Kaleem was sitting in the observation lounge of the powerful craft. He remembered how big it had seemed when they arrived at the spaceport in the transporter. There had been no problem getting into the Supercraft’s hangar. Menjit and Abel had played with the controls for about half an hour. They had set the craft’s dataserve, and although it was working at minimal, it was giving them all the information they needed.
It had been scary, leaving Terrestra’s orbit. His heart had been racing when Menjit had warned them that they were about to black out as they went into superdrive.
When he woke up they seemed to be floating.
‘She’s riding smoothly, man,’ said Menjit, through the craft’s main dataserve.
‘Gliding like a sleeping baby,’ said Abel. ‘Man, we did it!’
‘You can have a walk around, if you like,’ Razjosh said to Kaleem.
Kaleem unbuckled himself from the take-off seat. He felt strange as he stood up. Menjit and Abel had not been able to get quite the right balance of gases in the air and the false gravity wasn’t working perfectly. Kaleem floated a little way into the air and had to force his feet back down on to the deck of the Supercraft.
‘Have a look around all of you, if you want to,’ said Razjosh. ‘I want to talk to our friends on the steering deck. See if we can get this craft working even better.’
Kaleem set off over to the wall. He felt safer having something to hang on to until he got used to how he needed to walk to stop himself floating away. He wandered out of the take-off lounge. A wide corridor led towards the personal quarters. Razjosh had explained that they were not going to be assigned rooms. They would all sleep together in the lounge. That way, if there should be an emergency, they could all come together quickly. But during the day, they could walk around the craft, as long as their personal communicators stayed on.
It’s so stupid, thought Kaleem. We ought to be able to travel around like this all the time. It’s really silly what we did on Terrestra.
He wondered what the cabins might be like inside. The take-off lounge was quite comfortable, and it did have little couchette cubicles so that they could have some privacy at night. They would normally have been used for crew, or for if there had been too many passengers. Menjit and Abel had managed to make the kitchen units operate and there would be plenty to eat and drink. It was really all quite cosy.
It must have been a great way to travel, thought Kaleem. And it must have been quite exciting when it was full of people.
A Supercraft normally held two thousand people comfortably. Kaleem tried to imagine what it would be like with that many on board. There would be people walking up and down the corridors. Some would be sleeping while others were playing sports, eating, drinking or discussing business in one of the many lounges. Now there were just the six of them rattling around in this great big space.
He carried on walking. He touched one of the doors. It felt slightly gritty under his fingers. It had a grainy pattern on it and it smelt of wax.
It’s made of one of the old materials, he thought.
Danielle had told him that all of the cabins were absolutely luxurious. It would have been good to see that.
He continued his walk. Soon, the walls stopped being transparent. There were holograms of parts of Terrestra and also of other planets. He ought really to go back, but he wanted to find the limit of this vehicle. He wanted to go right to the end.
Then he started to have the odd feeling that there was someone or something behind him. It was probably just one of the others. But why didn’t they try and catch him up? Every so often, he looked back. There was no one there. Of course he could just turn round and go back. But something told him he didn’t actually want to meet whatever it was. It was stupid really. Perhaps it was just the emptiness of the gigantic spacecraft that made him feel that way.
The wall of the craft had begun to curve. He could go round the other side and hurry back. But that feeling that he was not alone would not go away. Suddenly, he wanted to be back in the take-off lounge with the others.
Then his heart missed a beat. The door to one of the cabins was open and there was light streaming from it.
So there is someone else on board, he thought, and Razjosh hasn’t bothered to tell us.
He looked behind him. No sign of anyone. He was right by the open door now. He looked inside. Obviously, someone was staying there. The bed was slightly crumpled. The dataserve had been activated and there was a holoscreen showing. Soft music was coming out of the speakers.
Kaleem stood in the doorway, trying to work out who might be there. Would Razjosh have asked someone else along and not told them?
‘So, this is what a Peace Child does, is it?’ said a voice behind him. ‘Breaks the law along with the Elders? Did you really think I’d not know about this? My Spy-traps are too clever for you lot.’
Kaleem turned to see who was speaking. He breathed in shortly. He was looking at an older version of Stuart Davidson.
‘Sit down, why don’t you?’ said the man. He nodded towards one of the comfisessels. ‘This could take a long time.’
Kaleem didn’t move.
Davidson’s look-a-like shrugged his shoulders. ‘Suit yourself,’ he said. ‘Secure room,’ he said to the dataserve.
The door swished shut.
‘Now,’ he said. ‘They won’t even know we’re here. I suppose after a while, though, they’ll realise you’re missing and come looking for you. Couldn’t be better. You’re going to be very useful to me.’
A shadow suddenly passed across the man’s face. ‘Though of course, I’m not sure what use Peace Child is going to be if he’s not allowed to go and negotiate. I’ll probably have to find another hostage. Maybe that young Head of Medicine. No. No good. Not with hair like that. She won’t be much use to anyone. It will have to be the scientist.’
Not only does he look like Davidson, he’s behaving like him as well, thought Kaleem.
‘Well. You’re not saying a lot, are you?’ asked the man. ‘Maybe you’re thinking that somebody considers you important enough to want to rescue you. I wouldn’t rely on that too much, if I were you. After all, that mother of yours is still doolally, and what chance would that bumbling old Razjosh Elder have? He’s become unhinged lately. Very doddery indeed. And as for the two ladies?’ He flexed his arm muscles. ‘No chance!’
Kaleem stared at him. There was actually no answer to what he was saying. It would be a waste of breath anyway.
‘Well, you haven’t got a lot to say for yourself, have you?’ said the Davidson clone. ‘Yes, well, Stuart said you were a bit antisocial. You need to lighten up a bit. You should take a look at what my son does. You do know him, don’t you? Stuart Davidson?’
Now, why wasn’t he surprised? And now he had a bit of an idea of why Stuart was the way he was. The cheek of the man - to talk about him, Danielle and Sandi like that.
‘There are others on this craft, you know,’ he shouted.
‘Ah, yes, of course,’ said Davidson, grinning. ‘Our friends from the Z Zone. You don’t think they’d have the intelligence to work out what to do, do you?’ The Head of Transport threw back his head and laughed. His eyes were closed.
Kaleem saw his chance; he darted forward and tried to run past Davidson.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ shouted Davidson. ‘He grabbed the neck of Kaleem’s tunic, almost strangling him. ‘Hold him!’ he shouted to the room robot.
The robot pulled Kaleem’s arms behind him and held him still.
‘I have just the thing for you,’ said Davidson. He muttered some instructions to the dataserve. Seconds later, a syringe of liquid was delivered to the food hatch.
Oh no, what now? thought Kaleem.
The Head of transport pointed the tip of the phial into Kaleem’s arm. Kaleem tried to free himself. The robot did release his grasp, but within seconds Davidson was holding him and pushing the point of the phial deeper into his arm.
Kaleem felt the cool fluid go through his tunic and skin. The room seemed to spin and the objects in it began to pulse and then seemed to dissolve.
I’m going to sleep, he thought. I mustn’t, but I can’t help it.
The dream started again at once. The children were already waiting for him. They waved as he walked across the perfectly green grass. Their faces were slightly less hideous this time and they still seemed like children, even when he looked straight at their faces.
One of them spoke. It was a girl with clear blue almond-shaped eyes. ‘You must start the first page of the book to-day,’ she said. She tugged at his arm and dragged him into the chapel. The large book was on top of a tall lectern. There were candles on either side. The candleholders were carved eagle’s heads. The pen was a long white feather. The girl dipped the pen into the inkpot, which was at the side and handed it to Kaleem.
‘Write!’ she said.
‘What shall I write?’ asked Kaleem.
‘Write what needs to be done first.’
Kaleem’s hand seemed frozen. He had no idea what to write or how to write, even. Then, his hand seemed to move on its own. Marks appeared on the paper.
‘He does not understand,’ a voice in his head said.
‘He does not understand,’ the girl whispered. She laughed. Then she shouted. ‘He does not understand. He does not understand.’
Some of the children started laughing. ‘He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand,’ other voices chanted. They really sounded like young children playing this time. Then it went dark and he found himself falling. There was nothing but blackness.
The blackness faded and came back again, like waves tumbling on to the beach. Gradually sounds called at the edge of his consciousness. He was aware of Davidson talking softly to the dataserve.
He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand. The girl’s voice still echoed in his head.
Then he was wide-awake again. And he remembered something he’d read in an old Wordtext file. The Canton Indians used words to attack their enemy. It didn’t matter what they said, as long as they carried on saying it and really believed what they meant.
I’ll tell him what an idiotic bigot he is, thought Kaleem. He remembered that this was actually called the Canton charm. Well, what he had to say to Davidson was not very charming at all.
‘Kent it ar achan!’ he shouted.
Ponty Davidson turned round, startled.
He doesn’t understand, thought Kaleem. He smiled to himself. That had been exactly what he had meant to do.
‘Kent it arcahn, ponsuitht?’ he shouted now. ‘Allac amay. Allacah amay ransitje. Tooboarkay. Toorborkay amienda?’
A shadow passed over the Minister’s face. There was something else. Hatred? Fear, perhaps?
He doesn’t get it, thought Kaleem. And he’s afraid of what he doesn’t understand. That’s why he’s doing this.
Kaleem rushed forwards towards the Head of Transport.
‘TenrMenjit, teMenjit terMenjit,’ he cried. ‘Alacahmay.’
Davidson had gone quite white now.
He’s scared, thought Kaleem. He’s scared of what he doesn’t know and what he doesn’t understand. That’s why he’s the way he is and why Stuart is the same. And he’s scared of me.
‘Tooletaky. Menjpa!’ cried Kaleem. He walked right up to Davidson. The man seemed to shrink from him.
‘Talak!’ called Kaleem.
Davidson stepped aside. Kaleem was now facing the door. He turned and looked at Davidson.
‘Open!’ said Davidson. His voice was quiet and squeaky.
Kaleem walked thought the door and out into the corridor. He hurried to the take-off deck. He knew he had very little time. The Canton charm he had used on Ponty Davidson would only last about twenty minutes. Then, the Head of Transport would remember just what had happened before he had used it and would come looking for Kaleem.
He must find the others and warn them. Would he get back in time or would Ponty Davidson catch up with him? He probably had some other tricks he could use anyway. And he would be even angrier now that Kaleem had got away from him.
The corridors of the Supercraft seemed even longer than they had when he came. Each corridor looked exactly the same as the one before and he had to listen very carefully to the dataserve counting the doors. He didn’t dare use his personal communicator because Davidson would probably be able to listen in.
According to the dataserve reports, he had just three legs of corridor more to go. But he thought he saw a shadow flit across in front of him. His heart started beating loudly and his mouth went dry. He was sure he could hear someone moving. Whoever it was suddenly cleared their throat.
Who was it? There was only his group on the craft, wasn’t there? And Ponty Davidson, of course. Did this mean there was yet another person on board?
Kaleem turned the corner. He could see the person walking away from him. Kaleem’s chest dropped with relief. It was one of the two Z Zoner pilots. But then the panic came back. Shouldn’t both of them be driving the craft? What if they were also plotting against the Peace Child project?
The Z Zoner seemed also to have sensed that someone else was there. He stopped walking along the corridor and turned back to face Kaleem. It was Menjit Crossman.
‘Aha!’ said Menjit, when Kaleem caught up with him. ‘Our Peace Child friend is on the loose. Does Razjosh know where you are? He was getting a tiny little concerned earlier.’
‘I could ask you the same,’ said Kaleem. Why had Menjit left the other Z Zoner to drive the craft on his own? He couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice.’ Aren’t you supposed to be controlling this thing?’
‘Hey, man, steady there,’ said Menjit. ‘These babies really drive themselves when they’re set up right. We Z Zoners can get that right you know. Now me and Abel, we’re just here to trouble shoot. And that we can do just about fine.’
Kaleem realised that what he had just said to the Z Zoner must have been quite offensive. He ought to know better after all he had learned from Razjosh.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It came out all wrong.’
‘No problem,’ said Menjit. He grinned. ‘We’re used to rough manners in the Z Zone. But hey, there, something’s bothering you, that’s for sure. Are you going to tell us what?’
Kaleem was not sure what to do. He wasn’t certain how much he could trust anyone from the Z Zone. On the other hand, he was beginning to feel uncomfortable about people such as Abel and Menjit being cut off from the rest of his planet. He couldn’t see a lot wrong with them. And wasn’t Terrestra isolating itself as much from the rest of the universe in just the same way? But he ought to talk to Razjosh as soon as possible.
‘Well, the thing is,’ Kaleem began.
‘Ah, there you both are,’ said Razjosh, who was now hurrying towards them along the corridor. ‘Where have you been Kaleem? Whatever is the matter with you?’
‘It’s,’ began Kaleem again. Should he tell Razjosh everything about Ponty Davidson in front of Menjit?
‘Come on, tell us, what has happened,’ said Razjosh. Kaleem could hear the impatience in his voice.
Still Kaleem wasn’t sure whether he should speak in front of Menjit.
‘Kaleem,’ said Razjosh. ‘We can trust the Z Zoners. Especially the two on board this Supercraft.’
Kaleem told him as briefly as he could all that had happened. Menjit listened also, occasionally nodding his head and looking very thoughtful.
‘So Ponty Davidson has got on to the craft?’ said Razjosh, frowning. ‘We’ll have to be careful. He’s a very clever man. But at least it explains the drain on power that Abel was worried about earlier. And why he couldn’t do a search throughout the craft. Davidson has obviously created some sort of blocking device.’ The Elder looked thoughtfully for a few seconds at Kaleem and then he smiled.
‘Tell me again,’ he said, ‘how you managed to get away from him.’
Kaleem repeated the story of how he had spoken to Ponty Davidson in a language the man had not understood and how the Head of Transport had just seemed to stand aside and let him pass.
‘Mesmoration exotica,’ said Razjosh. ‘An accomplished skill, mastered by very few. And very wise to use the Canton charm. Well done you.’
‘What’s that, though, mesmer…?’ Kaleem began.
‘Mesmoration exotica,’ repeated Razjosh, ‘using the power of language to make someone do what you want them to. The words you use become more powerful because the other does not understand. Some deep, animal instinct obeys your meaning. The intellect is not able to get involved because it does not know what the words mean. That’s what makes the Canton charm work, anyway.’
The sentence from the dream was now echoing around Kaleem’s head. ‘He doesn’t understand, he doesn’t understand,’ he heard the girl voice saying over and over again.
‘That is all well and good,’ continued Razjosh, ‘but it does not alter the fact that we are now in considerable danger: we are travelling with a very dangerous man. And we must find a way of getting him on to our side or getting rid of him’
Getting rid of him? What did Razjosh mean? Surely he didn’t mean to murder him?
‘If you’ll excuse me sir,’ said Menjit. ‘There are things I need to discuss with Abel.’
‘You do nothing without my command,’ said Razjosh looking sternly at Menjit.
‘Of course not, sir,’ said Menjit. ‘I meant just about checking our course, speed and fuel consumption.’
Razjosh nodded to him. Menjit bowed slightly and hurried off in the direction of the driving room.
* * *
‘It’s most important now,’ said Razjosh, back in the take-off lounge, ‘that we all stay together. No more exploring the craft. Of course, we’re not sure of what he is going to do next, and he would be a difficult man to fight.’
‘Do you really think there is no reasoning with him?’ asked Danielle. ‘After the way he softened so easily with Kaleem. I mean, I know he’s a stubborn old so-and-so, but isn’t there a chance he could be persuaded?’
‘Blah! No it’s impossible,’ said Sandi. ‘You just can’t change people. Not that quickly, anyway. And they’ll only change if they want to change and they do the changing themselves. Can’t we just catch him and tranquilize him, or something? I mean those two Z Zoners are pretty beefy. They could probably bring him down.’
‘Too dangerous,’ said Razjosh. ‘We daren’t risk either of them getting involved in a fight. And he may not be a particularly strong man, but he is so extremely clever and treacherous.’
Kaleem was not sure he could agree with the bit about Davidson not being all that strong. The bruises on his arm, which were now beginning to throb, told him otherwise.
The arguments kept going on in circles. They could agree on nothing.
‘And any moment now, he could pull another stunt,’ said Sandi. ‘We have to do something.’
What is the matter with the man? thought Kaleem. Why can’t he stand anything which is just a little bit different?
But then he realised that Ponty Davidson was only thinking the same way as most Terrestrans did. It’s just that he was a little more organised and a little more ruthless in his fight against change. And wasn’t he, Kaleem, the Peace Child, able to cope with the differentness of others, just a little perturbed still about the way he himself looked?
He turned to look out of the transparent walls of the Supercraft. He was sure Razjosh would think of something. He usually did. He felt quite safe with the Elder. Anyway, Davidson seemed to have gone quiet for the moment.
Abel’s voice suddenly came across the communication system.
‘I think we’ve taken care of your little problem,’ he said, ‘take a look at this.’
A movie clip started playing across the main screen in the lounge. Ponty Davidson was in his Terrestran office, looking at a dataserve screen.
‘This isn’t possible,’ he was murmuring to himself. ‘I must be dreaming.’
‘Abel Stansted,’ shouted Razjosh, ‘come through and explain yourself at once. Is this some sort of a joke?’
Both Abel and Menjit appeared through the doorway seconds later.
‘No joke, Sir,’ said Menjit, ‘just the cleverness of this little device.’ He held up something about the size of a personal communicator. There was no wristband and it was also shaped a little like a gun.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ asked Danielle. Her eyes were shiny with excitement.
‘Well, if you mean is it a teletransporter,’ replied Abel, ‘yes ma’am, it surely is.’
‘But we’ve been working on it for years, and just within the confines of the planet. It has been so unreliable. How can you invent something like that in the Z Zone? With your lack of resources?’ Danielle sounded almost bitter now. She was after all, Head of Science. Kaleem could hear the disappointment in her voice.
‘Ah well,’ said Abel, ‘we’ve always had to keep our wits about us in the Z Zone.’
‘It’s actually 99.9% science and 0.1% magic,’ added Menjit, ‘but I guess you normal-zoners aren’t so good at magic.’
Razjosh sighed. ‘Yes, we always knew really that the Z Zone would produce something extraordinary. Hardship often leads to great inventions. We should have expected something, though I wouldn’t have imagined at all that it would be that.’
Suddenly the Supercraft began to shake and rattle. A siren started sounding. Abel and Menjit exchanged glances.
‘This looks serious folks,’ said Abel, rushing back towards the driving room. Menjit followed close behind. Danielle had gone pale. Sandi was frowning. Even Razjosh looked concerned.
Kaleem felt sick. What was wrong with the Supercraft? Was it going to fall apart and were they going to be blasted into space? He was getting used to disasters now. It was just such a silly waste of time.
The rattling became more violent. The alarms became more urgent. Razjosh was clearly sweating. Danielle and Sandi were gripping the arms of their seats. Kaleem began to wonder what it would be like to die.
Menjit appeared in the doorway again.
‘The main dataserve has blown,’ he said, ‘and the backup is refusing to kick in.’
Abel had come in behind him.
‘We just don’t know enough to be able to repair it quickly,’ he said. ‘We just ain’t that skilled.’
He looked at Abel. Abel nodded.
‘We’ve got two other remote transporters with us,’ he said. ‘We brought along three - two for ourselves - and one for the boy …. Just in case.’
‘You see,’ continued Abel ‘they can only be used once and they take a lot of time and effort to make … with the limited resources in the Z Zone.’
No one spoke. Menjit and Abel looked at each other again.
‘We could get two of you on to Zandra,’ said Abel, ‘if you’re willing to risk it.’
The main lights on the Supercraft went out and the emergency ones came on.
Kaleem’s eyes adjusted to the duller light. Everyone was frowning and he could even feel the crease in his own forehead.
Sandi suddenly shrugged her shoulders.
‘Well it’s obvious, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘It’s got to be Kaleem and Razjosh.’
‘How safe is this?’ asked Razjosh.
The alarms stopped screaming.
‘Hey, man,’ said Menjit, grinning suddenly, ‘how dim do you think we Z Zoners are? We ain’t had no failure yet!’
‘Look, it really is important to get Kaleem to Zandra as soon as possible,’ said Danielle suddenly. ‘And it would be better if Razjosh went as well.’
Razjosh was nodding his head.
‘But what about the rest of you?’ asked Razjosh.
‘Don’t underestimate the Z Zone, man,’ said Menjit. ‘We’ll think of something.’
‘The life support systems in this capsule should still function for another ten days,’ said Abel.
‘Well then,’ said Razjosh. ‘What happens next?’
‘You don’t have to do nothing,’ said Menjit.
He took two more of the teletransporters out of his pocket. They looked even more like laser guns now. He handed one to Abel. The two Z Zoners pressed some buttons on the strange objects and then showed each other what they had done.
‘Okay,’ said Abel. ‘Kaleem and Razjosh stand away from the others.’ He pointed to where they should stand.
Kaleem was now about a metre away from Razjosh. Abel nodded to Menjit. Both men pointed the objects at them.
They really are laser guns, thought Kaleem. They’re going to shoot us. His heart started thumping. He could see Danielle and Sandi watching. They didn’t look any more worried than they had a few seconds ago.
Then it went dark. Kaleem felt as if he was being pushed through a very black tunnel. He was sure his body was going to fall to pieces. It seemed as if it was being pulled apart. There was a strange humming. Then he saw rainbows and finally a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
This is what they say happens at switch-off , he thought. They are trying to kill us.
Suddenly he could feel the ground beneath his feet. He was in the open air. Razjosh was standing next to him. He was standing in a court yard between two high buildings, buildings that were not all that different from ones he might expect to find on Terrestra. Beyond them was a sky that was as blue as the Terrestran sky.
‘It worked,’ said the Elder. ‘Welcome to Zandra.’
Kaleem looked up for any sign of what might have happened to the Supercraft. She was not to be seen. Then he looked more closely at the buildings around him. This was Zandra. He was a long way from home.