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.