Sunday 23 July 2023

Sunday Serial, The House of Clementine by Gill James, orange juice,


As far as Kaleem could tell the voice was coming from outside of this building.

"Help. Is there anyone there? Help. Can you find me?"

The voice sounded familiar. It was definitely that of a female though he couldn't quite remember whose.

"Keep on shouting. I'll find you."

"Who are you?"

Kaleem hesitated. Should he reveal who he was? "Don't you have a communicator that works?"

The woman laughed. "That stopped working a long time ago."

He was now half way along the corridor that led to the outside. The voice was getting fainter again. So, she must be in the basement of another building nearby.

"Can you find anything to make a noise with?"

There was no reply. Never mind. Perhaps he'd be able to find her anyway. He sensed that she was to the right of him.

Then the tapping started. It sounded like metal on other metal. Good. She'd found something. 

The corridor now twisted and turned and gradually daylight mixed with the artificial light. The tapping was very faint but as soon as he was back at the surface and in the sunlight it became louder again. Yes, it was coming from the building next-door.

"I'm nearly there," Kaleem called.

He pushed open the door to the building and immediately found a simple staircase down to the cellar. Was this all a bit too easy? Was it some sort of trap?

"I think you're just above me now."

Now he recognised her voice. Dr Joahnsa Brooken. But it could still be a trap, couldn't it?

He crept down the stairs, looking and listening all the time. There were several doors in a hallway. One was partly open. He pushed it with his foot. It opened completely and artificial light flooded the room.

There she was. A very good holo or the real thing. Dr Joahnsa Brooken. But looking tired and a little dirty.

"I knew it," she cried. "I recognised your voice."

Kaleem nodded. "How long have you been here?"

"A long time. And it's a long story."

"Well, it'll take us quite a while to get back to civilisation. No doubt you'll be able to tell me on the way."

"I can’t move just yet. I've been tied up a long time. And gagged."

Kaleem frowned. "There's no sign of any ropes or a gag now."

"No. That's the puzzling thing. The ropes and the gag just disappeared a short while ago. That's when I started shouting. The room went warmer and stopped smelling so putrid. Then every time I moved a little the light came on for a few seconds."

She started rubbing her legs and arms vigorously.

"Tell me then."     

"It was actually about a week after you came to see me with Petri and Rozia." She paused and sighed. "That poor child. That's just another regrettable part of this whole business. And I just happened to be working on some ideas about how we might further help her. I was really getting somewhere. It was such a pity.

"Anyway, the door communicator sounded and two officials from the One World Community Steering Group presented themselves."

"You let them in?"

"Not straight away, no."

"What made you think they were genuine?"

"They passed all the identification tests. The dataserve didn't pick up any discrepancies. They checked out with the One World Site."

Kaleem nodded. "And what did they want?"  

She bit her lip. "What a fool I was. But they were convincing. They told me they wanted me to work on some top-secret disease control with a specialised community."

"The Daschians?"

"Yes. The Daschians."

"Why them?"

"Because they live a simpler life. Lived, I should say. Disease spread more quickly but immunity also increased more easily."

"And is that what you've been doing?"

Joahnsa rolled her eyes. "Not exactly."

"When did you realise that it was a con?"

"It took a long time, actually. When I first got here, everything seemed normal. They gave me an apartment that suited my status. You know, comfortable, bordering on luxurious. If anything, it was slightly nicer than my normal one. Nice view of the woodlands from the window. State of the art dataserve. Better finishes on the furnishings."

"What about the journey?"

"Again totally luxurious." She rubbed her eyes. "But looking back there was a bit of a clue there, I suppose. I was kept totally isolated. I wasn't allowed to talk to other passengers. In fact I'm not sure there were other passengers."

A whole supercraft just for her? That didn't seem believable. "Was that uncomfortable, being so alone?"

She laughed. "They gave me plenty of work to do. Besides, I don't keep a lot of company normally. I'm usually too absorbed in my work."       

"What was it like, then, working with the Daschians?"

"Fine. Absolutely fine. They're just normal people, you know. They've just always been a bit isolated."

This sounded familiar. "Just normal people". That was what he found over and over again. He'd met plenty of isolated communities. He'd even belonged to one himself once. "So, what were the particular outcomes of the isolation for them?"

"A low level of attachments so the community was gradually dying out. Fear of letting outsiders in because they might bring disease."

Oh even more familiar. But they didn't seem to suffer from the poverty he'd seen in Terrestra's former Z Zone. "But there were no problems with supplies of food or energy?"

Joahnsa shook her head. "No. All supplies were delivered by droid. Droids maintained all life support systems as well. The Daschians had no need to contact other universals."

"So tell me more about the work that you did."

Joahnsa shook her head. "It seemed perfectly legitimate. I did find a defect in them. Every single member of the Daschian community I tested was suffering from an as yet not recognised disease that stopped their immune system functioning properly. It may be that at some point in the past they knew this but have since forgotten. That may have been why they isolated themselves."

"So it all sounds like legitimate research. So why did the One World Community want you to do it and why so secretly?"

"Because for a starter, they weren't the One World Community. They were really working for Exton."

"So, nothing to do with you helping a couple of Terrestrans?"

"I don't think they were even aware of that. No, they wanted to scare the Daschians."


"To help convince other Zenotons that Exton is right."

"I don't follow."

"The Daschians make only a little contribution to the Zenoton economic life. They did some outsourced work. If the Zenoton enabling system is going to be replaced by a monetarist one, they may not have survived anyway. In such a system they would not be able to get the medical aid they are almost certainly going to need in the future." Joahnsa covered her eyes. "It was my job to show them that."         

  "When did you realise there was something wrong?"

"It took a long time. It really did. It only started to become clear two days before the suicides."

"So what happened?"

"All three executives seemed on edge and then one started threatening me. Told me I'd better get on with reaching a conclusion to my findings."

"He was hostile?"

"Yes, he said they would have to replace me and that if they did I'd have to be held in isolation indefinitely - perhaps forever. I knew too much."

"How did you react?"

"I told them I could only go so fast. But they then said I had to present what I had found to the Daschians straight away."

"That must have been tough."

"It was. They looked devastated. When I'd finished speaking there was silence. They all left the meeting room without saying a word. And the supposed One World Executives were all but dancing for joy."

"So that's what led to the suicides?"

"It seemed so at first. I was pretty much left to my own devices after that meeting. Now that it was clear that the Executives were bogus I didn't feel inclined to work for them anymore. They didn't come near me, though. So I just went for a walk, looking for some of the people I'd got to know. I couldn't find anybody anywhere. But then I heard a vague noise from next-door - I think where you've just been. There is a huge secret meeting place down there. Did you know?"

"No. I only saw a disused slightly decrepit building."

"How long have I been here exactly?"

"How long do you think?"

"A few days?"

Kaleem shook his head. There was a lot that didn't make sense about this. Obviously Joahnsa was a bit stiff from having been tied up but otherwise she seemed fine. She ought to be dehydrated by now. "Maybe a little bit longer. So, what happened at the meeting?"

She shook her head. "It was terrible. They were planning the mass suicide. They had it all really under control. They'd stock-piled the right sort of lethal wands. Women and children first, whilst they were heavily sedated, and then the men." She sighed. "I tried to stop them. I really did. I told them we could find a way of making them healthier. But they told me it wasn't just about this disease. They didn't want to live in this new form of society."

"So, when were you tied up?"

"Shortly after the suicides started. In some way it was a relief; I didn't have to watch it. It was eerily quiet, though. They were so calm about it all. And it was then that I found out the truth about the people who had brought me here. They admitted that they were working for Exton. They said that my work here was now done and that I wasn't needed any more. And then they went away."  

"Scary. But it doesn't explain why the bands and the gag just disappeared."

"No, it doesn't. But I can still feel the effects of them." She rubbed her wrist. 

"What were the executives were like?"

Joahnsa shrugged. "They looked like quite normal Zenotons. Their ordinariness completely fooled me. There was one thing, though. One of them had a small tattoo on his arm. A picture of a small orange hanging from a branch. Another had a badge with the same picture on his sleeve. These were so tiny I didn't notice them at first."

"Did the third have anything similar?"

She shook her head. "But he did often wear that orange colour that was in the tattoo and badge. Does that mean anything?"

"Have you heard of the House of Clementine?"

"No. Is that what all of that orange is to do with?"

"Most likely."

"So what is it?"

Kaleem frowned. "Apparently it causes people to commit suicide en mass."

"How do they do it?"

He sighed. "It's a long story and I can't be certain. But it's a very perfectionist organisation. It's also quite controlling and will get rid of anybody that gets in its way."

"Was I getting in its way, then?"

"They probably saw it that way." He hesitated to mention the beast. That would sound so improbable to someone as scientific as Joahnsa, though there was still the mystery of the disappearing restraints.

"So, what next?"

"Well we need to get out of here for a start. There have been massive floods so that is going to be a challenge. But I have a feeling that some good people will be on to that already. It's all beginning to turn around."

"Oh? How do you know?"

Kaleem grinned. "Peace Child instinct, I guess."

"I could do with some of that. Seriously though, how can I follow this?"

"You've done some really valuable work here. It will have another application, surely? It's terrible about the suicides but they weren't your fault."

Joahnsa grunted. "Difficult not to think that I caused them."

"Well you must stop that. And how about in the meantime you do more work on Petri's case? Perhaps we can persuade her and Rozia to come back to Zandra." If only.

Joahnsa stood up and brushed herself down. "Okay then. Let's go. I'll follow you."

Kaleem heard footsteps in the corridor.

"Kaleem are you there?" someone called. "Is everything all right?"                                             













Kaleem and Joahnsa made their way outside. All traces of the horrible smell had disappeared. The air was now sweet and fresh. There were four people waiting for him: Jadee and three men he only vaguely recognised. Kaleem quickly introduced Joahnsa to Jadee and filled Jadee in with what had happened. The three men introduced themselves. 

“We don’t know exactly who these so-called One World Community executives were, except that they were undoubtedly from the House of Clementine,” Kaleem explained.    

One of the men stepped forward. ”Did you find anything of this beast?”

Kaleem shook his head. “No. The place was empty. There were signs that somebody or something had been living there but it’s not been there for a good deal of time now, I should think. There was some excrement but it doesn’t smell anymore. It seems to have been some sort of animal. I’m not sure how intelligent it was. It was well housed so maybe somebody’s been looking after it. Come and look for yourselves.”

Jadee shook her head. “We need to get on if we’re to get to the bottom of all of this.”

Kaleem looked at the three men and then at Jadee. “Doesn’t it feel as if something has changed?”

Jadee shrugged. ”What do you mean?”

“Doesn’t it all seem lighter?”

“I think I know what you mean, but it doesn’t really make sense.” Jadee was frowning and biting her lip.

“So what can we do?” asked one of the men.

“Maybe we should go in after all then and see if there are any clues as to who or what has been living there,” said Jadee.

Should he confess what he knew? Would they believe him? Change was happening, he was sure. But when would it show up? 

“All right. Let’s do it.” Kaleem indicated that they should follow him. He hoped that all trace of the beast really had gone.

They all started making their way towards the entrance.

One of the men’s communicator’s buzzed just as he was about to enter the cave. He pressed the send button and stopped walking as he watched what was happening on the small screen. “Wait,” he muttered. “You’ve got to see this. Turn on your news channels.”

They all did as he asked. Kaleem could not believe what he was seeing. Pangwit Exton was speaking. “There is actually no need for a president on Zenoto. Yes, perhaps there needs to be some sort of administrator. A chairperson, even, as they used to be called. But not one that has a casting vote. Just someone to keep order and make sure constitutional rules are followed.”

“So how will the planet be governed?” asked the Zenoton reporter.

“By a group of Zenotons who will sit around a round table, like Terrestra’s King Arthur and his knights. They will be the democratically elected representatives of the people who will work with the best interests of the people always in mind.”

“And what of yourself, sir?”

“Naturally I shall step down. I hope, though, that I may be elected as an executive.”

“And will you still push to change the monetary system?”

“No. It’s not in the Zenotons’ best interests. I was wrong. I was wrong about the barrier too. I have ordered it to be taken down.” Exton nodded and walked back into the building behind him.

“This is an extraordinary turn of events,” said the reporter. “And just as extraordinary is what is happening on the streets.”

The camera panned out to show Zenotons shaking hands, hugging and patting backs.

Kaleem quickly found a Zandrian channel. The same was happening there. The brown tunics were mixing freely with the ordinary people. A Zandrian reporter’s face appeared. “All of this on top of the latest poll that shows that over 97% of Zandrians wish after all to remain in the One World Community. Another referendum will be held tomorrow.”

And Terrestra? It had remained quiet and mysterious during all of this upheaval. What was going on there? What was happening to Rozia and Petri?

His communicator buzzed. Then they were there. Rozia and Petri waving to him. They both seemed to glow. “It’s great, isn’t it?” said Rozia.

“Yes, but what’s been happening on Terrestra?”

“Not a lot. Everything’s been really quiet. They shut down a bit. They started to cut themselves off again, like when we were younger.”

“You look well, Petri.”

She giggled and waved.

Rozia smiled. “She’s been spoilt by the New-Zoners. We’ve still been using the Zandrian wands but we’ve been eating a lot of the fresh vegetables grown here. It’s done us both good.”

“Good.” Kaleem couldn’t work out what to say next. He longed to know whether she would come back to Zandra. Could they take their relationship forward again? Or had that just been a one off?

In the end they both spoke at once. Petri laughed. “Honestly, you two. Just get on with it.”

Kaleem nodded. “You go first.”

“Well, she’s doing really well. But we’ve been invited back to Zandra. They’re going to work on a permanent cure. So, we’re setting off as soon as we can get places on a supercraft. Will you be coming back soon?”

“I hope so. I really hope so.”

Joahnsa grinned. “I hope I’ll be able to help too.”   

He was interrupted by Jadee. “Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything else here to do. Let’s get back to civilisation.”       

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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