This is the first chapter of The Tower, the third part of my Peach Child trilogy. You may also like to read Rozia's Glog which links this to Babel, the second part of the trilogy.
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 had 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 and that her grandson is grown up. .
“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 perhaps she 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’d 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.