Jem’s eyes opened slowly and took quite some time to focus as she reached out a hand to feel for the barrier that blocked Daddy from her. She felt warm and comfortable wherever she was. There was a faint beeping in the background that was easy to ignore before a strange face appeared over the edge of the bed she was placed in. She sat up with a start before slumping forward. It was her first time experiencing gravity and it left her feeling ill as she was gently placed back into her original position. Even those simple movements left her dizzy and tired.
“Zosimus,” a voice called out. “Your charge is awake.”
“Ah,” a gravelly voice responded. “What is her condition?”
“She needs to adjust to gravity first and foremost after which rehabilitation will begin. She will tire easily and be prone to illness. Leaving her inside the isolation recovery bed is highly recommended to all Caretakers taking on new charges.”
She looked up at the two men who were looking down at her. She wanted Daddy as she began to cry at the discomfort she was feeling. She couldn’t barely understand what they were saying from the domed surface of her bed as she saw the tubes in her arms and screamed in terror.
“Raise the bed up,” the man with the gravelly voice ordered.
“Sir, that is not wise. Her risk of early infection from the Backland Virus is tripled without proper care.”
“She is terrified,” Zosimus snapped. “Raise the bed and give her something for the pain. I will speak with her briefly. What is her name, Julian?”
“Jem, sir.” Julian responded.
She felt the bed rising up and bringing her closer to the blinding lights and the faces of the men who were caring for her. The lights forced her to clamp her eyes shut as she felt large hands lifting her up. She was folded into an embrace as she sagged against the person who was holding her.
“It is okay, little one. You have come to your new home and I will be looking after you. I know you are not feeling well right now but you will become accustomed to gravity with time. There is much for you to learn and no need for you to be frightened. I will not let anyone hurt you.”
“I want my Daddy!” she wailed piteously.
Zosimus whispered soothing words to the little girl who did not understand what was happening. It broke his heart to listen to her cry as he finally nodded to Julian. He was risking her life to bring her comfort as she eventually slipped back into slumber. He laid her back on the bed and watched as it lowered back into the pod where the lighting would be more comfortable for her.
“She is one of the weakest I have ever treated,” Julian complained as he began entering commands at a furious rate. “She may not survive, Zosimus. It is going to take at least year before she will be strong enough to face the Eldest and the Initiation Right. We almost lost her upon unsealing her pod from The Crib.”
Julian’s tanned face was furrowed in deep thought. Bespectacled brown eyes and small, aquiline nose and tightly pursed lips belied the man’s young age. He had been there when the pods were recovered and was given the most serious cases only. The girl in his care was small and had nearly perished after her pod was opened. She would need constant care and he knew that it would be no small task to prepare Jem for the Initiation.
Her body small was thin, head puffy and severe atrophy in all of her muscles. He had no idea if she had been properly cared for and with the Crib that she had been sent from, there was no way to know for sure. His fingers tapped on the large console underneath his long, neatly manicured fingers as he adjusted the dosages of medication his patient would require. He was dark and thin compared to his older, taller companion and pulled at the white jacket over his uniform nervously. She had not slept long and for her to wake so soon only signified that her life would be challenging for her.
Julian would do his best to help her rise to those challenges as he brought his gaze to her caretaker. Zosimus was a much older man and was given the pick of the new charges when his previous charges no longer needed his care. He had picked the little girl immediately upon seeing her picture as his blue eyes flecked with spots of grey had lit up in response. His jaw was square and well hidden under several days’ growth of beard. Everything about the man was large. His nose was large and chiseled and did little to hide the worried frown that had seemingly frozen on his face over the past couple of days. His large hands gripped the edge of his charge’s bed in a white-knuckled grip.
“Zosimus, she is in the best care,” Julian broke through the other man’s train of thought. “I will not let her die but for now, it is best that she remains asleep. As you saw, she is far too weak to be awake. The best thing for her and yourself is rest.”
“Julian.” The older man said sternly.
“Zosimus, I am speaking as her doctor to her Guardian. She is going to need time. Her body will become accustomed to gravity with time as you said to her. I need to begin her rehabilitation slowly or she will succumb to illness instead of thriving with the intent to overcome it.” He reiterated firmly. “My team will be here with her constantly and we will alert you if there are any changes in her condition.”
The older man sighed heavily before nodding. “Very well. When may I see her again?”
“When she wakes next. She needs to become comfortable with your presence and will need your strength as we progress.” Julian said with a gentle look. “You need not worry my friend.”
“So you say, Julian. So you say.”
It took several weeks before Jem was allowed out of bed. She sat in a chair next to Zosimus, learning how to read and write with the help of a specialty program designed for the young. She was still pale, weak and tired easily but with each passing day, she became more vibrant. She brought a light hearted feeling to the older man’s life that he had not felt in many years. She was monitored closely in all aspects of her daily routine. She was still small compared to other children her age but was progressing well.
“Zosimus?” Jem asked in that quiet way of hers.
“Yes, Jem?” he replied.
“Can I please have something to drink?”
If there was anything to say about his new charge it was that she was very well mannered. He smiled warmly before gently patting her on the head. “Of course. What would you like?”
At that question, she grinned excitedly as she reached for her cup and presented it to her Guardian. “Juice please!”
He took the cup from her outstretched hands and nodded. “I’ll be right back then.”
She had taken quite well to the set out diet to help her grow stronger but she was quite fond of the sweeter fruits that were local to the Capital. He had made sure to keep them handy for the child in case she wanted to eat something. She was quiet but content in her life as Zosimus spied the time by chance. It was close to the time where Jem would need to rest for a bit as he got the juice for her from the wall console and came back out into the living area of their home. She sat at the large table rubbing at her eyes in the dimly lit room.
Zosimus placed the cup on the table as he sat next to her. “Are you tired, little one?”
She continued to rub at her eyes as she shook her head stubbornly. She was saying no but Zosimus knew that was not the case. Jem always tried to stay awake to keep Zosimus company and the thought always made him smile as he helped her down from the chair.
“How about we listen to some music for a bit then?” He offered. It always helped her to sleep when she did not want to.
“’Kay,” she replied sleepily. She wrapped her small hand one of his fingers as they walked together into the comfortable sitting area. The sofa was overstuffed as she climbed up onto it and curled up in the corner. Zosimus entered the commands into the console to play something gentle and soothing. He played an old piece of music from the old planet Earth. The Air in F Major from the Water Music Suite No. 1 was serene in tone and reminded him of the first time he had seen the majestic waterfalls of Enceladus as a young boy before sitting next to Jem.
He watched her curiously as her head bobbed briefly to the sway of the music before laying down against the pillows and closed her eyes. It would not be long now he realized as her body relaxed, and her breathing became slow and steady. He reached for a nearby blanket and draped it over the girl observing as she snuggled into the soft fleece with a contented sigh.
“Sweet dreams, little one.” He whispered.