Sunday 2 July 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clementine by Gill James, orange juice, chapters 57 & 58



The transporter drew up in front of the presidential building. The sun was quite low so it reflected off the shining white walls and dazzled Kaleem. Droid reporters and a few Zenoton ones swarmed around the vehicle.

"We're going to have to dash," said Exton. "Are you ready for this?"

Jadee nodded and Kaleem sighed. He hated this sort of attention though he had had his fair share and ought to be used to it. 

Exton commanded the door open. Right, so he seemed to be in charge again. The noise was deafening as they moved between the vehicle and the door of the building. There were shrill voices, demanding questions and flashing cameras. This was all familiar territory to Kaleem but he never quite got used to it. He did know you just kept your head down and ran. So, he kept his head down and ran. They got through without any harm being done. The Zenoton officials were effective and unobtrusive. Within seconds they were in a lift making their way to Exton's office suite.

"So how did you manage to get away from your captors?" asked one of the officials.

Exton caught Kaleem's eye. "We can leave that for the formal debrief, can't we? For the moment my sister and her companion, and indeed I myself need a little time to recuperate. We can do this all later, can't we?"

"Of course, sir." The official bowed slightly.

The lift stopped and they stepped out on to the thick carpet. The veriglass in the windows was the sort that enhanced the light and the colours outside. The walls were covered in what looked like a silky cloth. Kaleem couldn't resist touching it.

Exton laughed. "Enjoy my friend. A sign of Zenoton excellence."

Just like House of Clementine? 

Jadee went bright red. "So why are you so intent on making the Zenotons so much like other people? What was wrong with the way you used to do things?"

"It's not as straight forward as you think, sister dear." He indicated that she should go into his office.

She rushed in. Kaleem, Exton and the officials followed. The comfisessels hovered over and all but the two officials sat down.

"Please organise some refreshments," said Exton.

The two officials exchanged a glance. The more senior one nodded and the junior one went out of the room.

Exton looked intently at the remaining official. "I do promise a full debrief can happen in a couple of hours. My two companions should be present. They have valuable information about how I was found."

"Very well. Can I be of assistance now sir?"

"No. I think we all need a little privacy for a while."

A few moments later a simple droid arrived with steaming cups of fruit tea and sweet snacks. No official in sight. They had taken notice of Exton, then. He clearly hadn't lost his charisma.  

"Good," said Exton. "They're leaving us in peace. Now perhaps, I can explain a few things."  

As soon as the droid left Exton started pouring the tea. "This is the best fruit tea. It will revive us and help us to think clearly. These sugary snacks are good too. Try one." He handed the plate first to Kaleem and then to Jadee.

Kaleem took one of the little squares and bit into it. It was, if anything, a little too sweet but yes, he guessed, it would wake him up. And it had quite a pleasant taste as well, something like vanilla and caramel. He was rather glad for the moment that there was no hint of orange. The tea, he noticed was bright red. Good. Not clementine, then. They'd probably had enough of that for the moment.

"Everything okay?" asked Exton. Kaleem nodded. "Good. Good. Well listen. We needed to do two things at once. We needed to trade with more people and then we needed to make sure it didn't get out of hand. You see that's why we needed to adopt a proper monetary system so that we can trade with other planets. But we might become very popular because of our excellent ways so that is why we created an off-planet barrier so that we could vet all those who wanted to come to the planet."

"But Pangwit," Jadee began.

Exton held up his hand to stop her. "Zenoto had to become a great planet again. This was the only way. That was why I had to do it."

Needed. Had to. Was. Why was he using the past tense? Had he changed his mind? He'd certainly now paused for breath. Jadee went to speak again but Exton waved his hand at her.

"Some Zenotons were getting lazy. Some were taking advantage. Not pulling their weight. You couldn't punish that so easily as you can with a normal monetary system. So we were going to have to change." He started pacing up and down. "But we still looked good. So we had to make sure not too many people came." He pushed his hair back from his forehead. He carried on walking to and fro, muttering to himself.

Was there something wrong with him? Was it something in the tea? He had drunk two cups of it rather rapidly.                                              

Jadee touched her brother's arm. "Zenoto is great isn't it? Shouldn't you share it?"

Exton stopped and stared ahead. He shook his head and pursed his lips.

Kaleem cleared his throat. "Why are you talking about everything as if it were in the past?"

Exton was quite white now. He sat down. "There's a bigger problem."

Exton pushed his hand through his hair. "I ... I had to do it. There is something rotten in the House of Clementine."

Well, yes. Kaleem had already realised that. "You mean about the corruption in the knights' training? Or the way outsiders are treated and created? Or all of that?"

"Yes, yes. All of that. But in the normal course of things we'd have been able to diffuse it. It's stubbornly there now. There is something big behind it."

Jadee frowned and looked at her brother. "What are you talking about, Pangwit? You're not making sense."

"What is this something?"

There was a long pause before Exton spoke. "A beast. A demon."

Jadee gasped. "What? You're going mad." She started thumping her brother. "President of Zenoto? Believing in superstitious nonsense?"

But Kaleem had come across this sort of thing before. What about all of that business about him and the Tower of Babel? Okay, so it had all been a misinterpretation about what had happened to Davina Patterson. As yet, though, there'd been no logical explanation about why she'd been so concerned with that old story.

Exton shrugged. "There is no other real explanation."

"You are definitely mad." Jadee turned away from him, folded her arms across her chest and turned to face the window.

"So, then. This beast. This demon. What makes you think that?" Kaleem tried to maintain eye contact with the young president.

Exton looked away and sighed. "When we pin people down they can give no real explanation. They tell us that they've felt some sort of presence. A voice sometimes."

"Okay, someone is manipulating them."

Exton shook his head. "I've actually seen him."


"Him. Her. It. But it seems male to me."

"What do you mean, you've seen him?"

"Out of the corner of my eye. In my dreams. I've heard his voice. I've felt his presence."

"Are you sure that's not just your imagination?"

"He smells like nothing I've ever smelt before. Nastier."

"What have others reported?"

Exton nodded. "The same."       

  Exton seemed to recover himself. He took a deep breath and drew himself up taller." Beast or no beast. The Order's problems are getting worse."

Jadee turned back to face them. "Oh? What do you mean?"

"We no longer produce the best clementines in the universe. Our competitors are doing better."

"Can't you learn from them? Can't you exchange ideas?" It always irritated Kaleem that people guarded the secrets of their success. Wouldn't the universe be a better place if everyone learnt from everyone else? Of course, money got in the way. But if everyone took on the Zenoton methods money would literally be no object. Darn. Exton was trying to make the Zenotons like everyone else as far as money was concerned.  

"They won't let us near them."

"Who are they anyway?"

Exton laughed.  "The Terrestrans."

No. Kaleem felt his cheeks burning.

"Well, Peace Baby. It's not all that surprising is it? The Order was born on Terrestra, after all. And your home planet has the best climate for growing clementines. Now that you've got rid of that awful cloud."

"Couldn't you try....?"

"What? Get Terrestrans to talk? Come on. I doubt whether even you could. And before you put it all down to money and commercialism, think on this; for some time now, even though we don't have currency as such, many Zenotons have started thinking in terms of commercial values. I had to formalise it. Something or somebody has got to them, I tell you."

Something changed in Kaleem. Suddenly he understood. He nodded.

"But do you know what the worst is? It's the infighting. The petty jealousies. The constant vying to be the best. It's destroying the Order. It's leaking out and destroying Zenoto. It will spread out further from there and destroy the planet. And other planets. In fact, it's already started. Look what happened on Zandra before you came away. We must bring it under control. We must find the beast and destroy it."

"You're still talking about an actual physical being?"

Exton shrugged. "Real or just in our imagination, it's powerful and it's doing a lot of damage. It has to be stopped."          

The room's dataserve buzzed. The red light that indicated urgency flashed.

"Send," commanded Exton.

A young man who had a small House of Clementine badge on his tunic appeared on the screen. Exton seemed to know him.

"They're all dead, sir," he stammered.

"Who are?"

"The people in the Daschia community."

"All of them?"

"Every single one, sir."

"So what's happened? Has there been an accident?"

"It seems to have been a mass suicide."

"Why? How?"

"We don't know exactly why. But it seems to have been some sort of poisoning. There were several discarded wands at the scene. There are people looking for a reason right now. And the analysis of what killed them should be ready in three universal hours."               

"Thank you for letting me know." He looked away from the screen and towards Kaleem and Jadee. "You see. It's just getting worse and worse."

"Just one more thing, sir."

Exton looked back towards the screen.

"There seems to have been a theft involved as well."

"A theft?"

"All of the furnishings and decorative goods have been stripped from every home."

Exton was now pale. "A theft? In an Order community? On Zenoto? So what makes us think it was a mass suicide? Wasn't it a robbery in fact?"

"Even we have looters it seems sir. There was just one note sir. A voice message on a dataserve. Listen."

Kaleem shivered as he heard the voice of the now deceased Zenoton. "We just couldn't go on. The dream is broken."

"Thank you. You'll let me know when there's more news?"

"Right away, sir."

The screen went black              

"That's so shocking." Jadee also now looked very pale. "How could they do that?"

Exton shrugged. "Just one more sign of the difficult times we live in, I suppose. But you're right. It is shocking. Nothing like this has ever happened on Zenoto. Nor at a House of Clementine community anywhere in the universe."

"Do you think it's some form of mass hysteria?" said Kaleem. "Might they have been hypnotised?" He knew a few tricks like that himself. And he'd been subject to them as well. It always seemed very clever and almost magical but it was of course very scientific.

"Undoubtedly."  Exton tapped the table and pursed his lips. "But who - or what - and why?"

Yes, it was difficult to think who might want to do such a thing. Someone was probably just trying to cause havoc.

"You can see where this is pointing, can't you?"  Exton was frowning now.

It has seemed so far-fetched but now Kaleem could see that he had a point. "The beast," he murmured. "I guess we should try and find out more."

"You two are joking aren't you? You're making it all sound like something out of a cheap horror video."

"Horror is correct. Story and entertainment isn't," muttered Exton. "This is real and tangible."

Jadee shook her head. “Unbelievable."

"Well, you need to start listening to me."

Kaleem stood up and turned to Exton. "Do you have any files on this?"

"A few."

"Send them over to me, then. Let me have a good look at them before we do anything else."

Exton nodded.

Kaleem turned to Jadee. "If he's right, we have a lot of work to do."     



Kaleem's back ached. His eyes were sore. His legs were twitchy. He ought really to go and get some exercise but he felt too weary even for that. He sighed and pushed his sessel back. He was a bit hungry but felt too tired to eat. Maybe he should go and take a shower and ask for something light to be ready for when he'd finished.  

"Which light snacks can you recommend?" he asked the dataserve.

The machine just blinked at him. What? Oh, maybe he'd used up all of its memory. That was quite hard to do here on Zenoto. Zenoton dataserves had huge powerful memories. Still, he'd searched archive after archive. He'd linked to other research. He'd looked at tons of video footage. He'd been attached to the dataserve all day.

There had been nothing. Not a trace of a beast.

"Close down all files and folders," he commanded the machine.

It carried on blinking at him. Then it started whirring and he could tell it was beginning to clear its memory. He wished he could do the same with his own, but thoughts were tumbling through his head. None made any sense. Could this beast just be in Exton's imagination? Was the man ill? 

Something was niggling at him,as well, at the edge of his memory. It wouldn't leave him alone. He had the feeling that it wasn't something he'd seen recently but rather from earlier studies, from an experience he'd partly forgotten. What was it though?

A name came to him. Lucifer. Of course that was it. In the ancient religions there was a belief in the Devil but he had many names and many faces and he was, if he existed at all, probably several different entities.

Oh this was absurd. But worth looking into? "Find me Lucifer," he commanded.    




The dataserve sprang back into life. Lucifer. The bright and morning star. Yes, that would go well with the House of Clementine. They liked the bright and shiny. Perhaps they liked it too much and there wasn't the opportunity for balance? He whispered the name.

An old Wordtext file appeared. It looked like the opening of a story. An introduction. He found it reasonably easy to read, but the actual ideas were a bit more difficult to follow. That people had free will. Well, of course they did - to an extent. They would be restricted, wouldn't they, by what was actually available to them? Wasn't there something as well about restrictions making people stronger and more creative? He carried on reading the text. The Devil, Satan. Other names for Lucifer. Actually on the same side as God, whatever that was. You can't have good if you don't have evil. You can't have white if you don't have black. You can't be brave if you're not afraid. That again.

"Okay. I get it. What else have you got?"

A video clip started. A group of young people were being shown around a factory where some sort of confection was being made. There were two men leading them. One was full of life and joy. The other kept having whispered conversations with the young people. There was no sound on the clip so Kaleem couldn't hear what they were saying. But it was clear that he was tempting them by offering them something from his pocket. One by one they succumbed. Was this man testing these kids? Was his dataserve trying to tell him that evil was working on the side of good?

The clip faded and another one appeared. The characters all wore long robes and held sticks which seemed to make miracles happen. Someone had clearly just died. This time there was some sound.

"He was on our side all the time," said one of the young people.

"It was almost like a test," said another.

The dataserve went quiet. What was it trying to tell him? What did he want to know now?                                       

Another clip loaded. It was bizarre. It was a family watching a film. A clip within a clip then. In fact they seemed to be watching the previous film.

"I knew it," said the older, female child. "He was on their side all the time. He was only pretending to be on the dark one's side."

"You mean like a double agent?" said the boy.

"Kind of."

"Just seems like your typical chemistry teacher to me," said the male adult. "Reminds me of the idiot we had. He was always blowing things up."

The mother sighed. "Good against evil again. Good's winning. He was on the side of good."              

The clip faded and the dataserve screen went blank. This machine was really clever. It was almost reading his mind.  

Now, though, the machine sat idly blinking at him.

What should he do next? "Can't you show me traces of the beast in modern life?" he muttered to himself.

The machine sprang into action again. What was happening? It couldn't be that efficient, could it? Well, technology was good on Zenoto. Were they going to lose that if Exton got his way?

The machine chuntered and clicked away for several seconds and then a documentary film loaded. It appeared to be about banking systems throughout the universe.

"Not Zenoton, then," he said to the machine.

The clip paused. "Your beast isn't restricted to Zenoto," announced the machine.

What? There was real evidence of this entity? And not just here? Could this thing be behind all those other peculiar happenings on Zandra as well?

The clip continued. It was all about an exaggerated love of money and it was those people who looked after the exchange systems that were the most involved.

"Are you saying that there is an actual beast behind this?" he asked the machine. "Do you have real evidence of ... Lucifer?"

The clip stopped and a man's face appeared on the screen. It was a normal shape but the skin was slightly orange. Not a Clementine orange but a burnt orange. In fact, his skin looked burnt in places as did his tunic. It was the eyes, though, that were the most disturbing. The pupils were small, like pin holes and the irises were bright orange. The man seemed to shine.

"Not just Lucifer," said the dataserve. "Not just the demon of bright things."

Kaleem shivered. What was going on? What was this machine doing? "What else?"

Video clip after video clip now loaded. Masses of people in uniform assembling on a giant parade ground. Windows being smashed and buildings being set alight. Then brown tunics on Terrestra. Exton's barrier. And then Petri and Rozia walking through the streets of Zandra. Petri's skin was not too bad but she didn't look normal. Some Zandrians were pointing and laughing. Kaleem felt sick.

"One of Satan's minions," said the machine. "The beast of xenophobia." 

Another face appeared on the screen. It looked even more normal than the first one. Then, though, it distorted. It became fatter and turned bight orange. A hideous grin appeared, the ears grew large and the eyes shrank to almost nothing. There was a loud bang and the dataserve and the light switched off.                                                               

This was really odd. Outages of any sort were unusual these days, but especially here on Zenoto and particularly as he was in presidential accommodation. Could he be dreaming?

He didn't have long to dwell on it. The lights flickered and the dataserve stuttered. Then the lights came back up. The dataserve switched itself back on and immediately went into standby mode.

"So, where is it now? This beast?"

The machine chuntered to itself for a few seconds and then a still picture appeared on the screen. It was of a typical Zenoton village. Clean-lined glistening white buildings sat in neatly cultivated gardens. Mountains formed a backdrop. The picture zoomed in to one of the doors. He could see now that this wasn't in fact a village house but a cave. So there were people living in caves, were there? Now that seemed familiar. 

This dwelling, though, wasn't quite as neat and tidy as Zenoton homes usually were. Rubbish covered the path up to the house.  The cladding on the walls had faded.

"Is this because of the beast?"

The image changed. A short video followed. It was as if he was walking through the door and then along a dimly-lit passage way. The noise of what sounded like an animal in pain gradually grew louder. A face loomed into the camera. It was the second demon again, though now its face was even more swollen. It looked kind of ill or at least tired.

"Save this video and the previous still." He'd acted just in time. The dataserve shut down again but this time the lights didn't even flicker.

Might that be a real place? This was all a bit odd and certainly very disturbing but maybe now it was time to summon the others. "Connect to President Exton and Jadee Elliott." He watched anxiously as the dataserve started labouring again.                                           

So, will you find me now? Is that enough information, Peace Child? Not beyond you is it? Come now. Come now. 


Jadee replied first. "Hi Kaleem. Have you found something?"

"Quite a lot. It's bizarre. What about you?"

She shook her head. "Nothing really. But then I can't read Wordtext or Figurescript like you can."

Had that helped? He wasn't sure. Yes, okay, he'd literally read a lot of files, but they hadn't lead anywhere much. Was there really something odd about his dataserve? Maybe just all of that reading had given the machine more clues about what he was looking for. "It may have helped. I have got something extraordinary to show you, though."

"Can you send it across?"

"I could but I think it's better if we meet up. It's just too peculiar." If he'd described it, they wouldn't believe him.  

"Have you contacted Pangwit?"

"Yes, but he's not responded."

At that precise moment a bleary-eyed Exton appeared on the screen. "Sorry. I was asleep. A droid woke me in the end."

Kaleem nodded. It must be hard work being a president. "So, do I take it you've not found anything else out?" This was a bit of a pain: surely the President would have access to even more information than he had. A pity he'd not been working.

"'fraid not. What have you got?"

"Oh, just a picture of the beast and where he lives."

Exton was wide awake now. "Will you send it to us?"

"No. Both of you come over here. You need to look at it with me. It will be easier if we're all together."

"Right. Jadee, do you agree?"

Jadee nodded.

Exton grinned. "See you in a short while."       

Whilst he waited for Exton and Jadee to turn up, Kaleem looked again at the videos and the still pictures he'd saved. There was no information at all about where it had come from. That might have finally convinced him that this was something real. It couldn't be genuine could it? Was somebody setting him up? Yet the more he looked at it the more it did seem authentic. It could be a single powerful entity making people behave this way.

It didn't take long in fact before first Jadee and then a very short time later Exton arrived.

Exton had brought no bodyguard. He shrugged when Jadee challenged him about that. "I just think I need to do this on my own."

Jadee bit her lip and shook her head. "It might be dangerous. What do you say, Kaleem?"

It was difficult to answer that one. Everything he did was dangerous when he was working as the Peace Child.

Exton ignored his sister. He nodded towards Kaleem. "Anyway, what have you got?"

"This is weird."

He commanded the dataserve to re-open the videos. Nothing happened.

Exton laughed. "Don't tell me you dreamt it all."

"No. Really. It was all there a few seconds ago. I was watching it all again just before you came."

Jadee was frowning and had her arms crossed in front of her chest. "I thought Zenoton dataserves were supposed to be the best in the universe."

Exton sighed. "So they say. But there's a fair bit of entropy happening now. Everywhere."

Kaleem shivered. Was he facing something a bit supernatural again? Even though all that stuff about the Tower and Davina Patterson had been mainly explained there were one or two questions still. And here were now a heap more about something else, not least of all about why all of his saved material had disappeared on a planet where technology was normally faultless. "Reload recently viewed files," he commanded.

The dataserve spluttered for several seconds and then eventually started doing something. The picture of the abandoned village eventually appeared.

Exton gasped. "I know that place. It's the Daschia community."


Exton's eyes were blazing. "We should get there straight away." 

"Shouldn't we get some back-up?"

Exton shook his head. "We don't need masses of people. The danger isn't physical. In fact other minds and emotions might spoil our concentration."

Kaleem looked at Jadee. She nodded. 

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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