‘It’s a big step,’ said Razjosh. ‘It would be a big step anyway, but it’s even bigger now that we are going against the wishes of the Council of Ministries. That has never happened before.’
They were in Kaleem’s room. A robot was packing the strange Zandrian clothes that had quickly been made for him in the few hours since Razjosh and Chief Makisson had come to a decision: Operation Peace Child should begin in earnest.
Is there any choice? thought Kaleem. This was what he had been trained for. It was the only way they could fight the disease.
‘You do have the choice. You can refuse,’ Razjosh continued. ‘After all, you could go public on this. The Council of Ministries would surely be on your side,’ he added dryly.
No, thought Kaleem. It’s too late now. We have to do this thing.
‘We’d better go,’ mumbled Kaleem. His voice came out high and squeaky.
‘If you’re sure,’ said Razjosh. ‘There’s just one more thing we shall have to teach you before we go.’
Not more, thought Kaleem. What else could I possibly learn?
‘We shall have to teach you how to cope with interrogation,’ continued Razjosh.
Kaleem felt slightly sick. It had been great thinking that he was about to be some sort of ambassador, a bringer of peace. Now it sounded as if he was going to pretend to be something he wasn’t and gather information about other people. He could get into a lot of trouble if he was found out.
‘Just in case,’ said Razjosh. ‘Hopefully you won’t need it.’
Kaleem swallowed hard. He watched dataserve’s screen flickering rapidly. All of the Peace Child files were being transferred to a portable machine, which would fit into his belt. This was going to stay with him all of the time. This information would not be entrusted to the Supercraft’s dataserve. Once he was safely installed on Zandra, he would be able to transfer all of the information on to the Zandrian dataserve which would be given him.
‘I wish we could go now!’ said Kaleem.
The dataserve stopped whirring and then announced that the transfer of files was complete. Razjosh handed Kaleem the belt. Kaleem fastened it around his waist and then pulled the Zandrian tunic over it so that it did not show.
‘Packing complete,’ announced the robot.
‘Let’s go and meet the others then,’ said Razjosh.
So this was it. This was really it.
Sandi and Danielle were already sitting in the lounge near the main entrance to the Citadel when they arrived there. There were two rough-looking men there as well. Kaleem could see straight away that they were Z Zoners, despite the normal Citadel clothing. Their hair was grey.
‘Menjit Crossman, Abel Stansted,’ said Razjosh, ‘Kaleem Malkendy, Peace Child. I think you already know the others.’
Menjit, the taller of the two men, was frowning. ‘We don’t really understand why we’re going to Zandra,’ he said. ‘or why you’ve asked us to navigate.’
Abel Crossman was staring at Kaleem.
I bet he thinks my hair’s funny or something, thought Kaleem. He stared back at the man. He really should not complain about Kaleem’s hair. He looked more different from a normal Terrestran than Kaleem did. His back was bent and his skin all dry and leathery. In some ways he looked just like someone who was about to go through switch-off. But he moved like somebody who was about thirty and very fit.
‘We have to take the Peace Child to the Zandrians. We need him to negotiate about a possible cure for this illness which has made so many people die too young,’ replied Razjosh.
The two Z Zoners looked at each other. Abel shrugged and Menjit shook his head.
‘Dying young’s nothing in the Z Zone,’ said Menjit. ‘It happens all the time. Mainly because people starve.’
‘If you do this thing, we shall see to it that you get a free pardon, that you’re allowed back into normal society,’ said Razjosh.
Menjit and Abel exchanged a glance. Abel shook his head.
‘Do you really think that will be any good to us?’ Menjit said. ‘It’s actually too late. We’ve been too long in the Zone.’
‘So why have you come?’ asked Razjosh.
Menjit looked at Abel again. Then he looked back at Razjosh.
‘What you’re doing seems important,’ he said.
‘And we especially like the fact,’ said Abel, ‘that you’re doing it without proper permission. Welcome to the Z Zone!’ He was grinning now.
Kaleem’s stomach had started to churn again.
Abel stopped smiling suddenly.
‘There is just one little problem, though,’ he said. ‘We’ve only driven one Supercraft before, and it wasn’t quite as clever as this baby.’
Kaleem noticed that Razjosh had gone pale.
‘Are you going to be able to get us there?’ asked the Elder.
‘We’ll manage,’ said Menjit. ‘Living in the Z Zone is good training for anything. Though I don’t suppose it’ll be exactly a smooth ride.’
Abel was grinning again.
‘Should be a bit of a white-knuckle trip,’ he said. ‘You’ll all have to hold on tight.’
‘Okay,’ said Razjosh. ‘Let’s get on to the transporter and get over to the space port. Chief Makisson has given me the codes that will let us into the building and into the Supercraft itself. ‘
They all picked up their luggage, ready to get into the transporter when the dataserve screen in the reception area suddenly lit up.
‘Message for Kaleem Malkendy,’ said the electronic voice.
Kaleem caught Razjosh’s eye. Could they afford this delay? Who could be trying to contact him now?
‘Receive,’ said Kaleem.
It was Oxton again. He was grinning widely.
‘Major breakthrough,’ he said.
Before he could add any more another face had appeared on the screen. Kaleem gasped as he recognised his mother.
‘You’re going, then,’ said Maria. ‘You’re really going to go and be a Peace Child now. Good. Good. You know that’s what you’re there for, don’t you? You know it’s part of the Prophecy? I wish I could come with you, but they wouldn’t let me.’
Well, of course they wouldn’t. She was talking fairly normally now, but she still didn’t look completely well. Her face was thin and grey and there were still dark circles around her eyes.
‘You’re going to pull down the tower,’ she said. ‘You’re going to be the Peace Child who pulls down the tower.’
Kaleem felt himself going hot.
‘Are you, …. Are you feeling better?’ he stammered. He was aware that everyone was staring at him.
‘Yes,’ said Maria. ‘Yes, I am. It’s as if a cloud has suddenly gone. But I’m still a bit tired. But there is one thing I want to tell you first. My real name is Marijam. And our surname’s Kennedy. I’ll tell you more soon. But I’m really tired now. I have to go now.’
Oxton’s face reappeared on the screen. Kaleem could not believe what he had just heard. Could it really be that she was the daughter of the Head of Education, that young woman who had disappeared all those years ago.
‘It’s like a miracle, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll look after her. She’s making great progress. She really is.’
Razjosh cleared his throat. ‘Well, I think we now know who your grandfather is, even if we don’t know who your father is. This could be helpful,’ he said. ‘But we have to go now. We really have to go.’
‘Sure,’ said Oxton. ‘Good luck with everything.’
Kaleem didn’t know what to think or feel. There was a large lump in his throat. In one way he was relieved that his mother had made such a breakthrough before they went. He wished he could have gone and seen her, especially as it now seemed she was going to tell him what he really wanted to know. He just been given some amazing news and there was absolutely no time to sit and take it all in.
And of course, he was scared. Scared about this journey, and scared about what would happen at the end of it.
Menjit and Abel were whispering excitedly.
‘I think it is, you know,’ Kaleem heard Abel say quietly.
Razjosh cleared his throat again.
‘Just who was that lady?’ said Abel, now out loud.
The doors to the reception area swished open. The transporter was purring and ready to go.