“Fresam, get up!”
“Fine! Be late for the second biggest day of your life. See if I care.” Surai shoves me awake. I shake my head, quickly trying to shake the cobwebs out.
“Huh…?” I blink a few times as I try to put together just what in the world she’s going on about.
Then… it hits me.
I sit up, wide eyed and excited. “By the Cemi, I can’t believe I nearly overslept! Sis… throw me my day robe, please?”
She nods and moments later, the plain white garment is in my lap. “Are you nervous?” She asks as she turns her back to me. I slip the robe over my head and begin pulling at the long front of the robe so that it falls nearly to the floor.
Finally responding to her question, I shake my head, “No. I know it’s a big day, getting my Candidate’s robe and all. Still, the really big day is when I actually wear it to that first ritual.” Smiling, I slip the sandals on my feet, then reach out and touch her shoulder.
She turns around to look at me and I can see the envy in her eyes. “Fresam… don’t take this for granted. It’s a big day. Act like it.” She makes an annoyed face, but all I can do is sigh.
“Sis, give me a break. I just woke up, okay? Believe me… I’m never gonna forget this day and I know that when it’s time to put the robe on for real, I’m gonna think back to this.” I grin. “I might even think about you nearly pushing me out of the bed to get up for it. You might’ve had to wake me up this morning, but you won’t have to when it comes time.”
As the last couple of words slip out of my mouth, I wince. I love Surai, but she’s always been jealous of me, simply because we were born into different roles. I didn’t mean to rub it in her face, but I instantly realize that’s how she’s going to take it. “Damn, Surai, I’m sorry, I…”
She looks at me in stunned silence. I can see the hurt on her face.
“Surai… I wasn’t trying to gloat, okay? I promise. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. I just meant, I do appreciate the moment. All of it.” My gaze lowers and I shake my head.
“I know, Fresam. It’s not your fault I was born like this.” She heaves an exaggerated sigh, trying to make a point.
I’ve had this conversation with her a hundred times and I know that she’s probably had it with everyone else at least as much. Many Servitors have this conversation. “Surai, you know being a Servitor is no less important than being a Candidate. Servitor’s are the backbone of our whole society. Without you… and Mom… the Caretakers… and so on, everything else would fall apart.”
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, her long silver hair flowing as she does. “Just stop, Fresam.”
“I’m serious, Surai. I’m… thankful for what you do. You’ve been working so hard, studying, trying to follow in our mother’s footsteps. She’s been training to be a Caretaker for years, and you’re studying all of the medical stuff. I couldn’t keep up with all of that. You’re going to help countless people in the end. Don’t discount how important you are, or just how important all Servitors are.” I pause for a moment to try to let my words sink in. After a moment, I nod. “Seriously, Surai, you don’t have to be jealous of me.”
“That’s nonsense and you know it. That’s just what your kind tells us to keep the status quo.” Her lip quivers, but I can’t tell if she’s about to cry or scream… or both.
“Stop. You don’t mean that, Surai, I know that. I know you. I know you wish you could be in my position, but I mean it when I say it’s no more important than yours, okay? It’s about faith. You know that, and I know you have faith. They wouldn’t have established this order for us if it wasn’t the best way for us to function. I trust them… do you?” It’s a loaded question, but I think it’ll drive the point home. Our faith, our religion is so intertwined with our society that the two, much like the two species of our society, are inseparable.
“You know I believe. I trust them, and you know that.” She sighs, frustrated.
“Their glory guides us and their chosen forge our path. If this is the path they’ve put each of us on, who are we to complain? They’re our gods for a reason, Surai. They know best.” I smile warmly.
Finally, she relents. “I’m sorry for the outburst, Fresam. You’re right, as usual. I just wish… I could know what it’s like. Firsthand. Like Dad. Like you will.” Her anger fades into sadness as she ponders what could’ve been had things happened just a little different.
“First, there’s no guarantee I’ll know like Dad does. I know I’ll at least have a chance, but you know that’s not a guarantee. In the end, though? All of us know. All of us will know, one way or another, just what it’s like to be with them. We’ll all know that bliss.” I keep smiling, hoping I can get through to her.
She gives a small nod. “I know. I really do. I just wish I could know. You… need to get going, Fresam. Don’t be late for your fitting.”
I look up at the clock on the wall and realize I’ve got plenty of time. She’s just trying to rush me out. I might be the younger sibling, but sometimes I might be the more mature one… and I know that my job right now is to try to bolster her faith. That’s more important than even my ritual robe.
“Why don’t you walk with me? You don’t have to go to work until later, why not come along?” I ask simply.
Without a word, she nods and starts heading for the the door. I can tell she’s started to calm down when she opens the door for me. After a tense moment, she smiles and waves me on. “Yeah, I’ll come with. After you. It is your big day after all, or at least one of them. It’s… really hard to believe that you’re almost twenty now.”
I walk through the door nodding. I slow down and let her catch up beside me. “Yeah, I know. This was always one of the big days I’d been looking forward to, and it’s finally here. I can’t wait to show Mom and Dad.”
“Honestly, I think the whole ‘finally here’ thing is why I got a little upset. I always knew that this day would come, but while you were just my little brother, it seemed like an illusion. That ‘someday’ would never come. It was easier for me to deal with the fact that you were a Candidate and I wasn’t if I just ignored it. I’m sorry for that. And yeah, Mom and Dad are going to be thrilled. I just hate that Dad’s going off so soon after.”
I bite my lip as I realize that there’s a very good chance he won’t be able to see the big moment. With this exchange program, he’ll be gone for quite some time and it’s incredibly likely he’ll miss it. I nod in agreement. “Yeah, but I know I’ll make him proud, even if he isn’t here to see it.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, a friend of ours, Gylaya, sprints toward us. When she approaches, she’s breathless.
Both me and Surai are concerned as the heavy set girl struggles to get her breath. Surai puts a hand on the girl’s back. “Gyllie, what’s wrong?”
“Caretaker Sunella was looking for you.” She pauses to take a few deep breaths. “Cem-Wurceil has an injured cap, and Sunella wants you there to learn how to treat it since you haven’t done that.”
“Oh, no!” Surai and I both cover our mouths in surprise. “Is he okay?!” My sister looks back at me and shakes her head. “I’m sorry, brother, but I think you’re going to have to get that fitting done alone.”
I wave it off. “No, that’s fine. They always come first. I know that. That’s far more important. I’ll catch up with you later. You can see the robe tonight. Yeah, Gylaya, is Cem-Wurceil going to be okay?”
“He should be. It’s a good sized tear, but it can be fixed. Surai’s just never worked on that sort of injury before. Come on, Surai. We don’t want to keep Sunella waiting.” The girl nods to Surai.
My sister looks at me for another moment and gives a reassuring nod. “Have fun, Fresam. Don’t pick anything too crazy.” She laughs before following Gylaya’s lead. I continue toward the finery workshop.
I suppose if I’ve got to do this without her help now, I might try to get one of the seamstresses to help me pick out something. In the end, it’s just robe. What design I pick on the trim, or what exact color I pick for the body isn’t going to matter much in the end. I’ll either follow in my father’s footsteps or I won’t.
After a few more minutes of moving through the stone corridors, I make my way to the tailors. The workshop, like so many of our homes and workshops, is built into the mountainside. Our city is a sprawling one, with the more technologically advanced side at the edge of the forest, and the primitive side on the other side, built into the mountains. The area in between is filled with a mix of buildings of wood, stone, and mud designs. Vendors fill the streets all around selling all kinds of goods. However, being a Candidate and the child of a Host, I live in the older side of town. That’s where the temple is as well as a lot of the housing for other Candidates, and where most ritual related crafts can be found.
I look around the workshop and can’t see anyone yet. This first room is filled with racks, each with long stretches of fabric rolled up tightly. There are designs and patterns used by people from all over the world, but I’m looking for very certain things today. Robes are the most common wear for everyone, but certain occasions call for more elaborate or detailed wear. It isn’t so much a vanity thing as it is a respect thing. You wouldn’t wear the robe you mucked the pits in to the temple, and you certainly wouldn’t wear one of your ritual robes to muck the pits.
So everyone has a variety of robes for a variety of purposes. Candidates, however, are given a robe to wear when they are old enough to serve their purpose. That’s why I am here today.
A young girl, maybe a year or two younger than me, greets me finally. “Oh! A Candidate, right? Or is your hair that short just out of preference?”
I smile as I study the girl. She’s average height and weight, with golden hair that makes her pale blue eyes seem almost white. I have to admit… she is pretty.
I nod. “Yes, I am a Candidate. My twentieth birthday is coming up soon, so I need to get fitted for my robe.”
“Oh!” Her eyes widen and she smiles. The sheer excitement is almost tangible. “I’d be happy to help you, Candidate…?”
She tails off and I nod. “Fresam Khaild-Cemi, Cem-Ammar’s son.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. I heard about Cem-Ammar not long ago. Then again, I think most of us have, and Cem-Ital as well. That exchange program is going to be exciting. Two of ours going over to those aliens, and one of them coming here? Really exciting stuff!” She’s beaming as she produces a measuring tape from her smock. “Follow me. May I just call you Fresam?”
“Of course. I… really don’t like when Servitors treat me different just because I’m a Candidate.” I follow her towards an area with a set of privacy partitions. She motions me inside. I comply, but look at her again. “What is your name?”
“Finhil? Wow, I… didn’t expect to hear that.” Our society is divided into a number of groups and there is very rarely mixing between the groups.
“My mother is Finhil, but my father is Cemi. I was born on Finhil lands, but raised here. My heart belongs to the Cemi.” She bites her lip as a small smile grows on her face. She turns around and closes the flaps for privacy. Her face turns a shade of red. “Ah… I’m… gonna need to take measurements.”
I nod and pull the plain robe over my head, quickly bundling it up. Having been fitted before, I know what to expect, so I spread my arms open. After her eyes take an indulgent moment to wander, she starts to take my measurements.
“So… if you don’t mind… could I ask you something?”
I give a very small nod, careful not to interrupt her measuring and note taking. She wraps the tape around my throat to get the neck measurement so that she can move on.
“Are you nervous? I mean, for the ritual itself?”
”It doesn’t help to be nervous, Emiah. You know that. I just have to trust them. The Cemi know best.” At least… that’s what I tell myself. I pause for a moment and she can immediately pick up on my hesitation.
“I get the feeling that there’s a ‘but’ there.” She comments as she begins measuring around my chest.
“I…” I bite my lip for just a second, then nod. “Obviously, I want to follow in my father’s path. I want to see the world as he sees it… as all Hosts do. I try not to think too much about what else could happen. I mean, it’s not a bad thing. We all have our purposes, and I just have to see mine through, right?”
She nods in agreement. “Still, Candidates have a hard lot in life. Harder than a lot of people realize. Candidates either have really short lives or really long ones. In a lot of ways, you all have to get a lot out of the way for your own sake. Otherwise… you might not get the chance.”
“You know, I hadn’t really thought of it that way.” I take a deep breath. “I probably haven’t done enough living for myself, not compared to other Candidates. I’ve always just tried to focus on my duties. You know, I’ve never once left this city? I’ve never even made it up to Finhil lands to the North.”
“I’m sure you’ll get your chance.” She starts taking the last of her measurements. “You’re not missing much with the Finhil lands anyways. I’ve been up that way some to see my mother’s family, but I like here so much more. And… there’s something special about the Cemi. I adore all of them, but I feel so much more comfortable with the Cemi.”
“They’re the only ones that I’ve been around. Well, no, that’s not exactly true. I’ve met one Raek in the past, but he was passing through. Still, my heart belongs to the Cemi. Everything I am belongs to them. They’re all I’ve ever known, and… I’m happy with that.” I smile at her.
“Your faith is incredibly strong, Fresam. That’s admirable.” She smiles at me as she finishes up the measurements. “You’ll make a good one, I think. They reward their faithful.”
Indeed, they do. I believe that with everything in me. Faith and family are probably the two highest concepts in our society. Our beliefs bind us together as one family. Any true child of the Cemi would give their lives for their family, in defense or in support. In the end, all of us end up supporting the Colony in our own way. No two paths are identical.
I give a nod to her in thanks of the compliment. “It… doesn’t make it easy, though. You asked if I was nervous? Yeah. I suppose I am. There’s things that I’d like to do in my life, but if it’s not meant to be, then it won’t be. I’d love to explore our planet, meet all the other Colonies. I’d love to meet the woman of my dreams, have children, watch them grow up and serve faithfully themselves. So… yeah… I suppose I am nervous about it.”
She reaches down to grab my robe. I take it from her with another grateful bow of the head, then slip the garment on. Emiah’s expression is… sad. She nods to me. “I can’t imagine it. That’s a lot to deal with. That kind of sacrifice… all the way around? It makes me glad I’m not a Candidate. I don’t know that I could’ve done it. I’d have been too scared to live, I think. I’d be too preoccupied with the outcome of that ritual.”
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve been too scared to live, but I haven’t had a lot of time, I suppose. It’s been a lifetime of dedication, of devotion. No matter what, I think I’m proud of the life I’ve lived to this point. It’s all been for their glory. When the ritual is over, that’s what I hope everyone knows, no matter how it turns out.” I bite my lip as I think of the possibilities. Soon enough, I’ll know.
“Come on then. Let’s start looking out at material. I’ve got something in mind for the fringe that I think you might like.” Emiah offers her hand to me and I’m… surprised by the gesture. I smile as I take her hand and she leads me into another area of the workshop.
In less than an hour, I’m finished. I have to say, I really enjoyed spending time with her. Maybe… just maybe after the ritual, I’ll ask her out to dinner.
When I get back to the house, I’m surprised to see my father back home. “Wow, you’re home early. Oh! Cem-Ital! It’s good to see you too.” I smile seeing the other Host.
Cem-Ital looks at me with a grin. He takes a small step to one side to reveal a thin, blue skinned individual. I’ve heard about the Aevocar, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one. My eyes widen. Ital’s grin sharpens as he sees my reaction. “Fresam? I’d like to introduce you to Rin’mar. They’re going to be working with us with the whole exchange program that me and your father are a part of.”
Pleased to meet you, Fresam. The blue alien’s voice whispers into my mind. I jump, startled.
Pleased to meet you too, Rin’mar! My mind calls out to theirs. I can sense just how curious the Aevocar is about us.
“Well, Rin’mar, we should probably go. I need to show you a few things still.” Ital smiles and nods to me and Dad. “We’re a bit behind schedule, otherwise we’d stay and chat. You two have a good afternoon.”
The Aevocar gives a final smile to me and the two of them hurry off, leaving me alone with my father.
“Everything go good at the tailors?” My father asks, smiling.
“It did. I think you’ll like the robe. I met this really nice Servitor girl who helped me pick it out.” My thoughts turn to Emiah for a moment and I can’t help but to smile.
“I’m sure the robe will be perfect. I just wish I was going to be here to see you wear it properly.” A wistful smile crosses his face.
“Maybe you will be. I might end up passed over and you might be home in time for the next one.” It’s an honest enough statement, but the thought of being passed over is maddening to me.
“I know you’ll make me proud regardless, Fresam.” He says calmly, reassuring me.
“Dad?” I look up at my father anxiously. I’m almost of age, almost considered a full adult, but… Dad’s still Dad. Caring, confident, and… well… invincible. I know he’s not… not really… but it feels that way still. I hope I can make him proud.
“Hey.” He smiles at me and rustles my hair playfully. “What’s bothering you?”
He studies my face. “I mean, I know you’re not that thrilled about me getting deployed, but…”
“It’s not that. I mean, I’m sad about that, of course, but that’s not what’s on my mind. I’m… nervous about getting passed over.” I look down and rub the back of my neck. It’s… a nervous habit that I know I need to break. Still, I have to wonder what it’s going to be like to have something else there.
He shakes his head with a small smile. “I was passed over a few times. It’s okay. It just means the Cemi will find you in time. You know that. I know it’s been pounded into your head a thousand times by now.” The smile turns into a grin.
He’s right, of course. The Caretakers went over it countless times with all of us Candidates. Being passed over isn’t a bad thing. Neither is being marked as an imperfect Candidate. I nod in agreement. “The only thing that’s ever scared me about being a Candidate is the thought of going through year after year and never finding one. This might sound strange, but I’d rather be marked that first time than passed over like that. I… just want to serve, regardless how it is.”
A smile forms on my lips as I think back to the conversation with Emiah. No matter what, we all serve. We all have our roles to fulfill. In the end, we will all know a greater glory.
He smiles and I can tell he’s proud. “You’ll get your chance, son, you know that. No matter what, you know I’m proud of you.” He pauses for a brief moment and puts his hand on my shoulder. “That’s a very brave, selfless thing you’ve said, you know. Not all Candidates can think like that and I’m proud that you can.”
In the end, I think that’s all I want. I want everyone to be proud of me. I want to be proud of myself. I’d like to think I’m doing the best I can to make everyone proud, because I’m proud of who I am.
I belong to the Cemi, and I’m proud of that.