Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Prophecy, At the Citadel, Chapter Three

‘It’s too dangerous,’ said the Head of  Diplomacy. ‘Once anything leaves Terrestra at the moment, it could come under attack, if not from the Zandrians themselves, from their sympathisers.’
Razjosh had just finished putting his case for the transfer of himself and the new Peace Child from Terrestra to Zandra. He looked round at the hall full of Council members. It wasn’t the first time he had had to talk to them. Of course Elders should be able to talk to Council of Heads’ members. But they were all very clever people, all of them in charge of one aspect of life on Terrestra, and Elder though he was, it was still daunting.
Frazier Kennedy was staring at him. Razjosh had a lot of respect for the Head of Education. He was one of the most sincere  Heads of Services that there was. But he had changed since that daughter of his had gone missing all those years ago.
‘And the boy is quite ready, you think?’ he asked Razjosh.
‘He certainly is,’ replied Razjosh. ‘And raring to go. You know how bold our youngsters can be.’
‘I certainly do,’ said Frazier. ‘Thank goodness they are.’
He grinned briefly and then a cloud seemed to pass across his face.
I guess he’s thinking about one youngster in particular, thought Razjosh.
The Head of Education was staring, day-dreaming. Then he grinned.
‘You’ve always got to trust to delegate,’ he said. ‘After all, we made them what they are.’
Not all the faces in the Council Chamber were as friendly as Frazier Kennedy’s, though. Razjosh could not tell at all what some people were thinking and others were positively hostile. The Head of Transport slouched in his seat. He had not said anything during the debate and he had his arms crossed in front of his chest. He was scowling at Razjosh.
He’s not supposed to look like that at an Elder, thought Razjosh. But he knew that he shouldn’t be expecting automatic respect. He was supposed to command it.  I’m losing my touch, definitely.
The Master called order.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said. ‘We shall vote after the recess. Refreshments will be served for thirty minutes.’
The members of the Council kept their distance from Razjosh. People never did quite seem to know how to deal with Elders. He guessed Frazier Kennedy would have been friendly enough, but he was deep in conversation with the Head of Building.
Suddenly someone rushed up to him.
‘There is no way, no way, any vessel will ever leave this planet again!’ shouted the voice. It was Ponty Davidson, the Head of Transport. ‘Not if I have anything to do with it. No way do we want any contact with others. We had to struggle to get this planet clean.’
Several people had turned to look to see what was going on. Razjosh recognized the face of Danielle Thomas, the Head of Science. She smiled encouragingly at the Elder.
‘It will bring havoc. There’ll be others wanting to come here next. We don’t need others. We don’t need that pollution. We don’t need Terrestra to return to being a free access planet,’ shouted Davidson.
‘It doesn’t need to do that,’ said Razjosh, quietly. ‘There have been people who have come and gone to the planet from time to time. You know that happens. You know that we just have to keep that from the general public. Surely someone in your position must realise that?’
‘Hah!’ said Davidson. ‘That’s probably how the disease came to Terrestra in the first place. This right that the Elders have to overrule what the Council says. Just who do you think you are? What has happened now just about proves that it’s time to modernise. We want proper democracy on Terrestra.’
The soft mumble of people talking and the gentle clatter of cups had stopped. Everyone was staring at Razjosh and Ponty Davidson. Razjosh knew he had a point. When he himself had left the planet that first time all those years ago, the Council had been hung: there were as many votes against as for. The Elders had overruled and he had been allowed to go. That wasn’t democratic, he knew, but the Elders had access to information which ordinary people did not, and which they were, in any case, in no position to understand.
All sympathy he had had for Davidson’s point of view, however, disappeared immediately in the next few seconds.
‘We do not want help from sub-human beings. Nor do we want to mix with them. I am amazed that Elders have picked a throw-back as a Peace Child. Can we even be sure that he’s a thorough-bred Terrestran? Where did he get that strange appearance from anyway?’
No wonder Kaleem had problems with Stuart Davidson, thought Razjosh. That child has obviously learnt a lot from his father. How can someone like that get into the position of responsibility he’s holding?
‘I’m sure you really don’t mean that,’ Razjosh said quietly to Davidson. But the Head of Transport turned his back on the Elder and marched back into the Council Chamber. The other Heads of Ministries gradually put their cups down and started moving back onto the meeting. No-one spoke a word. Several of them gave the Elder dark looks. Just one or two smiled thinly.
Razjosh braced himself for what he was certain was going to happen next.
The Master called the Council to order again, though this was just a formality this time. No-one was speaking anyway.
‘We shall commence the vote,’ said the Master. ‘Will all Council members connect via the iris scanners and make their choice.’
Razjosh watched the two bars filling up on the screens. He knew that he and Kaleem were not going to be allowed to leave the planet.
The red ‘no’ vote bar was getting longer by the second. The blue ‘yes’ vote bar hardly moved. There was going to be no Elder overrule this time.
The gong on the dataserve signalled that the vote was completed.
‘The Council have voted that there shall be no further mission to Zandra in the foreseeable future,’ said the Master.
Several of the Council Members started to pack away their things and make their way out of the chamber. Danielle Thomas caught Razjosh’s eye. She raised one eye-brow lightly. He guessed  he knew which way she had voted. Not that she would have dared say anything. At times like this it was more important than ever to keep your views to yourself.
As Razjosh slowly made his way to the transporter that was waiting to take him back to the Citadel, he asked himself  what he was going to tell his young trainee. How was he going to be able to tell him that it looked as if all that training had been for nothing? And there was then the question of what to do next. It was vital that they should negotiate with the Zandrians.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Prophecy, At the Citadel, Chapter Two

Kaleem’s face ached.
‘There is a theory,’ Razjosh had explained ‘that once you are about twelve, your palate has set - that is your ability to change the shape of your mouth to produce certain sounds, so that any sound that does not appear in your own language cannot be produced easily. It takes a lot of training to get beyond that. It would be almost easier to rebuild your face  - but we don’t have time and though we might alter you to fit one language, you might not then be right for another  - including your own.’
He looked at Kaleem, who thought he saw something a bit like pity in the eyes of the old man.
‘No,’ sighed the Elder. ‘It just takes hours and hours of training, and, I’m afraid, pain for you.’
Kaleem felt as if he wanted to tear every tooth out of his mouth. Then, as well, the words and language structure he had been grappling with would spin round and round in his head, keeping him awake each night. When he did eventually sleep, though, he was thankful that it was without dreams and at least he was avoiding that nightmare.
‘You need to rest,’ said Razjosh one afternoon. ‘No more work for now. You have a big holoexercise coming up.’ Then he deactivated the learning programmes on Kaleem’s dataserve and left.
Kaleem’s room at the Citadel was far more luxurious that the one in the cave apartment. It was mainly furnished with the old materials - though not quite so luxurious as those in the Chief Elder’s apartment. Even so, for a few moments at least, Kaleem was enjoying the softness of the down-filled pillow against which he was sprawled. He watched the entertainment channels on the dataserve in his room, trying to forget all those foreign words for a short while. He couldn’t concentrate though. The strange structures and words form Zandrian kept popping into his head.
Every now and then, he looked out of the window. That was one thing he really liked - having a window. He could see out beyond the crystalline edge of the city to large stretches of untamed but still young woodland and beyond that to flatter, heath land. Just at the edge of that he could see a few cultivated fields. But it really gave him no clue as to where the Citadel actually was.
The communicator buzzed.
‘Receive,’ commanded Kaleem. Oxton grinned at him.
‘Good news to-day,’ said the young carer. ‘We have weighed her, and she is putting weight back on steadily. We can soon stop the extra high protein units. And she is not watching quite so many old movie clips.’
‘What is she doing?’ asked Kaleem.
Oxton’s face fell a little.
‘Not really a lot,’ he said. ‘Just sitting and staring into space. Day dreaming. And she’s still not responding all that much when we talk to her.’ He paused and frowned. ‘Mind you, she did start saying something the other day.’
‘What was that? asked Kaleem.
‘Something about …. The tower book….where was the tower book? Does that mean anything to you?’
‘Not an awful lot,’ replied Kaleem. That again, he thought.
So, she’d gained weight. That was good. But she was still behaving oddly and now the whole issue of the Babel story was back.
Oxton grinned again.
‘Hey, don’t worry,’ he said. ‘She is getting better. And they’re doing some research about recovery of coma patients  - looking at the archive records from the last millennium. It seems the physical recovery always comes first.’
‘Thanks,’ said Kaleem. ‘Say hello from me, won’t you?’
‘Will do,’ said Oxton. ‘And we’re still trying to get her to come on to the movie phone.’
Oxton waved and then the screen went blank.
‘Resume movie clip?’ asked the dataserve.
‘No,’ sighed Kaleem. ‘Set relax mode.’
He stood by the window and watched the view as the blinds slowly lowered. The lights in the room dimmed and the strange wind-chime music started, with the sound of waves spilling gently on to a beach behind it.
As he lay on the bed, the pillow moulded itself to the back of his head.
I suppose they ought to call it a comfipillow, thought Kaleem. Or better still, a comfikissen, if they’re going to use the same mixture of old English and German as they did for comfisessel.
The room now smelt mildly of pine forest. The air felt like warm seaside air.
The relax mode was beginning to have its effect. As his eye lined up with the time-clock, a gentle dataserve voice informed him that it was two minutes past three in the afternoon of day 325, year 3516.
I suppose an hour’s better than nothing, he thought, as he drifted to sleep.
What seemed like only seconds later, he was wide awake again. The room had returned to daylight setting and the air had more oxygen in it.  Razjosh appeared in the communicator.
‘Time for the final batch of holoteachers,’ he said. ‘This is the last chance. The most important lesson of all. And then we’ll see!’
We’ll see what? thought Kaleem. What are they actually expecting?
‘Are you ready then?’ asked Razjosh.
‘I think so,’ said Kaleem. He was now really completely alert again. What was going to come now? He’d got used to meeting the unexpected. Yet every time they managed to produce something even more surprising.
‘Okay,’ said Razjosh. ‘I’m sure you’ll be fine.’
Fine, maybe, thought Kaleem. But not spectacular or even convincing.
The daylight of the room faded. If he listened very hard he could just about hear that faint hum of the dataserve. But even that small hint of what was really going on was soon muffled by the convincingly human sounds of the holoteachers
Kaleem was sitting in a room with several other people. He knew they weren’t actually people - they were just holograms generated by very clever dataserves. Yet it was easy to be taken in.
He and eleven others were sitting on comfisessels along one side of the room.  There were other people in front of them wearing contraptions on their heads that looked a bit like hair and a bit like curly woolly hats. But, intriguingly, blond hair like his own poked out from under the hats.
To his left sat two women in grey tight-fitting suits. Between them was an ordinary looking man. He, too, had hair like Kaleem’s.
There was something very familiar about the whole scene. But Kaleem just couldn’t think where he had seen it before.
The person sitting next to him nudged him. Kaleem turned to look at her. He guessed she was about his age and she also had blond hair, but it was a much darker colour than his own.
‘You have to do everything the big man says,’ she said.
She was speaking English. But it wasn’t quite Terrestran thirty-fifth century English. He could understand her all right. It was just odd, very very odd. He listened to one or two other people speaking. He could hear words here and there from those sitting opposite them. They made sense, but they sounded strange.
‘I’m Kyli’, by the way, continued the young girl. ‘And you’re in a court of law on Super Kanasa. We have laws here that go right back to the twenty-fifth century and we speak the tongue that the Canadians used then - more or less.’
It was even more confusing than when he had been on other planets which spoke a completely different language from his own. It was just a word or two here and there that was different. He was more disturbed by that strange way of saying some of the familiar words and the way Kyli’s voice went up and down in slightly the wrong places.
Another man with one of the strange hats on, and a long black tunic over loose floppy leggings came in.
‘All rise,’ he said.
Everyone in the room stood up. A door which Kaleem had not noticed slightly above them and to their right side opened, and a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a longer hair-hat and an even more voluminous tunic than the other man walked in. He sat down on a comfisessel which immediately wrapped itself around him, but hovered so that he was always a little higher than the rest of the people in the room.
‘We’re part of the jury,’ whispered Kyli. ‘We have to listen to both sides of the casik-story, and then decide who’s the right - the blamed or the blamers.’
‘Bring forward the blamed one!’ said the big man.
‘He’s the judge,’ said Kyli.
‘Silence in the jury,’ boomed the judge.
The two women in grey brought the man into the middle of the room.
He turned to the man in the black tunic.
‘That’s the write-it-down,’ said Kyli.
‘What is it, the charge?’ asked the judge.
‘Not looking out for extra mile,’ said the write-it-down.
‘What is the show?’ asked the judge.
‘If I may, milord,’ said one of the men with hair-hats on. ‘May I call eye-baller Thomant, who says the blamed watched Old Mother Gossipen struggle up the penty-slope from the provisions centre. He did indeed carry her holdy-all, but only as far as their path followed the same direction aim. He should have gone the extra mile to her living-in.’
‘Thank you, that has clarity,’ said the judge. ‘What says Thomant?’
A man without a hair-hat stepped forward. He looked really very much like anyone from Terrestra, except that he wore a quite short, tight-fitting tunic and loose leggings. He went and stood behind a high counter.
‘Right, Mista Thomant, what say, you saw the blamed give back Old Mother Gossipen the holdy-all back afore she being at her living-in?’
‘That is so, your honour,’ said Thomant. ‘He left her at the angle of the walkway and the penty-slope. She had to fight her way with the ponderful holdy-all. The blamed did not seem to give it mind.’
Kaleem was astounded. This man was being tried for just not carrying a bag all the way home for an old lady.
‘What say you, blamed sir?’ said the judge. ‘Is this the really happening?’
‘It is the truth, your honour,’ said the man. ‘I didn’t give it to mind, the old female up the penty-slope to help.’
‘How be you called?’ asked the judge.
‘Arnold of Forest,’ said the man.
‘Who protects this man?’ asked the judge. ‘Is there an out-talk?’
One of the people wearing a hair-hat, who Kaleem had thought was a man, stood up. As soon as the person began to speak, Kaleem realised that it was a woman, a girl even, not much older than himself.
‘The blamed had a heap of troubles on his brain,’ she said. ‘He had to move rapidly to his living-in, because his childers and spouse ailing were. He had medicine for them merchanted. He wanted that they should as soon as doable it take in.’
‘Is this of the reality, Arnold of Forest?’ asked the judge.
‘It is so, your honour,’ said Arnold of Forest.
The judge seemed to be mumbling to himself and was looking down at a small hand-held dataserve.
‘Well,’ he said, turning to where Kaleem and Kyli and the other ten people were sitting, ‘jury partners, what you must now deliberate is this: not whether the blamed was wrong, that he has given to, but whether he had ground enough to do as he did. And if he didn’t have ground enough, whether he needs to be reinstructed in how to weigh up how to make conclusions.’
The judge stood up.
‘All rise,’ said the write-it-down.
Everyone in the room stood up as the judge walked out.
‘This will be a long session,’ whispered Kyli. ‘And we must all be of an understanding.’
They were shown into a room by the write-it-down.
They were given drinks and food that wasn’t all that different from things Kaleem knew from Terrestra. It was just the names that were so odd - a sandwich was called a between-the-breads and coffee was bean juice. It was easy enough to understand. Kaleem hardly dared say anything, though. At worst they would not be able to understand what he said, at best they would think he spoke very strangely.
The arguments seemed endless. They seemed to be going round in circles. Arnold of Forest should have taken the bag the whole way to the home of the old lady. But then he was worried about his family. Well, ten minutes wasn’t going to make all that much difference to them. Modern medicine was so effective that it would work straight away. So, was it a question of  retraining? And was retraining to be about better understanding of where the greatest need was, or was it to be about being less emotional?
Kaleem had to listen carefully. It was easy enough to understand the words, but the combinations were more difficult.
It’s even harder, he thought, hearing your own language with these funny differences than it is hearing a new one.
He realised that the arguments were also strange.
‘You’re a fraction silent,’ said one woman to him. ‘Don’t you opine?’
‘He’s an in-traveller,’ said Kyli quickly.
‘An in-traveller?’ said the woman. ‘How uplifting. Out of where have you travelled in?’
Kaleem was about to say from Terrestra, but then realised that that would not work. No-one ever moved from Terrestra.
‘He’s on a secret undertaking,’ said Kyli quickly.
This is ridiculous, thought Kaleem.  It’s just machines.  It doesn’t actually matter.
There was a knock on the door. Before anyone could answer, the write-it-down had come into the room.
‘Remember, you must all arrive at a common meaning?’ he asked. ‘Have you chosen a before-sitter? Remember you must all understand together.’
A man who had more or less organised them all the time stood up.
‘Should I be the before-sitter?’ he said.
The others in the room nodded and mumbled agreement.
‘So,’ he said, sitting down again, ‘shall we go round all that are here and see if there’s concord?’
‘Needs he retraining?’
‘That is so,’ said everyone in turn.
When they came to Kaleem, he managed to say the words quickly and with his voice going up at the at the end just like the others had.
‘Good do!’ whispered Kyli.
‘Retraining in measuring up the for and again?’ he then asked.
‘Not so,’ was the answer that everyone gave. There was an emphasis on the first word. This time Kaleem found it harder to get the sound right. He went red as everyone stared and there was a slight pause.
This is madness, he thought. They’re just machines. Why am I blushing?
The round continued.
Then came the final question.
‘So, it’s to be the not so feeling much training?’ said the before-sitter.
‘Good so,’ said everyone in turn, nodding their head vigorously.
Kaleem got away with mumbling the ‘good so’ and nodding his head.
‘So,’ said the before-sitter, ‘we can go back to the deciding congress.’
The write-it-down came into the room straight away.
Kaleem smiled to himself. He must have been listening to everything, he thought.
They were taken back into the court room.
The write-it-down had just said ‘All rise’ and the judge had just started to walk back into the room when everything froze and the soft whirring of the dataserves began.
Kaleem was back in his room. The screen was on and both Razjosh and Chief Makisson were looking at him.
‘There’s a transporter outside your room,’ said Razjosh. ‘You’re to come straight up to Chief Makisson’s quarters. Urgently.’
The Chief Elder nodded. The screen went blank. The door of his room slid open. The transporter pod - a small one-seater was hovering outside. Kaleem stepped into it. It hurtled along the corridors and over other pods. Minutes later he was standing outside Makisson’s office. He had hardly pointed his iris at the scanner when the door slid open.
Chief Makisson indicated that he should sit down. The comfisessel  just had time to mould itself to him when the Elder spoke.
‘Well, what did you make of the court room on Super Kanasa?’ asked the old man.
‘It was a bit strange,’ said Kaleem. That was an understatement. ‘Why were they making so much about so little?’
The Chief Elder raised his eyebrows and looked towards Razjosh.
Oh, come on, thought Kaleem. That was all produced by machines. That wasn’t for real.
‘The people on Super Kanasa are really strong Christians,’ said Razjosh. ‘Christ, the prophet, taught that if someone slapped you on the face, you should turn your cheek so that they could slap the other one. If someone asked you to walk a long way, you should volunteer to walk an extra mile. The other point is - just as there is no disease  - or, rather, there  wasn’t - on Terrestra - there is no crime on Super Kanasa. Courts don’t need to deal with crime. They just deal with people who are a little short of perfection.’
‘You do understand, don’t you, said Chief Makisson, ‘that place travellers - and above all the Peace Child  - have to respect the beliefs and habits of others?’
Kaleem nodded. What did they think? Of course he respected the lives of others. That lesson had been hammered home even more strongly than even the complicated language lessons. Besides, he was not exactly the same as everybody else himself, was he?
‘It will be different physically from here,’ continued Makisson, ‘and that is more important than you might think.’
‘I know, sir,’ replied Kaleem.
‘You will have to think differently,’ said the chief Elder.
‘I think I can do it, sir,’ said Kaleem. Hadn’t that been the point of the hololessons?
‘But the most important thing is that they have different values form us,’ said the Elder, with a sigh. He stared at Kaleem.
Kaleem blushed and looked at the floor.
‘I’m sure he’s ready, sir,’ said Razjosh quietly.
The Chief Elder was looking at Kaleem thoughtfully.
‘Hmm,’ he said after a few seconds’ silence. ‘We really do need the Peace Child now. That should at least be clear.’
There was another short silence.
‘We are sending you as our ambassador,’ said Chief Makisson.
Kaleem felt the blood rush to his head. This was still too soon.
‘Why not Razjosh?’ he asked.
‘We tried that, remember?’ said Razjosh. ‘Anyway, I’m too much an Elder. I’ve been doing it for too long.’ The old man stopped, as if he were about to say something else.
‘We want someone who will really blend in, who  will be able to understand the people there and become like them,’ said Chief Makisson.
‘You’ve shown us that you can,’ said Razjosh.
But that was just with machines, thought Kaleem. ‘It was easy with the holoteachers,’ he said.
Razjosh laughed. ‘You made a much better job of your assignments than I did when I worked with the holoteachers,’ he said. ‘My goodness, I got angry with them. And I argued with my tutor. But I got there in the end, I guess.’
Kaleem shrugged. He knew how much it hurt when others made decisions about you just because you were a bit different. He’d actually found that part of his training quite easy.
‘Well, we think you’re ready anyway,’ said Makisson. ‘You’re right about it being easier with holoteachers. In case of any problems we’ll hide you behind the Babel Prophecy.’
‘Hide me behind a prophecy?’ said Kaleem. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘We make use of prophecies when we need to,’ explained Razjosh. ‘We’ll make  your story fit the Babel story if anything goes wrong and you run into trouble with the Zandrians.’
‘But how will you know?’ protested Kaleem. What were they going to do? Abandon him on a planet which was already beginning to fall out with Terrestra? At least he didn’t look completely like a Terrestran. That was something.
‘You won’t be exactly on your own, anyway,’ said Razjosh. ‘I shall be coming with you as well.’
‘How can you do that?’ asked Kaleem. ‘They’ll know who you are. And you’ve already said you can’t go and become one of them.’
‘I shall not be visible,’ said Razjosh. ‘I have a hiding place on Zandra. I shall not tell you where it is – then you will not be able to tell any-one else.’
‘Where?’ asked Kaleem. This was getting more confusing by the minute.
‘I was sent there on a Peace Child mission just before you were born,’ said Razjosh. ‘Something which was, as it turned out, far less important than what is happening now, though it seemed quite a big thing at the time. I have people I can go to, who will keep me hidden. ‘
‘But …?’ began Kaleem.
‘Most planets have the equivalent of a Peace Child,’ said Razjosh. ‘I’ve met a few of them, including the one on Zandra.’
Nothing is ever what is seems to be, then, thought Kaleem. There’s all sorts of stuff going on that we don’t get to hear about. So people have been leaving this planet all the time, after all.
‘The Babel Prophecy states that a Peace Child will overcome the effect of the Tower of Babel,’ said Makisson. ‘If the Zandrians find out who you are, we will say we have sent you because we really thought you were the Peace Child of the Prophecy and that you were there to make the peace.’
‘I get it,’ said Kaleem. ‘That’s what they were talking about then, wasn’t it?’
‘That was what who was talking about?’ asked Razjosh.
‘The people in the movie clip,’ Kaleem replied.
Razjosh and Chief Makisson looked at each other.
‘Which movie clip?’ asked Razjosh.
‘The one you sent after the attack on the Zandrian Supercraft?’
‘We sent you no movie clips,’ said Razjosh. ‘Even we weren’t allowed to interfere with the information channels that day.’
‘What was it about?’ asked Makisson.
The two Elders frowned as Kaleem described as best he could the discussion he had seen about the Babel story.
‘So, you think they were saying more or less the same as we were?’ asked Razjosh. ‘That prophecies are used to symbolise and explain what is actually happening?’
‘Yes,’ said Kaleem, ‘except that there was also all this stuff about the Mother.’
‘Aha, that bit of the story,’  said Razjosh. ‘No-one has ever found a rational explanation for that. Odd as well that your mother will not tell us who your father might be.’
A lump formed in Kaleem’s throat. He found it difficult to swallow.
‘But what’s even more worrying, is where the movie clip came from. Why was it sent? Who sent it? How did they even manage to on a day when all channels had to be filled with information?’ said Makisson.
‘It is very strange,’ said Razjosh. ‘But I actually think now, we need to worry a bit more about my meeting with the Council of Heads.’
‘You see,’ said the Chief Makisson, turning to Kaleem. ‘Even we Elders have to rely on the good-will of more ordinary folk. We’ll never get you two off the planet and on to Zandra without the help of the Head of Transport and he cannot agree to it without permission from the whole of the Council of Heads.’

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Prophecy, At the Citadel, Chapter One continued

That lump in Kaleem’s throat stayed all the way between the Health Centre and Pierre’s apartment. Razjosh seemed to understand that he did not want to speak. The buildings were like shadows gliding past the windows of the transporter. It was still and the city was passing them by. Kaleem was only just aware of the outside. There was no nausea this time. His head was still so full of questions about what he’d seen at the Medical centre and about his mother’s preoccupation with the time of the lifting of the poison cloud. He realised that must have happened just about the time he was conceived. Well, no wonder then. That was an interesting enough topic for him as well. Suddenly an image of the tower came to him. In his head, it looked like the one he had seen on the screen but it was real and three-dimensional.
He was aware of a change in motion of the transporter and that the town had stopped drifting past them.
‘We’re here,’ said the Elder. ‘I’ll give you an hour and a half. Then we shall make our way to the Citadel.’
The side panel of the transporter slid open. Kaleem suddenly felt panicky. How would Pierre receive him? How could he tell him why he was there without telling him all the things he had to keep secret?
‘What shall I tell him?’ he asked. ‘Why shall I say I’ve come?’
‘You don’t need to worry,’ said Razjosh. ‘He has been given enough information to understand why you have to go. You won’t need to tell him anything. Just act naturally. Be yourself.’
Kaleem still hesitated. ‘So you’ve given him some Hidden Information then? But not enough for him to really understand?’
Razjosh closed his eyes. ‘Go,’ he said, pointing to the open door. ‘I’ll be back soon.’
Kaleem stepped out into the sunlight. The door to Pierre’s apartment block slid open.
‘Come on up,’ he heard Pierre say through the entry intercom. As he went to go through the entrance, he heard the gentle rumble of the transporter. He turned to watch it set off. Razjosh was waving. The vehicle glided away. Then he faced the door again, took a deep breath and went in. Seconds later he was in the lift, speeding up towards his friend’s home.
‘Well, you kept that to yourself,’ said Pierre grinning. ‘Geesh. I really am honoured to have a friend who’s being trained by the Elders.’ Pierre pushed his fingers through his hair and shook his head. ‘You know, I thought there was something odd going on. But I didn’t think it would be this important.’ Pierre’s eyes were sparkling. ‘It explains a lot. It really does!’ He softly punched the top of Kaleem’s left arm. ‘Man! I am well connected. What’s it like then? I mean, working with an Elder?’
Kaleem didn’t know what to say. There was so much to tell really. He still wasn’t sure exactly how much he should say. He realised, though, that it had not really been as hard as he had supposed it was going to be.
‘I, er, well,’ he began ‘it’s not...’
A shadow passed over Pierre’s face.
He thinks I’m being awkward, or a boffin, or something, thought Kaleem.
‘Hey, you’ve just been to see your Mum, haven’t you?’ asked Pierre. ‘How is she? Is she any better?’
‘Yeah,’ said Kaleem. ‘Yeah, she’s quite a bit better.’ He realised that was true. Yes, it had been disturbing to see her so thin and old looking, and so obsessed with the time of the cloud lifting. But she was awake now, and she was eating and drinking after a fashion and even understanding a bit.
Pierre grinned. Then his face went all serious again. There was a few seconds of awkward silence. Then the two of them spoke at once.
‘I’m glad. I’m really glad,’ said Pierre.
‘How much have they actually told you?’ asked Kaleem.
They both laughed.
Kaleem felt as if a big boulder that had been sitting on his chest had moved at last.
Pierre knew, it seemed, that Kaleem was rapidly learning other languages, that he was being asked to act as  a type of go-between and that he was being trained partly to find out more about the disease. He didn’t know about the idea of the Peace Child or about the Babel Prophecy.
‘You are a jammy bastard,’ said Pierre.
They were now drinking a nectar juice and eating mega-sandwiches. The nectar slipped down Kaleem’s throat easily. He began to feel warm and cosy. It was great being here with Pierre, just being ordinary again, enjoying the company of an ordinary mate.
‘I bet you’ll get off the planet. I’d give anything to be able to do that,’ said Pierre.
It was great being somebody special as well. Kaleem snuggled down into his comfisessel. He couldn’t imagine Pierre really wanting to leave the planet, though. It was just too cosy here.
‘You mean you don’t just want to stay here? In our perfect little world?’ asked Kaleem.
‘Naw!’ replied Pierre. ‘S’boring.’
‘Really?’ asked Kaleem. Pierre was a great friend. He had never seemed to mind Kaleem’s blond hair and darker skin. But he did always like his home comforts. Kaleem would never have imagined that he was the sort of person who would like to leave home. Whereas, if you’d lived all your life in a cave, anywhere else might just be better.
‘It’d be really great, going somewhere else,’ Pierre continued. He was sitting back, his legs sprawled out. His comfisessel was firmly moulded around him and was hovering so that he could stretch his legs out in front of him. His words, Kaleem noticed, were slightly slurred. Obviously the effect to the nectar.
The communication buzzer sounded.
‘Open!’ commanded  Pierre.
Razjosh’s face appeared.
‘Time to go,’ announced Razjosh.
‘Hey,’ said Pierre, suddenly seeming very sober again. ‘Take care, won’t you?’
‘I will,’ said Kaleem.
Pierre stood up.
The awkwardness seemed to have come back for a few seconds.
‘Well,’ said Pierre. Then he grinned again. ‘Wow! You are certainly a bit special.’
Kaleem wanted to hug his friend. He didn’t know whether he should.
‘Hey, take care, man,’ said Pierre again. He punched the top of Kaleem’s arm again.
Kaleem’s flung his arms around his friend’s back. The lump was back in his throat.
He heard Razjosh cough.
‘We must go now,’ he heard the Elder say.
‘Ok,’ Kaleem whispered. ‘Thank you,’ he said to Pierre.
He started to make his way out of the apartment. He turned to wave. Pierre was grinning even wider now and waving.
Kaleem found it difficult to walk to the lift. As if in a dream, he commanded the lift to take him to the ground floor. He seemed to glide towards the exit of the building. The world jumped from side to side.
‘You’ll be all right,’ said Razjosh as he stepped into the transporter. ‘We took some liberties with the nectar.’
As Kaleem went to sit down, the world around him began to spin even faster.
‘Your friend will be fine, too,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry.’
Razjosh’s voice seemed as if it was coming through cotton wool. There was a pounding in his ears.
‘Blinds!’ he heard Razjosh say to the dataserve. ‘I think it’s better if you don’t notice where we’re going. That way you’ll never be able to know where the Citadel is, and so you won’t be able to tell anyone else.’
Standard disinformation. But he didn’t care. He just wanted to sit down, lie down even. He staggered a little. The comfisessel moulded itself to him, then tilted, and suddenly he was lying down, floating, then sinking into a deep rest.
They were there again. The smooth green grass - the white dots, the children playing, the children who weren’t children, who turned and faced him, ugly, stilted adults with hideous grinning faces, and then the book, the smooth pages, then written up, crumpled, torn out and smooth again. The faces looked up at him. There was an unspoken question in their stare. He knew he had to answer that question, but it wouldn’t be today. Then something new happened. One of the little people, one who really did seem younger, took his hand and led him towards the book of blank sheets. He -  or she - Kaleem could not be sure - handed him a feather which dripped a dark liquid. The strange creature suddenly made a noise. They had never made noises before. Kaleem didn’t know what to do. He-she took Kaleem’s hand and pushed it down on to the paper.
Then he woke up. His head was pounding. His throat was dry.
Razjosh was looking at him, smiling.
‘We’re just arriving,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry we had to do that. Your friend will also be waking up about now. He will also feel this way. But it won’t last. Believe me, two glasses of water and you’ll be back to normal.’
There was something not quite right about this,  but he wasn’t going to argue. He felt too tired for that. He just wanted to go back to sleep - even if it meant having more of that dream.
The transporter lurched suddenly and shook Kaleem awake.
‘Here it is, then,’ said Razjosh. ‘Welcome to my home.’ He gestured with his hands toward the windows. ‘Open blinds,’ he mumbled towards the transporter’s console.
The blinds slid up silently. Kaleem could see what looked like one giant crystal. He could see the dark sky beyond. The whole of the odd-shaped building was lit up. Then he realised that it was not a building. More like a whole city.
The transporter’s communicator buzzed.
‘Open,’ commanded Razjosh.
Someone about Kaleem’s age appeared on the screen. Kaleem looked at Razjosh. Razjosh nodded.
‘Identify,’ said the young person.
‘Razjosh Elder Peace Child,’ said Razjosh.
‘Iris confirm,’ replied communicator.
Razjosh pointed his eyes towards the monitor above the screen.
‘Identify passenger,’ said the young man.
Razjosh nodded to Kaleem. Kaleem looked towards the monitor. The comfisessel glided him forwards.
The young man smiled. ‘Welcome Razjosh Peace Child and Kaleem Malkendy Peace Child Junior. You are granted permission to enter the Citadel. You are to go  straight to Level Three, Partile Seven. Chief Makisson wishes to see you at once.’
The communicator switched off. Razjosh was frowning.
‘I hope there’s not a problem,’ he said. ‘It had all been sorted out before I came to fetch you.’
Kaleem was now wide awake. His throat was just a bit dry, that was all.
Razjosh laughed suddenly.
‘Don’t look so worried,’ he said. ‘It’s probably nothing. And don’t be surprised to find people of all ages and types here. You didn’t expect a group of elderly gentlemen to live entirely on their own, did you? We need all sorts of things doing for us. You won’t look at all out of place here.’
Razjosh looked at him thoughtfully.
‘Just sit back and enjoy the view,’ he said.
The transporter glided very slowly between the glass-faced buildings. They were more densely packed than in the part of Terrestra Kaleem was used to. When a transporter came the other way, whichever was the most powerful had to hover up over the other - there was not room for two to pass side by side. Occasionally, also, they would meet someone walking. Then, also, they would have to leapfrog over them.
It was odd. It seemed ultra-modern, so it had obviously been built especially. But the whole place was such a strange shape. Why hadn’t they planned it so that it was easier to get around?
‘What do you think then?’ asked Razjosh, as they came down after hovering over a smaller unitransporter.
‘Why is it like this?’ asked Kaleem.
‘The Citadel was constructed above ground, after the poison cloud lifted, to replicate a quartz crystal,’ said Razjosh. ‘Our home when we were still underground was amongst quartz crystals. We felt that they influenced us - for the better. We thought more clearly there than elsewhere. Our Science Elder - the Keeper of Knowledge - designed this with the Construction Elder - the Space Maker.’
‘Does it work?’ asked Kaleem. His head was completely clear now. He was still thirsty, but even that was beginning to fade. He certainly felt full of energy. His whole body was beginning to tingle.
‘Perhaps you’ll be able to tell me in a few days time,’ said Razjosh.
The transporter gently glided to a standstill.
‘We’re here,’ said Razjosh. ‘Remember, it’s the Chief Elder we’re speaking to. You must only speak when Chief Makisson asks you to. But don’t worry. You’ll be fine.’ Razjosh was looking right into him. ‘You are a very special guest,’ he said quietly.
The doors of the transporter slid open. Razjosh and Kaleem stepped out into the landing dock. He had never seen anything quite as smooth and bright before. The walkway seemed to be made of marble and the walls of glass. But that couldn’t be right as the ground was soft like carpet underfoot. There was nothing to see through the glass-like material and it didn’t even reflect back like a mirror.
‘It won’t take us long to get there,’ said Razjosh. ‘Two levels up and four along. We’ll use the moving walkways.’
Kaleem could not bring himself to speak to Razjosh, who was frowning slightly anyway, obviously worried about something. There was so much to see. It was so different here. Everyone was moving around as purposefully as anywhere else - it was just that there was absolutely no noise - as if they were part of a movie clip without a soundtrack.  It was  odd, as well, how none of the surfaces were at right angles to each other, and how narrow the walkways were.
At last Razjosh stopped by a doorway. He waved his hand over the doors’ communicator.
‘Identify,’ said a dataserve voice.
‘Razjosh and Kaleem Peace Child,’ said Razjosh, pointing his eye at the scanner.
‘Enter,’ said the machine voice.
The room into which they went was of more normal proportions than the passageways had been. The walls were straight and a dull matt, metallic colour. Kaleem was puzzled, though, at how a room this shape on the inside could fit into what he had seen from outside. It was furnished with rich red rugs and cushions, all made out of the old materials. There was not a hint of ripon anywhere.
The Chief Elder was a tall man. In many ways, he was just like Razjosh. He had the same knowing expression on his face and was about the same age. He, too, wore a longer, smarter tunic. He seemed to be looking down at them, even though he was seated and they were standing. Kaleem felt even more uncomfortable with this man than he had the first time he met Razjosh. It was as if this man knew everything about him.
The Chief Elder nodded and indicated that they should sit down.
Kaleem followed Razjosh as he sat on a large padded cushion. Within seconds, though, it was moulding itself to him and hovering far enough off the ground that his legs were comfortable. It was a comfisessel after all.
The Chief Elder turned to Razjosh.
‘Your report was detailed and most helpful,’ said Makisson. ‘It leaves me with only one sensible conclusion.’
The old man paused and looked from Razjosh to Kaleem. He stared at him for a few seconds. Kaleem had the odd sensation that the Elder was looking into his head. Then he turned once more to Razjosh.
‘I gather you have not told the boy?’ he said.
Razjosh bowed slightly and shook his head. He pursed his lips.
‘I’m afraid it might be too soon,’ said Razjosh quietly. ‘He may not be ready yet.’
Makisson nodded.  He was looking at Kaleem again. It was as if the Chief Elder was asking him something, testing him. He felt as if he was floundering, failing the test.
Makisson then looked back at Razjosh.
‘Total infiltration is the only answer now,’ he said. ‘This time the Peace Child will have to live up to his title.’
Razjosh bowed his head and shut his eyes. Kaleem did not know what the words meant exactly, but he knew that Chief Makisson meant him. He was the Peace Child and he had to do whatever Peace Children did.