Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Tower Forgetting Rozia

Day 170 Louish’s News

Well that was fascinating!
Louish was as dramatic as ever.
First off, she greets me in a bright royal blue tunic covered in glittery sequins. It was an incredible outfit. It was all sort of ruched up with great pleats in the body of it and the sleeves as well. Mind you, it really suited her. And her make-up! I mean, I’m wearing make-up all the time now, but I try to do it so that it doesn’t show. But Louish! Long curly eyelashes. Thick eye-liner. Bright blue eye shadow that matched her tunic. A huge beauty spot. And lipstick so red it almost looked as if her lips were bleeding.
Then there was all her prodding and poking – trying to get things out of me. So much so that I ended up telling as much about Julien as I dared.
“Well, my dear,” she said. “You’re looking well. Any sign of any new romance?”
At that point, I felt my cheeks burning.  
“Ah, I see there is,” she said. “Well, do not fear anything from me, sweetie.  If that nutcase of a grandson of mine can’t appreciate what is right in front of him, what’s offered to him on a plate, well then he’s even more of a fool that I thought.”
She stroked my hair and then gave me a huge hug. I don’t know why exactly, but that set me off. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Was I still sad about Kaleem? Was I pleased she accepted the idea of Julien?
Maybe she defined it herself in the end.
She sighed. “I’m sure he’s a fine young man, whoever he is,” she said. “But he’ll take you away from our family I expect.”
The lunch was superb, of course. Louish is always so cheerful and she tells such funny stories. But as we had coffee afterwards she became deadly serious. 
“I want to arrange a meeting,” she said. “A secret meeting. Between you and Razjosh.”
I couldn’t begin to imagine what Razjosh might want with me.
“Oh?” I said.
“Yes, he wants to discuss the whole switch-off thing with you. Making sure it becomes  permanent.  
“Ah,” I replied. I couldn’t think that that was going to be easy. He had just had such a narrow escape from switch-off himself.  “What does Elder Frazier think?”
“He’s all for it, my dear. In fact he’ll be at the meeting too,” she replied. “You will agree to it won’t you?”
How could I not? Louish is such a well-meaning person. I nodded. 
“Great!” she said, and beamed.
The rest of the afternoon was lovely. We went for a walk together. She told me all about what she and the other elders’ attachments get up to. Despite this rather heavy task she’s landed me with, it always does me good being with her. I really can’t believe she’s a grandmother with an adult grandson.     
“End and delete,” said Kaleem. That was definitely the last time he would read Rozia’s glog. Now that his grandmother knew about the new man in her life. At least perhaps now Louish would stop nagging him about getting back together with Rozia.
Rozia. She was obviously happy with Julien. That had been the plan. Leave her. Allow her to find someone else. There was no place for romance in the life of a Peace Child. He’d even told her that he approved, even made it sound as if he didn’t care.
Yet still she was producing her glog in Wordtext. She was doing that for him, he knew. He doubted whether Julien could read Wordtext. And every time now that he read her glog, he just hoped that she still wanted to be with him. But she was with Julien now. Just as he had planned. No point hoping it was otherwise. What was the point then, of her writing this glog in Wordtext? Was she trying to torment him?  There was certainly no point in him reading it anymore.  
He sighed. What was there to look forward to now, though?     
The door to the apartment swished open. Kaleem tensed, hoping there would be just one set of footsteps and no voices.
“I’ll get some coffee on the go,” he heard Marijam say. “Then I’ll go and get Kaleem.”
“Great stuff,” he heard Nazaret reply.
He could do without this. The sooner he got his own apartment, the better. It had been good at first, finding out that he had a father who was still alive. He actually liked Nazaret, for goodness sake, but he just couldn’t feel comfortable when he and Marijam were together. He wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because he’d lived for all those years with just his mother. Perhaps it was because Nazaret had abandoned him and Marijam. Or did it come down to Rozia again? After all, Nazaret hadn’t had any choice in being taken from Terrestra. He hadn’t known that Marijam was pregnant. Perhaps you could you say that what he’d done to Rozia was worse? Leaving her when she was so ill?  Or was he jealous because Nazaret and Marijam had carried on being in love over all those years of separation; neither of them had found another partner. And Rozia had found Julien. In just a few weeks.
Then, even if he could argue himself out of all of those points, he and Nazaret were always awkward around each other. He longed to have the same easy relationship with his father as he had with his mother.  
“Hey, sweetie,” called Marijam, bouncing into Kaleem’s room. “Your father’s got something really exciting to tell you. Will you come and join us?” Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were glowing pink.
It was so good to see her so happy and full of fun these days. She had always been so serious when they lived on Terrestra in the cave apartment.
“I’ll be in in a minute,” said Kaleem. It was so stupid how he always had to brace himself to be in the same room as Nazaret.     
“I’ll call you when the coffee’s ready,” said Marijam, beaming.
That was why he kept on staying with them. His mother was so happy having both of her men under the same roof. And it wouldn’t after all, be forever. At some point he would have to go off on another Peace Child mission.  
He supposed he ought to check again on how Project Acorn was going. The dataserve whirred into life before he as much as made a voice command. He ought to be used to how the dataserves here seemed to read your mind. He’s spent enough time on Zandra, but it was still disturbing, not least of all because he couldn’t work out how they did it.
Movie clips of the Supercraft in London Harbour and Zandra Dock 1 started loading and a voiceover began reading off numbers. Kaleem frowned. He would prefer this in Figurescript as he could read it. It would be quicker and he could just look up what he needed to know. He opened his mouth ready to give the command. The screen flickered and suddenly rows and rows of figures appeared.
I wish it wouldn’t, thought Kaleem. But this is better.
He’d hardly had time to think than when the screen changed again.
“Receive message from Don Edmundson?” asked the machine. A static picture of Edmundson, the coordinator of Project Acorn, appeared on the screen.
What now? thought Kaleem. He sighed. He’d better speak to him he supposed.
Edmundson immediately went live.
“Good morning, Kaleem,” said Edmundson. He was frowning as usual. “I need to arrange a meet with you. I take it you have no objections?”
He doesn’t give anything away, thought Kaleem, looking carefully at Edmundson’s face for any clue about what he might be thinking or feeling. It was expressionless apart from the frown.
Always the same neutral face.
“There isn’t a problem, is there?” asked Kaleem.
“Hope not,” said Edmundson. “Three tomorrow afternoon, Gengis Hall 231?”
“Yes, of course,” said Kaleem. There was no point prodding Edmundson. If it was something he could have said by a dataserve link he would have said it. There must be a really good reason why he wanted them to meet in person. Kaleem dreaded what that might be.                    
“Good,” said Edmundson and the screen snapped back to the Figurescript pages.
“Coffee’s ready,” shouted Marijam from the lounge.
It just gets worse, thought Kaleem.
Marijam was pouring the coffee herself as he walked into the lounge. Even though she and Nazaret had every modern convenience including the state of the art house droid, Marijam often preferred to do her own catering. She beamed at Kaleem.
“Hi, Kaleem,” said Nazaret, a little stiffly “would you like to come and see this?”
What did he want now, Kaleem wondered. He sat on the comfisessel next to Nazaret, who was looking at a small portable dataserve on the coffee table in front of them.
A movie clip started up. It showed some woodland with trees and all sorts of grasses and flowers growing under them. Kaleem supposed it was from Terrestra, but did notice that most of the trees were very young. 
“These are young oak trees on one of the new Zandrian plantations,” said a voiceover.
“And those flowers are all native to Terrestra except that little one there,” said Nazaret, pointing at the screen.
The screen zoomed in at once to a small flower Kaleem had never seen before. It had papery ivory petals with delicate thread-like streaks of very pale pink and blue woven through them.
“The Zandrian ice-bell,” explained Nazaret. “And those there-” He pointed to what Kaleem recognised as bluebells. “Are native to Terrestra, but only one variety is appearing. This is the one which has white pollen. The stronger one, the one which grows so viciously that it tends to take over, is not appearing at all. Then there are all the usual fungi and mosses – everything that you would expect to find in Terrestran woodland.” 
“How?” asked Kaleem. He did not feel quite so uncomfortable with Nazaret when they were talking about things like this.
“A bit of a mystery,” replied Nazaret. “We would expect a few spores and seeds to get mixed up with acorns. But why the type one bluebell exclusively? It would be more understandable if it were the type two, the hardier one. And the ice-bell is a real mystery. It is not one of those plants whose seeds lie dormant until the soil is turned. There were plenty of those around before the deforestation disaster. Why is it precisely this one that has come back and not the others?”
Nazaret was beaming now. Kaleem wished he could feel as enthusiastic about his father’s work.
“Even more exciting,” Nazaret continued. “All of the plant life has adapted extremely well to the Zandrian clock and season rotation. At any one time plants at all stages of their cycle are present.”
“Come on you two,” said Marijam. “Drink up your coffee before it gets cold. And you should tell him your most exciting news.”
“Aha!” said Nazaret, taking a sip of his coffee. “Guess who is going to head up the research into all of this?” The man’s eyes were positively shining. He looked like a child with a new toy.
For a moment Kaleem felt content. He could be proud of his father taking on such an important job. He could be happy that he was so happy. He did like the man for goodness sake. That was never the problem. He wasn’t really sure exactly what was. 
“That’s great,” he said.
“Isn’t it?” said Marijam. She got up out of her seat and made her way over to Nazaret. She put her arms round his shoulders and planted a brief kiss on his cheek.
But Nazaret pulled her face back to his and kissed her full on the lips. He lingered a little too long for Kaleem’s liking.
Oh for goodness sake. Why shouldn’t a man kiss his attachment? Even if it was your father kissing your mother? Get a grip, Kennedy-Bagarin, thought Kaleem. It’s not as if they’re about to have sex.     
He gulped his coffee down.
“I’d better get on,” he mumbled, getting up to leave the room.
“Don’t work too hard,” called Marijam, pulling herself away from Nazaret, who seemed reluctant to let her go.    
Kaleem sighed to himself as he made his way out of the room. He wished he didn’t have to be like this.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Babel Chapter Five Girls

Kaleem stared at his nectar. How could he get himself to drink this revolting stuff?  He braced himself and took a sip.
He was surprised. It wasn’t as bad as he had expected it to be. He took another mouthful. Maybe it was okay. It was beginning to do something anyway. Perhaps he would take Ben Alki up on his offer. Perhaps he would go and see the inside of a switch-off ceremony and find out what it was really like.
He took another big gulp of his drink. He put the tumbler back down, and then saw that half of the liquid had gone.
Suddenly, there were voices outside the entrance to the bar. Girls’ voices. A lot of giggling. Kaleem took another sip of the nectar.
Seconds later, they were in the bar. Kaleem tried to make himself look small. Despite the dyed hair, they would recognize him, even if they didn’t know why they knew him. He took another large swig of his nectar. It didn’t seem as sweet as it had before and he could tell that it had quite a punch to it. Why had he thought this so bad? It was really rather good.
The giggling and chattering stopped. Kaleem could feel them staring at him. He looked up at the mirror behind the bar. His heart missed a beat. Rozia Laurence was staring at his reflection. She went deep red. Kaleem felt the back of his own neck and his cheeks go red. He emptied his tumbler. Rozia turned back to the other girls. 
“Who is that? I know that face,” he heard one girl say.
“Kaleem Kennedy-Bagarin,” he heard Rozia reply.
He looked up at the mirror again. Rozia was going even redder.
“The Peace Child you mean?” hissed one of the other girls.  
“Yep,” replied Rozia. “I used to be schooled with him.”
“But I thought he was blond,” muttered another voice.
“I guess he’s dyed his hair so that people won’t recognize him so easily,” Rozia replied.
“Didn’t work, did it?” whispered another girl.
“Come on, let’s leave him in peace,” said Rozia, out loud. She looked up at Kaleem’s reflection and smiled. Her cheeks were still pink. She signalled to the others that they should go and sit in the corner on the far side of the bar.
The droid was pottering about behind the counter. It glided over to Kaleem.
“Would Sir care for another nectar?” the electronic voice asked.
Kaleem nodded. He was used to it now. He was enjoying what it was doing to him. The droid poured the drink.  He took the tumbler, got down from the high hoverstool and made his way over to where the girls were sitting. He suddenly felt very bold.
“Hi Kaleem,” said Rozia, smiling at him. Her eyes opened wide as she looked into his. “Let me introduce you to the others. Della, Marina, Renate, Jayne, Margiet and Sophia.”
The girls giggled and started to fuss over him. Kaleem found it difficult to concentrate. He certainly wouldn’t be able to remember who was who, even if he did remember the names. They all looked the same. That was probably one of the big disadvantages of aiming at perfect Terrestran looks. They all had the correct pale face, and dark, sleek hair. They were even wearing very similar tunics tonight, all of them the pale purple silk of mourning. Only Rozia was a bit different. Her face was so pretty with its fine, delicate features. And the way she kept blushing. Did that perhaps mean what he thought it meant? Hopefully. Maybe he had time for that sort of thing now. Of course, she knew him from before he was chosen as the Peace Child, before he went to live at the Citadel with the elders and before he’d gone to Zandra. Everyone admired him now. Maybe she had liked him a little bit even back then.
One name stuck out though, Sophia.
“Funny,” said Kaleem. “Do you know Ben Alki Mazrouth? He was here, just now. He had been hoping a Sophia would come in. You’re not her are you?”
The girl called Sophia wailed. “Damn, I’ve missed him,” she said. “We left it too late!”
“We had a job getting out this evening,” Rozia explained. “What with the departure and the wake and everything.”
Why have they all come out on mass like that? Kaleem wondered. What chance would the poor guy stand?
“Oh no,” said Sophia, biting her lip. “I’ll never get to see him.”
No you won’t, thought Kaleem. Not if you keep on turning up too late and if you bring all your hangers-on  every time. “Do you know where he lives?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Sophia slowly.
“Well, why don’t you get over there?” asked Kaleem.
“What?” said Sophia blushing. “I couldn’t. What would he think?”
“I’d say he’d be very pleased to see you,” said Kaleem. “Poor bloke’s had a tough day.”
“You just don’t do that,” another girl hissed.
“Well call him up at least,” said Kaleem. “Do you know his call sign?”
“Of course I do,” whined Sophia. “But I just can’t. If he’d wanted to see me, he’d have waited.”
“Are you actually…?” Kaleem started.
“No they’re not, but they’d both like to,” Rozia said. “They’re both just being incredibly stupid and not getting down to it.”
“Oh for goodness’ sake,” said Kaleem. He suddenly remembered a bunch of gigantic velvety black tulips, a blond version of Rozia and a missed opportunity. “On Zandra, if a girl fancies a guy, she just sends him a big bunch of Black Tulpen. He can either accept or decline. Saves a lot of bother.”
“Well what if a guy fancies a girl?” asked another girl.
“Just asks her out, like here,” said Kaleem. He took a mouthful of the wheat and rye. Oh, this was such a waste. Poor old Ben Alki, wanting a bit of nice female company after the horrible things he’d had to do, and here was the very one he’d wanted to be with, pining away for him. The nectar was making Kaleem much bolder than normal. “Come on then, call him,” he said.  
Sophia hesitated.
“All right then,” said Kaleem, “call him on mine. Then he won’t know it’s you.” He stretched out his wrist so that the minicompu was facing Sophia.
“Ben Alki Mazrouth 2751,” said Sophia tentatively.
The minicompu buzzed several times before Ben Alki answered, and the screen remained blank.
“Oh dear,” said Kaleem. “Looks as if he might have gone to bed. Or he’s taking a shower.” He went to log out.
“Hello,” said Ben Alki’s voice suddenly.  
“Hey there,” said Kaleem, “sorry to wake you. But I think there’s someone here who would like to see you.” He switched his minicompu over to visual and held it so that its camera was pointing at Sophia. Suddenly Ben Alki’s lean face was filling the small screen.
“Sophia?” asked Ben Alki, suddenly grinning.
“That’s right,” said Kaleem. “Now, shall we send her over to you or are you going to come here?”
“Send her over to me!” replied Ben Alki.
“Make him come here!” cried Sophia at exactly the same time.          
“She can’t go over there,” said one of the other girls.
“No, not the first time, on her own,” said another.
“You’d better come here, mate,” said Kaleem. “I don’t know. We Terrestrans, eh? Bit old-fashioned or what?”
He couldn’t believe he’d just done that.  Shy, different, awkwardly unterrestran, unzandrian Kaleem Malkendy-Kennedy-Bagarin had just had a go at match-making. And it looked as if it was going to be successful.
Suddenly their corner of the bar was buzzing. Everyone seemed to be speaking at once. Well, not quite all of them. Rozia and Sophia were in a huddle in the corner. Sophia  fiddled with her tunic and kept on smoothing her hair. The other four girls – whose names Kaleem still could not remember, were all over him.
“Do they really do that on Zandra?” asked one.
“Yes…,” he went to reply.
He barely had time to answer before another chipped in with; “Well what are Zandrain girls like? Which do you prefer, Kaleem, Terrestrans or Zandrians?”
“I don’t know. It depends …,”
“So just exactly what is it like, going in a Supercraft? What does it look like out there?”
“Well. It’s sort of……it’s.
“Gosh, you’re really brave you are….I bet it was scary when you were ill.”
“Yes, it was, it was , I erm …
“Oh, you lot, let him have a drink. Can we get you another drink, Kaleem?”
“I, er  no thanks” Kaleem managed to mutter. He leant forward and took another sip of the wheat and rye nectar. No, he didn’t want another. It had started to taste too sickly sweet again and the room was beginning to spin a little.
“Really, though,” said one of the girls. “What was it like going on a Supercraft? It must have been fantastic.”
Kaleem suddenly remembered looking out of the veriglass windows of the Supercraft. Yes, it had been fascinating to look at the planets and stars seeming to float by, once they had returned to normal drive. Yet, it had not been as intriguing as it might have been. On the way to Zandra, he was too nervous. On the way back, when he ought to have been more relaxed, he had been so disturbed by the voice file his mother had left him that he had still could not appreciate it. Besides all of that, he was quite nervous about coming back to Terrestra, meeting his grandparents for the first time, and being recognized as the Peace Child.
“I’d give anything to be able to do that,” the girl continued.
“Hi, guys, it’s me,” called a voice from the doorway suddenly.
The chatter stopped. Rozia nudged Sophia, who blushed deep red. Ben Alki walked into the room.  He smiled slowly at Sophia. Rozia whispered something to her. Ben Alki made his way to the table where the girls and Kaleem were sitting. Rozia indicated the table next to them with her head and pushed Sophia over to one of the seats next to it. The others watched in silence. Ben Alki and Sophia sat also in silence smiling awkwardly at each other.
Finally, Ben Alki leaned towards Sophia.
“Can I get you another drink?” he said. His voice was hoarse and high-pitched, very different from the voice which had asked the elder the serious questions.
Sophia nodded and blushed even deeper.
Then the chatter started again, the barrage of questions. Just how many languages did he know?  How did he manage to learn them? What had the prison been like? Was Charlek, the prison officer, really as friendly as they’d heard? Was it true that the food on Zandra was so much better that what they had on Terrestra? How did they manage to do that if they had no natural plant-life? Would the acorn programme really succeed?
They didn’t give him time to answer one question before the next one came along. There was a lot of giggling.
One girl, though, didn’t giggle, didn’t attack him with questions. She smiled gently now and then. Her eyes were wide open, reminding him a bit of the eyes of the adult-children in the dream he kept having.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ben Alki and Sophia walk hand in hand out of the door. He wished for a moment that he could do that. Slip away with a beautiful girl.
His throat became dry, but he could not face the mesmerizing sweetness of the wheat and rye nectar. He suddenly longed for cave water. He could not believe that he actually wanted cave water, after he’d been so bored with it for so many years. He wanted something that simple and now it wasn’t available. Not in a nectar bar, and not usually anywhere up on the surface.
Gradually, the questions stopped. The girls began to look tired-out by their own excitement. One by one, they started to leave.
Rozia didn’t, though. She stayed. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was gorgeous. Was she thinking the same? She kept avoiding his eyes. But then she would look up at him, smile shyly, blush, then look away again.  She made no attempt to leave either.
The droid pottered around, clearing glasses from their table. Soon, the New Laguna was as quiet as it had been when he had first come in.
“I suppose we ought to go as well,” Kaleem said. He noticed that his voice had gone high and squeaky, just like Ben Alki’s had. He was trying to pluck up the courage to ask her if he could see her home. Stupid thing to say. It made it sound as if he didn’t want to be with her any more.
“Where can you get Black Tulpen on Terrestra?” said Rozia quickly. This time she did not blush. If anything, she looked paler than usual. 
Kaleem’s heart missed a beat.