Kaleem replayed Razjosh’s message several times. It was really very scary. If the Terrestrans couldn’t accept the Zandrians’ terms, there would be no hope of getting the vaccine back to Terrestra. And without the vaccine, more people were going to die.
He called up a news channel.
‘Seventeen more deaths,’ said the news robot. ‘All in the X sector. Concern is growing that an antidote will not be found quickly enough.’
That’s not really true, thought Kaleem. There could be thousands dying and they wouldn’t actually say.
‘They’re letting out enough facts to keep people on their toes,’ Razjosh had said. ‘But not enough to cause panic. If people really knew how bad it’s become, then there would be even more riots.’
Kaleem flicked back to Razjosh’s message. The hologram was really very convincing. It looked even more real than the ones from the Elders’ Citadel. That Supercraft must really be something.
Razjosh looked serious and tired.
‘We have to step up the programme even further,’ said the old man. ‘It won’t be easy, I know. You’re working pretty well flat out now. And there’ll be more visits to holographed planets. We have to move on even more quickly.’
It was that hesitation again. Kaleem could not help but think that Razjosh actually wanted to tell him something extra, but didn’t dare to. At least not from so many light years away and in holographic form. And he couldn’t begin to guess what that may be. New Hidden Information then?
The dataserve’s communicator sounded.
‘Receive,’ commanded Kaleem.
Kaleem felt his stomach turn as he recognised Oxton Mesrip, one of three medical workers assigned to look after Maria. It was all piling in now. Had Maria got worse?
But the man was smiling. ‘We have some good news,’ said Oxton. ‘Your mother has woken up. She is not yet speaking and she is still very weak, but she has come out of the coma. She has no fever, and it seems that she is fighting the disease and is winning.’
‘I should be there,’ said Kaleem.
‘Er, no you can’t can you?’ said Oxton. ‘Remember there is still a movement ban on. We want to keep a very close eye on her and conduct further tests. And we don’t want too much excitement for her at the moment. But we’ll keep you informed.’
The screen went blank. Kaleem felt almost relieved that he hadn’t got to go out again. But what was it going to be like now? Was it going to perhaps be even worse now that Maria was awake? Would she go back to being how she had been before? Or would she need him to look after her? Would she improve enough to leave the medical centre? Or would she be forever in this strange state? This disease was so unknown. Perhaps Razjosh would be able to tell him more when he got back.
A news flash message came on the screen. This time it was one of the more familiar human newsreaders who spoke.
‘A Supercraft Excelsior has been spotted making its way towards Terrestra,’ said the man. For once he did not speak in the normal even tones of the news presenters. His voice seemed agitated and his face was clearly strained. ‘It entered the exclusion zone at Universal Time 15.23 this afternoon. A broadcast from another Supercraft of unknown origin, has assured the authorities that this means no harm to Terrestra. However, it has been considered that this could be a hoax. In the next few hours, a decision will be made about whether to consider this a hostile approach and therefore what action if any should be taken. Keep your news channels open to stay informed.’
This was ridiculous. The Supercraft had been sent with the Elders’ approval. So why didn’t the news channels know? Was the Supercraft going to Zandra Hidden Information? Or Golden Knowledge? They must know about it. Maybe they did. Maybe somebody was giving away information they should have kept secret. Or maybe the news creators had just kept their eyes and ears open.
Kaleem’s stomach turned again. There was definitely going to be trouble. No way would the Terrestran authorities let that Zandrian Supercraft get anywhere near Terrestra. Even if it was on an aid mission. They wouldn’t stop to ask.
It’s going to be a complete disaster, he thought. This definitely took the edge away from the good news about his mother.
He opened a data file from Razjosh. It was in Wordtext. Kaleem could read that quite easily now. It was almost a relief now to be doing some ordinary work. Normally, this would have seemed tedious. But today he was glad to have something to get on with that took his mind off these other matters.
‘There is a universal grammar,’ he read. ‘Every language needs to express past, present and future tenses, active and passive voices, indicative and subjunctive moods.’ Kaleem scratched around at the back of his mind. Yes, he could just about remember what that meant.
He read on.
‘Always there will be a default word order. In some languages parts of speech are indicated by word order. In others, inflections are used. But every language must indicate who is doing what in each sentence.’
Kaleem though he could just about grasp what this meant. And inflections - wasn’t that like the endings on words in languages like German?
‘Each language uses its prepositions differently. But each prepositional idea you have in your own language must be expressed somehow in the language you are studying, as will all notions of time.’
Now that did sound familiar. In English you went by car but in German you went with it.
‘There will in any case be idiomatic uses of words and expressions in all languages. They must be learnt as separate entities. And finally, each language will have a system of gender and plurals, some languages being more complex than others in these matters.’
Yes, he knew that! That was such a lot to learn sometimes.
‘These then are the five fundamental points of any grammar system. Look for them in any language. Knowledge of this will actually accelerate structural competence.’
Ah! thought Kaleem, and then there’s all the rest. All those words, and all the different bits and pieces you need to know to do those things.
‘And as if all that is not enough, plus the whole word system which underlies all of this, you have to get used to all those cultural differences. So, we’ll soon need to work more with the holograms.’
Ha! Ha! Ha! thought Kaleem. Well, I’ve got my work cut out, then, haven’t I?
He was just about to open one of his other data files. He did not have chance to, though, because the news channel cut in again. This time it was an override news flash. It was the same newscaster as before. This time he looked even more strained.
‘We regret to announce,’ he said in that voice that the newscasters reserved for the most serious bits of news, ‘that the arrival of the Supercraft Excelsior has indeed been deemed to be an act of aggression. A verbal warning was given. This was ignored, and the protection authorities had no alternative than to fire warning shots. One of them damaged the right wing of the Supercraft. The damage was only superficial and in no way has harmed its functioning. It has now turned away from the planet. A tracker has been attached to find out its origin.’
So stupid, thought Kaleem. The Supercraft Excelsior had come in peace. It had brought a source of help in the fight against this terrible disease. And the Terrestrans had attacked it. Why didn’t they know that? So what is a Peace Child supposed to do about that?