‘Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about at all,’ said the doctor at Health Centre 215. ‘It’s just this year’s grippa virus. Though I must say it’s a bit more tenacious in your case. I’d like to give you a full scan.’
‘Why?’ asked Kaleem. ‘Might there be something else as well?’
If it were the Starlight Fever back again, it would be better if they didn’t find out. He had hesitated to come, but Alistare had nagged him until he had given in.
‘I very much doubt it,’ said the doctor. ‘I just want to see that nothing’s damaged inside. These stethowands are marvellous at diagnosis. They’re useless at spotting inner problems. I shouldn’t think there’s anything to worry about. You’re normally fit and healthy aren’t you?’
‘I try to eat well and get plenty of exercise,’ replied Kaleem.
‘There you are then. Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. I’ll just give you a nubin shot and you’ll feel better in seconds. Then we’ll get that scan arranged.’
The dataserve in the small consulting room sprang into life. A drawer opened from which the doctor took a small pistol-like object with a rounded end.
Kaleem felt a strange tingling sensation as the doctor pointed the nubin gun at the top of his arm. Seconds later he was beginning to feel better. The ache slowly began to melt away from his muscles. His temperature gradually returned to normal.
So, if that’s all there is to being ill, he thought why did we make such a big deal of it?
The Health Centre 215 was much busier than the one and only health centre on Terrestra. The Zandrians seemed to accept illness as a part of everyday existence. It was just something to be dealt with as efficiently as possible, so that life could carry on. It was not the great evil that the Terrestrans feared.
The scan was not at all unpleasant. Kaleem had expected something like the tests he had had on Terrestra. This was totally different. All he had to do was stand for a few seconds totally naked, in something which resembled a shower cubicle. A light then passed over his whole body. There was a slight hum. He didn’t feel a thing.
‘All done,’ called the assistant outside. ‘You can come out and get dressed now.’
It was just a short walk back to the doctor’s office. He was already looking at the results when Kaleem walked in.
‘No,’ he said. ‘no problem at all. You’re a fit and healthy young man. It may be that you’re a bit too healthy. Your immune system is not used to fighting, that’s all. Just carry on as normal. Eat plenty of fruit. Get lots of sleep. And not too much frega juice.
‘You’ll be fine. I don’t expect to see you here again.’
By the time Kaleem was walking along the corridor to the main entrance of the Health Centre, he was feeling as if there was nothing at all wrong.
‘Hi, Detran,’ somebody called from behind.
He recognized the voice, even before he turned round.
‘Hey, you,’ said Tulla. ‘You haven’t replied to our invite to the permanent attachment ceremony! Are you going to come?’
He ought to go. He ought to have replied by now. He just didn’t want to. That would be another aspect of life on Zandra he would experience for the first time. But he didn’t think he could bare seeing this beautiful creature becoming attached to someone else. Not even to Petro who he actually liked. Such a nuisance, these stupid feelings. Why did people have to have feelings?
Tulla’s eyes suddenly reminded him of the children in the dream. There was the same questioning and the same expectation. Of course, he would have to go.
‘Yes, I’ll be there,’ he replied. ‘I’ve just not got round to answering your invite.’ He would now have to research Zandrian attachment ceremonies.
‘Why are you here, though?’ asked Tulla. The look of concern in her eyes was almost killing Kaleem. ‘You’re not ill, are you?’
‘Just grippa,’ he said. ‘The shot’s working already.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It’s a tough one this year. It took them ages to get the dosage right.’
‘Well, at least you try,’ said Kaleem. He was suddenly thinking of the chaos on Terrestra.
‘We all do our best to get rid of disease,’ replied Tulla. ‘But it’s better to have disease than the isolation of Terrestra. That’s why the project on Planus 2 is so exciting.’
Kaleem suddenly felt tired. Perhaps the grippa was still pulling him down. Also, part of him wanted to shout and scream that not all Terrestrans were bad, that not all of them wanted to be kept apart at all costs, that not all of them wanted to be at war with Zandra. Well, there was at least a handful he could think of.
‘Hey, Detran, you do look down,’ said Tulla suddenly. ‘That looks like a bit more than just the grippa. What’s on your mind? How about coming with me for a chofa? They’re not as good here as in the Refreshment Park, but it would still perk you up. Then you can tell me what’s bothering you.’
She started leading the way towards the cafeteria. He was going to have to follow her. Besides, what could be nicer that sitting drinking chofa with Tulla - if he couldn’t be the one she was becoming permanently attached to. No way, though, could he tell her that she, Terrestra and the Peace Child mission were the matter. He would have to blame the grippa.
‘So, what gives?’ she asked.
‘It’s just the grippa,’ he said. ‘It can do that, can’t it, make you a bit depressed?’
‘Well, the shot should take care of that as well,’ said Tulla, frowning slightly. Kaleem suddenly noticed that she looked a little pale as well. He was being so self-centred. There he was feeling sorry for himself, and she’d had all these weeks of worry. It was only a week ago that she had found out that her parents had not been on the Supercraft bound for Terrestra. They had been on another top-secret mission, and were now safely back on Zandra, and helping Tulla with the preparations for the permanent attachment ceremony. She was, of course, ecstatically happy, and her eyes shone with excitement. Yet the weeks of worry had taken their toll. She had become very thin and her skin was dry as well as pale.
‘I’m so glad to hear that your parents were okay, after all,’ said Kaleem. ‘You must be so relieved.’
Tulla beamed at him. A little pinkness came into her cheeks and she looked even prettier.
‘It’s fantastic, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘And they’re so pleased about the attachment. They really like Petro.’
‘Well, well, well,’ said a voice suddenly. ‘What’s this Tulla Watkins? Playing the field a little before the big day? Now, what can you do for me, so that I don’t tell Petro? Why in Zandra are you doing drinking chofa with such a handsome young specimen?’
Tulla laughed and stood up.
‘This is a friend of Petro’s - well of Petro and me, actually,’ she said. ‘Detran Malthus. Detran, meet my boss, Lana Gylson.’
Lana held out her palm for Kaleem. She was dressed from top to toe in silvery grey which matched her hair. She looked about the same age as his mother, though she was a little taller. Her shoulder-length hair seemed to catch the light and positively shone.
‘Detran Malthus?’ she said. ‘My, I am honoured. I have heard so much about you and the work you are doing. However, will you excuse me if I talk shop a little to my young assistant here.’
‘I’ll get on my way, then,’ said Kaleem.
‘You’ll do no such thing,’ said Lana. ‘You finish your chofa. Anyway, you may find this extremely interesting.’
She sat down at the table and propped her head up on her arm. She leant forward towards Tulla.
‘We have been doing some research about the Poison Cloud on Terrestra which suddenly disappeared,’ she whispered. ‘We now believe that there was something strange in the gases which affected the psyche of the Terrestran. That, combined with years of living underground is what has made them so xenophobic. Keeping disease free is just an excuse. They’re actually rather agoraphobic as well. Even now that they can walk about outside, most of them prefer to stay indoors.’
Lana leant back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest. She smiled at both of them
How on Terrestra do you know that? thought Kaleem. It’s not true anyway. Lots of us go out. Those of us who were born after the cloud went. He was beginning to feel dizzy. Was the effect of the shot wearing off?
‘Gosh,’ said Tulla, ‘that is quite a thought. But how did you find out?’
‘Well,’ said Lana, ‘you know my brother …..’ She stopped suddenly.
‘I think you can trust Detran,’ said Tulla, ‘it’s really his thing, bringing people together.’
Kaleem’s heart was beginning to beat really fast.
‘Well, he was sent on a mission to Terrestra and almost succeeded …’
There was a loud noise in Kaleem’s ears. He could see Lana’s and Tulla’s mouth moving, but he could not make out what they were saying. He felt really hot now. The room was beginning to spin round. He had to get out.
‘Can you imagine how horrid it must have been, living underground?’ he managed to say as he stood up. ‘And I think young Terrestrans really like being up on the surface. They were glad to get rid of the Poison Cloud.’
It began to get dark. Just before he fell to the ground, Kaleem registered a look of concern on Tulla’s face. In Lana, he saw something else, something almost like horror and then a type of coldness. As he plunged into the blackness, he realised that not only had he defended the Terrestrans and spoken as if really knew something about them, he had used the Terrestran word for poison. It was similar enough to the Zandrian one, though it was stressed differently. Is that what Lana had realised?
* * *
It had just been a faint, caused by an unusual reaction to the shot. The doctors had never seen anything like it before, but in the end, the shot had still done its work. Now, two weeks later, he was completely fit and well, and was beginning to relax about Lana. Nothing had happened to suggest that she suspected anything. The doctors at the hospital had put the strange reaction to the shot as just a part of the virulence of this particular grippa.
It was a good day. He had done his research carefully. He had his best dark blue tunic suit on, the one with the award fused on to it, and the permanent ceremonial scarf. He had charged a love token with the right number of credits. He wondered what they would spend it on and whether when he visited them some time – if he ever did - would they have his name on whatever item it was.
He knew what to expect at the ceremony. He was actually looking forward to the completion dance which took place at the end and he had rehearsed the steps well. He had no fear there. It was a simple dance, and no one was expected to be brilliant at it. You just followed the person in front, anyway.
He could only wish Tulla and Petro well. She was lovely, no doubt about it. Petro was a good friend. He would have his chance one day, wouldn’t he, when all of this was over? The Zandrian sun was shining. It was going to be a great day.
The dataserve told him that there was a someone waiting outside his apartment.
He’s a bit early, thought Kaleem. He had arranged to go to the Executive Palace with Alistare. He supposed it didn’t matter if they got there half an hour before the ceremony was due to begin. They’d get a good seat then, to watch the Domestic and the Legal Executive fuse the attachment.
Kaleem didn’t bother asking the dataserve to show him the visitor. He just grabbed his sachet of flower petals and the charged love token, and made his way to the door of the apartment.
The door opened and Kaleem’s heart missed a beat.
Two security droids were standing there.
‘Detran Malthus,’ said the one on the left. ‘We arrest you on a charge of being a Terrestran spy. We shall immobilise you and record all your thoughts.’
The other droid placed the control capsule on his forehead.
AND THAT FOLKS, IS THE LAST I'LL BE POSTING FROM THIS NOVEL. If you want to reqd more you'll have to buy the book.