It had been six months since Jem had come to Enceladus. It was also her birthday; her seventh to be exact. She had grown by two inches instead of shrinking as most of the children did and had fully come out of her shell. She could walk under her own power and no longer required periods of rest. She was a bright, happy child who brought a sense of joy to those who knew her. She was strong enough to be a normal kid in an abnormal world. She sat in the office of the doctor who had been caring for her since her arrival, her face glued to the tablet in front of her.
“Jem,” Julian called. “You can come in now.”
“Can I have five more minutes please? I just got –“
“Jem, put the tablet down,” the doctor broke in. “I do not have all day to wait for you to finish whatever you are doing.”
For a moment, Julian was certain that Jem was going to sulk about being told no but to his surprise, she hopped down from the chair in his cheery office. She held the tablet close to her before crossing to stand in front of Julian with a reproachful look on her face. He could tell that Jem wanted to finish whatever she was doing first but knew that she could not until they were finished.
“No needles today?” She asked finally.
“Not today,” Julian said with a smile before guiding the child into the back of the office. “You happen to be very healthy compared to when I first met you. Come, Zosimus is waiting for us.”
“’Kay!” she said cheerfully before running the rest of the way into the examining room.
Julian could not help but smile as he watched the older man lift Jem onto the examining bed. She was looking at him curiously as he sat down on a stool in front of her. “How old are you Jem?”
“Seven. It’s my birthday and Zosimus got me a new doll to play with.” Jem explained happily. “It’s got purple hair and silver eyes and I love it!”
“A doll. Take good care of it, kiddo.” Julian affirmed after some thought, nodding in approval as she nodded in agreement.
Most children who were approaching the age to take the Initiation Right were solely focused on achieving the best possible coloured stripe to do their caretaker proud. Julian knew that Jem was different from these children. She had a carefree attitude that was sorely lacking in their Tribe but a thoughtfulness that went beyond impressing merely her caretaker. She was curious and constantly asking questions about everything. She cherished everything that had been given to her but most of all, she cherished the time spent with all the people who came into her life.
“Tell me something Jem,” Julian began as he reached for his own tablet. “With everything that you know about our people, our ways and our customs, what is the one thing that is most important to you?”
“To me?” Jem repeated.
It was a loaded question for a seven year old to consider and it was considered for quite some time before she answered. “Everybody bein’ happy.”
Zosimus and Julian exchanged a look of mixed feelings. The older man looked proud of what his charge said and Julian felt as if this little girl could be the one that they had all been waiting for. There was a keen wit in his patient that he had never seen in another child her age. She was the typical little girl in every definition of the term but there was something about her that seemed old. She gave off the feeling of an old soul.
“So to you, the happiness of other is more important than your own?” Julian pressed.
“Nuh uh,” Jem said as she shook her head. “Everybody includes me too.”
“And how would you make everyone happy? That is a pretty big job for a little kid.”
“So? Everybody just needs to sit down and talk until they dun have anything to fight about.” Jem stated.
“Julian,” Zosimus interrupted. “Are you not going to ask Jem about how she has been feeling lately?”
The doctor shot the older man a withering look before clearing his throat. “Jem, how have you been feeling lately?”
“Okay. Why?” She questioned.
“The last time I saw you,” Julian began. “You were quite unwell with a cold and needed medicine to feel better. Have you not felt like that recently?”
“Nope! I feel really good.” She piped back cheerfully.
“Julian, can I speak with in private?” Zosimus jumped in. “Jem, can you back out to the waiting room? I will come for you in a little bit.”
Julian frowned at the older man before standing up to help Jem down off his examining table. With a gentle pat on her head, he guided the child back to the waiting room before making his way back to his office to give Zosimus a rather hard look.
“What the hell is the big idea, old man?” Julian snapped finally.
“Why were you asking her those questions? You are not permitted to question uninitiated children in that manner.” The Guardian demanded. “What were you trying to get at?”
Julian sighed before sitting on his stool once again. His hands folded neatly into his lap before he continued on his train of thought. There were many things on his mind and he wanted to make sure before he had to make any final recommendations on the fate of his patient.
“She has an old soul,” Julian stated. “She looks and acts like a normal little girl but when she answers questions or listens to what we have to say, it is like she is older than she appears.”
“She is a child. An uninitiated child. The only one who can determine whether or not a newly initiated child has an old soul is the Eldest. Even I have not broached those questions with Jem. We have our limits in the information that we can glean or give out for a reason, Julian. I am afraid for the girl. She appears strong but she is not. I must tread carefully and –”
“—You cannot wait forever to have Jem initiated into the tribe. Children who are sent down from the Cribs must be initiated within their first year on the planet. The longer you wait to have her initiated, the greater her risk of serious complications arising from the Backland Virus. Her immune system is not as hearty as those of other children her age. If you wish for her to survive and thrive in our world my friend, you must have her initiated soon.” Julian suggested.
Zosimus’s brow furrowed into a deep frown as he debated this in his mind. Enceladus as a whole was a very cold planet and those who could not adapt to that cold that carried the Backland Virus. Julian’s words rang alarmingly true in his mind but there were other matters to take into consideration as well. Jem had only been taken into the lower levels of the tower a few times and had only lasted a few minutes before asking to go back home. She had to be clothed in heavy fabrics before coming into the lower levels with him. It would be problematic to have a child who could not adapt to the cold initiated into the tribe. He truly believed that it may have been better to leave Jem in the care of the central Crib station.
However, she was here now and had managed to persevere despite an aversion to the cold. She would have to face the Initiation within the next six months whether he liked it or not. Her health and wellbeing had to be taken into account however as Zosimus looked at Julian with a serious look on his face. “Do you think she is strong enough to face the initiation now?”
Julian shook his head immediately. “If she can become accustomed to the cold of at least three of the lower levels, then it may be possible. Whether she is ready or not, she must face it in the next six months or she will be sent away. At the moment though, I would need to see her in a month’s time to see how she has progressed.”
Zosimus nodded lightly as he stood up. “Very well. I will take her to the Gardens in the meantime. She likes playing with the other children down there regardless of the chill in the air.”
“See to it, my friend. Interacting with those closer to her age will do her a world of good. Is she always that absorbed in the games on that learning tablet?”
The older man cracked a broad smile that made him look considerably younger than he was. “She is bright, Julian. If she can learn what she needs to know now then she will go far. Very far.”
Julian could not help but laugh at the comment about how far she would go with what she learned as a child. It was an interesting concept and one that begged for further study. However, there was a more pressing matter on hand that the doctor needed to bring up with the Guardian. “Zosimus.”
The words danced on his tongue like a fine wine for quite some time before he found the courage to speak it. It was like a he had swallowed a rock and could not expel it without some measure of force. “Have you ever thought that Jem could be the one?”
Zosimus immediately turned a critical eye upon the younger man knowing exactly where this conversation was headed. There was a legend as old as the Angbroda themselves. A legend that should have passed down into myth and obscurity after this many eons of being told. It was told to every member of the tribe at some point in their lives before they were scattered amongst the Crater Towns where they lived before it was either ignored or dismissed entirely.
“There have been numerous Guardians in the past twenty years who have proclaimed to have found the Child of Destiny only for their words to be proven false. Anyone who has dared to spout that title and been discovered to be lying has been sent to the far reaches of the galaxy searching for prospective off world members for our tribe.” Zosimus said truthfully.
“So you have never considered the possibility of it being true?” Julian countered. “It is not every day that a child with an old soul like the one Jem has is encountered.”
“Many of those old soul Angbroda have gone on to do great things for our people but it is not a chance that I am willing to take. There is no knowing what sorts of danger the Child of Destiny would be thrown into in the name of protecting our people.” Zosimus affirmed with sound logic.
“I will wait for the day of her initiation before any choices are made. The Gold Stripe that indicates the Queen of our people is as much of a legend as the destined child who will lead our people to great prosperity is.
“Besides, it is my duty as her caretaker to ensure that no harm befalls her before she is prepared to endure it to the best of her ability. She is far too young to take such a monstrous task by herself.”
“What will you do in the meantime, my friend?” Julian inquired after stewing on Zosimus’ words for quite some time. “You have six months left until she must face the initiation.”
Zosimus rose from his seat to his full height before heading toward the door. “I will ensure that Jem is prepared to face the initiation into our tribe. What happens from that point will depend solely on her from that point forward.”
Julian knew that Zosimus had made up his mind on the matter and that there would be no changing it from this point forward. The only thing that he could do was to support the Guardian and his charge in the only way that he knew. He was the child’s doctor and his role was primarily that of support. It did not mean that he would sit idly by and let Jem suffer. All newly initiated children needed round the clock care after exposure and the only thing he could do was prepare for when she would be brought to him. He merely nodded in silent agreement before he watched Zosimus sweep out of his office.
“Let’s hope she survives then, my friend.”