"They won't understand how Clementine works as well as I do. Or even as well as you do. And they probably wouldn't believe us if we tried to tell them."

What was she saying?

"It would be better if we looked for him ourselves. We'll probably find him more quickly and we'll be able to negotiate more easily." Ah. That was what he was afraid she meant.

The door opened. A Zenoton official came in.

"Thank you, both of you, for all of your help. You are free to go."

"We'd better get on with it then," said Kaleem as they made their way outside. 



Of course, it wasn't all that simple getting away. The Zenotons may have told him he was free to go but in Kaleem's case that meant he was escorted back to his apartment and put under droid guard.

"I'll find a way of communicating with you," Jadee whispered as Kaleem was accompanied to a waiting transporter. "We'd both best get some rest first."

He hadn't released how tired he'd become. He went straight to bed and was soon in a deep sleep.  

A tap came on his bedroom door woke him up suddenly and his heart started racing.

"It's only me." Jadee.

Kaleem grabbed his robe and pulled it on. "How have you managed this?" he asked as he opened the door.

"Oh, you know. Just disabled a droid or two and your entire security system. All routine stuff."

Goodness. There was more to this woman than he'd realised.

"So what now?"

"Well, I think you should get dressed for one thing." She wrinkled up her nose. "And maybe take a shower? If you don't mind, I'll talk to you while you get ready. I'll keep my eyes averted. I promise."

There was no point in arguing.

"I'm pretty certain I know where they're holding him," she said as Kaleem showered. "It will take us about four hours to get there by transporter."

"We can't take a flyer?"

"Best not. We'd be too easily seen. And it would be quite a job to get one."

"How can you be so certain that he's where you think he is?"

She laughed. "I just know the Clems so well. And I'm enough like my brother to know how he thinks."

Kaleem stepped out of the shower. Jadee hovered in the lounge while he got dressed.

"So where is the place?" He selected a plain grey tunic made of thick sturdy cloth. He guessed he was in for some dirty work.

"It's not so far from where you were before. But it's even more isolated. Difficult to get there, though. You have to use a specialised transporter for the last section."

"And how will we manage that?"

Jadee grinned. "Oh, I'm sure we'll find a way."                  

Kaleem thought it best not to ask how she'd managed to get the transporter. In fact, he wasn't sure even how she'd found the earlier one. This one was state of the art, though. It had a complex control panel and the furnishings were more luxurious than Kaleem had ever seen before. It seemed to go faster, too.  

"It's a combination of correspondents' perks and a few House of Clementine skills. Always good to know your enemy."

Her whole relationship with the House of Clementine was so complex. She must know it well and she could exploit it. Usefully she would even know its weaknesses. But was there some part of her that still conformed with its ways?

She laughed. "I could see you were thinking about something. I guess you're finding this all very difficult to figure out. Don't worry so much. Even if I've got it wrong, I'm sure we can find out more once we're there. Just relax and enjoy the view."

He did as she suggested. Yes, he could see they were to some extent going back the way they'd come the day before. The built up area thinned out quickly and soon they were travelling through Zenoton countryside.

"We'll be back at the castle before you know it."

Sure enough it soon came into view. Then the roadway started climbing. The countryside became wilder. There were no more cultivated fields or gardens. Just rocks and a few scrawny trees. A wind howled outside and the transporter was buffeted from side to side.

"It's always like this up here," said Jadee. "Don't worry. Nothing bad will happen."

Kaleem wasn't so sure. This was not a comfortable ride despite the obvious superior competencies of the transporter. 

Then without any warning at all they stopped in what looked like the middle of nowhere. Had the transporter broken down?

"Come on," said Jadee.  "We're here now."

They stepped out. A cold, salty tasting air greeted them at once. Odd, they weren't near any sea. Or did salt exist in quantity elsewhere on Zenoto? Kaleem couldn't see any building, though. 

"Up there!" Jadee pointed to a small house perched on the top of a very high cliff. "The special transporters go up inside the cliff."

"So how do we get one of those without being noticed?"

"We make ourselves invisible and steal one."

That easy?

"Come on. Let's get to it."  

"Shh!" Jadee pointed to a transporter that was just coming out of an opening in the cliff. "Good. It's just a droid getting out. Watch and learn."

She marched confidently towards the machine. The droid looked as if it was about to start panicking. Yes in fact it did start marching backwards and forwards on the spot. Its head shot from side to side. How had she managed to make it do that? She swept her arm into the air and then made a chopping motion with it. The droid stopped moving immediately. Was this a Clementine trick? Then she pushed her finger under the machine's chin. It's head dropped at once. She turned to the others. "Come on. Let's get going."

Kaleem followed her to the special transporter.

"Will it work without the droid?"

"Of course it will. They only have droids or humans in them in case of problems. Oh of course they have humans who are going up to the Lair in them."

"And if there's a problem?"

"I know a few more Clementine tricks."

Kaleem followed her into the transporter. It was very crude compared with the one they'd just left. Once they were inside, the door closed automatically. The machine started whirring and soon they were going upwards through tunnels carved into the cliff. The transporter kept bumping into the walls of the tunnel.

"Is that normal?" Kaleem was gripping the edge of his comfisessel tightly.

"Absolutely. These transporters use the momentum of the crashes to propel themselves forward more quickly. Don't worry. Nothing bad will happen to you. These machines are built to preserve sentient life."

He wasn't convinced. "And how long before we get there?"

"The journey is twenty universal minutes in total. So another fifteen."

"And what happens when we get there?"

"We look confident and you let me do any talking."

After a long fifteen minutes the transporter came out into the daylight and the door slid open.

"Come on," said Jadee. "It actually looks deserted."

It was true. There was no one to be seen.

The sun was bright on the landing platform which also served as a patio to the house. The smell of salt was even stronger up here and it was mixed with a smell of pine needles. They were high up but Kaleem could see that the Lair was surrounded by Zenoton pine trees. Bizarrely, it wasn't as cold up here as it had been down below. The house was quite dilapidated. It looked as if no one had been there for years. But they'd seen a droid go up there.

Kaleem shivered. A gentle breeze had crossed the patio but that wasn't it. He felt as if someone was watching him. "What now?"

"We go inside."                             


Jadee nodded towards to a door that was partly open. "Let's go."

"Wait. Why would they leave a door open like that if they're holding someone?"

"They wouldn't expect anyone to come up here. Very, very few people know about this place. Not even all members of Clementine."

"So how do you know?"

Jadee grimaced and sighed. "Because of my brother." She was already making her way towards the open door. 

Kaleem followed her.

It was dark inside and it took his eyes quite a while to adjust. Eventually he saw that they were in what must have once be a rather grand entrance hall. Now, though, some of the floor tiles were broken and it smelt damp. Wall coverings were peeling away.

Jadee was looking around the room. She put a finger to her lips. Yes, it would be sensible not to talk. He totally got that. It irritated him a little that she'd bothered to point it out.

Then she gestured to the opposite corner of the room. They tip-toed across the hallway. There was a staircase leading down. They followed it. It seemed just as damp and uncared for there as everything else they had seen so far at the Lair.

Jadee stopped suddenly. Kaleem could hear it too. There were people talking in the room below them. He could make out three different voices but he couldn't actually hear what they were saying. Then the voices got louder. Were they coming this way?

"We'll have to move him soon," he heard a male voice say.

"They're being too slow getting back to us."

"So what shall we do?"

Then the words faded again. They were moving in another direction. There must be more than one way to where they were holding him then.

Jadee touched Kaleem's arm and nodded. They carried on down the stairs. There was a small corridor at the end of the stairs and at the end of that a crude door.

Kaleem pushed the door open. Jadee gasped. There was Pangwit Exton, sitting comfortably in the middle of a room that almost matched the one Kaleem had had on the supercraft.                

Kaleem could now almost understand why his captors were asking for so much. This was the height of luxury here. And there was Exton, looking as smug as ever, busily engaged with a very high spec dataserve. He didn't look at all as if he had been treated badly.

On a small table in front of a very comfortable looking comfisessel were the remains of a meal: a quarter bottle of Terrestran wine and a plate of half-eaten cheese and biscuits.

Exton turned to face them. "Well, well, well. If it isn't my little sister and the professional negotiator? Are you two an item then?"

"Don't be stupid Pangwit. We've come to rescue you."

"Who says I want rescuing, sis?"

"Who did this?"

"Who do you think?"

Jadee turned to look at Kaleem. "See. I told you. It's an inside job."

Something didn't sound quite right about this though. Exton seemed confident enough and even a little bit aggressive. But Kaleem thought he also saw something like fear in the President's eyes.  

Exton laughed.

Jadee turned back to him. "It is the House of Clementine, isn't it?"

"Oh, my dear little sister. You are funny. Why would the Clementiners want to kidnap me?"

"Well, you're here at the Lair."

Exton held up his arms. "Ever thought they might have rescued me and hidden me here? Anyway, I'm enjoying a bit of peace and quiet. It's a shame you had to come and disturb it."

They heard voices in the corridor outside. Exton indicated with his head that they should hide in the bathroom. Kaleem thought he caught a flicker of alarm in Exton's eyes.

"Are you ready?" a female voice said.

Exton sighed. "I guess so. As ready as I'll ever be."

"I think they've gone," whispered Jadee.

Kaleem nodded. "I wonder where they're taking him and whether he really wants to go." 

They made their way out of the bathroom.

"We'd better find out." 

They managed to catch up with the Exton and the woman without being seen. Two more Zenotons had joined them. They were making their way towards the patio area and a transporter was waiting for them.

"Now where are they taking him?" Jadee muttered.

This was going to be tricky. If Exton and the two Zenotons got into that transporter and left, not only would he and Jadee have lost Exton but they probably wouldn't be able to get down from the Lair.

Kaleem remembered something he'd used before. It was scary in any case and it would be really bad if it went wrong. It was their only chance though.

Without stopping to explain to Jadee he made his way quickly to the transporter.

"What are you doing?" whispered Jadee.

He shook his head and muttered, "You'll see."


He ignored her and kept on staring at the woman who seemed to be in charge. He consciously pulled all of his forces together. Just as he'd been taught, he imagined the strength from all of his organs, from the blood pumping round his body and the electrical activity in his brain all concentrating on this one person. He could feel the energy draining from him but it was beginning to work. The woman was as still as a statue and staring into space, beyond where Kaleem was standing. He held on to the mantra. You are in my power. You are in my control.

"Ma'am?" said one of the other Zenoton.

The female shook her head.

"Release the prisoner. Stand your guard down," Kaleem commanded. The mantra continued on and on. You are in my power. You are in my control.

"Release the prisoner. Stand down," the female repeated.

Kaleem turned toward the other two Zenotons. He felt the energy gather up inside him again. He hoped he would still have the strength to do this. He felt slightly sick and he was very hot but couldn't sweat. Within seconds, though, the eyes of the two males glazed over. "Step away from the transporter. Let us get away," he just about had the energy to whisper.

He nodded to Jadee and Exton that they should get into the transporter.

"What just happened?" asked Jadee.

"Old Terrestran trick," Kaleem managed to reply.

The transporter started its bumpy journey to the bottom of the cliff. He shut his eyes, hoping he could fall asleep and that the nausea would go away before he threw up. Thankfully oblivion arrived.            


Kaleem had no recollection of moving from the Lair's shuttle transporter into the one they'd come in. Sleep had brought some welcome oblivion. Now, though, his mouth was dry and he was thirsty. He helped himself to a drink from the transporter's water cooler. 

He looked out of the window. They were clearly at least half way back.

He was aware that Exton and Jadee were talking quite heatedly. They didn't notice that he'd woken up. He shut his eyes again quickly. He might find something useful out this way.

It was hard to make out exactly what they were saying but his years of training in listening to foreign languages came in useful here.

"But had you had contact with them again before they came?"

"Of course. You know I always play the double agent."

"That's a dangerous game."

"You should always know the enemy."

"So, if you were pretending to be on their side, why did they take you prisoner?"

"They didn't really. I gave them the impression I was going along with them. That was just all for show back there."

"So what do they want?"

"To rule the universe."

"So do a lot of other people. But what were they trying to achieve exactly this time?"

Exton sighed. "It wasn't the gold. It was the control they wanted. Holding most of the Zenoton wealth would give them a lot of power."

"But how could you pretend to go along with that?"

Exton laughed. "That's what I'm good at. That's what I do."

"Oh, you're so annoying." Jadee's voice was becoming so loud that Kaleem couldn't pretend to still be asleep any longer. He opened his eyes and rubbed them.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"We'll be back in the city in about another twenty universal minutes," said Jadee. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. The mesmeriser trick always drains you, though. What about you two? Is everything in order? Are we sure that it's the House of Clementine?"

"Nothing's certain," muttered Exton.

"At least we've got you back."

Was that actually a good thing? It seemed to Kaleem that he could trust no one. He lent forward and helped himself to another cup of water.             

About the Peace Child Series:

Book 1 The Prophecy
Kaleem Malkendy is different – and on Terrestra, different is no way to be.
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.    
Book 2 Babel
Babel is the second part of the Peace Child trilogy. Kaleem has found his father and soon finds the love of his life, Rozia Laurence, but he is still not comfortable with his role as Peace Child. He also has to face some of the less palatable truths about his home planet: it is blighted by the existence of the Z Zone, a place where poorer people live outside of society, and by switch-off, compulsory euthanasia for a healthy but aging population, including his mentor, Razjosh. The Babel Tower still haunts him, but it begins to make sense as he uncovers more of the truth about his past and how it is connected with the problems in the Z Zone. Kaleem knows he can and must make a difference, but at what personal cost?
Book 3 The Tower 

Kaleem has given up the love of his life in order to protect her. He now lives and works on Zandra. A sudden landquake, not known on the planet for many years, destroys many of the forests his father has planted to bring life back to the planet. The new relationship Kaleem has helped to establish between the Terrestrans and the Zandrians is also under threat. A third party gets involved and Kaleem has to use all of his diplomatic skills to keep everything on track. Mistakes cost him dearly and he looks set to lose Rozia for a second time. The Babel Tower mystery, others mysteries and sadness plague him. Can he find a way through to fulfil his role as the Peace Child?
Find out more here.  

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

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