Jason was anxious. The Ceremony of Thirteen was going to be very soon, only a week away. He hasn't been anxious for any of the previous ceremonies, but none were this important. But this was the last and final one, where he became a full fledged citizen of the community Jupiter. He didn't know if he wanted that yet. To be assigned a job by the Council of Elders. What if he didn't like the job he was given?
The blonde haired boy with the pale blue eyes thought about this as he rode along the riverbank from school on his bike. He'd received the bike at the Ceremony of Seven, as did everyone else who was graduating from a Six. His sister, Thalia (in this story she is much younger) would be a Seven next week at her ceremony. She would then be given her bike with her own nameplate on it. It was then that the Seven's were supposed to start learning how to ride them. Usually, if their was an older sibling they would secretly break the rules and teach the younger ones how to ride on their own bikes, far before the ceremony. That way, they could ride out of the ceremony with their heads held high and no training wheels needed. It was one of the Rules that no one really bothered to follow.
Jason sighed, then turned into his house and neatly put his bike in the assigned rack. That was a rule too- no leaving your bike without a bike rack.
Dinner was quiet for a bit until his mother spoke. "Why don't we all talk about our Feelings now?" It wasn't a question really, more of a command.
Father took a napkin and wiped his mouth swiftly. "Thalia why don't you go first?"
Thalia, gazed at the rest of them. She was normal. She had (in this story...) brown eyes and dark hair like everyone else in the Community. Jason had never felt like more of an outsider, him with his blonde hair and blue eyes. The only other person in Jupiter he'd seen with his complexion was a Six, somewhere in Thalia's classes. People of course didn't say anything about it. The Rules say clearly to not start arguments, debates, or make someone uncomfortable. So they didn't stare or say anything unusual at all. "I felt so angry today!" Thalia announced, her small hand curling up into a fist.
"Why is that?" Mother prodded, her gentle smile making an appearance.
"There was some kids on the playground today," Thalia said thoughtfully like she was trying to remember. "They were from another community. They had to eat lunch on the bus just to get here! Imagine going that far!"
Jason tried to listen, he really did, but they did Feelings every night. Thalia's were bound to be about 'spilled apple juice' or something small and quite frankly of no interest to him. But he didn't want to start thinking about the Ceremony of Thirteen again so he forced himself to pay attention.
"...And he just wouldn't follow the playground rules!" His younger sister was saying. "He kept shouting and running about and...oh! He was behaving like a...like a-"
"An animal?" Jason suggested, cracking a smile.
"Yes an animal!" Thalia laughed, clapping as she did so. Neither of the two knew what the word 'animal' meant but their parents and teachers used it to describe things when they were feral, noisy and rambunctious.
"Thalia?" Father asked with a small frown. "When you went to visit another community and you played on their playground how did you feel?"
Thalia looked a bit shocked but answered quickly. "I was confused. I felt out of place."
"Do you think the boy misbehaving felt that way too then?" Father continued.
"Well...I guess so." Thalia frowned, her 'deep in thought' face returning.
"Where the rules of playing the same as ours when you went to another community?" Father questioned some more.
"No! They were wild and rowdy too!" The little Six gasped.
"Then maybe, he just didn't realize the rules were different from his community." Father suggested with a smile.
Thalia smiled as well. "I am not angry anymore. Now I just feel sorry for him."
"Mother, what were your Feelings today?" Thalia looked at their silent parent.
"I felt...furious today," Their mother decided. "I was working on pulling weeds when I couldn't find my gloves. I looked everywhere and...I just don't know where they were. I looked all day and didn't get an ounce of work in at all."
Everyone immediately moved forward and put their hands on hers. "We are so sorry for your inconvenient day," the family said in unison.
Their mother smiled. "Thank you, I feel much better now."
"I felt sad today," Father confessed. "At the Nursery, there is a newchild who I don't think is going to make it. The Elders want to release it into Elsewhere."
There was a collective gasp. "But new holds hadn't gone to Elsewhere in ages!" Jason blurted. He covered his mouth then said quickly: "I apologize for my rudeness."
"Apology accepted." His family said automatically then continued with the conversation.
"Isn't there anything you can do?" Thalia asked quietly.
"I asked them if I could bring the newchild here at night. I pleaded with them to give me the child to try and save it."
"What did they say?" Jason put in.
"They said yes, but after the end of this year I would have to give it up for release from the community if it was not well still." Father looked genuinely happy.
"That's wonderful! A new addition to the family!" Thalia bounced up and down in her chair.
"Thalia, we won't keep him. You musn't get attached. You know the Rules. Only one boy and not girl assigned to each compartment family." Mother chided but look quite happy herself.
"Jason, it looks like your last today. What were your Feelings?" Father asked lightly.
Jason shifted in his chair. This was a time he would like to lie, but the Rules strictly say: NO LYING AT ANY TIME.
"I felt anxious today," he admitted. "About the Ceremony of Thirteen."
Mother and father shared a look before saying together: "Thalia please go to your sleepingroom and put on your sleepingclothes."
Thalia rolled her eyes and heaved a great sigh but left the room as she was told.
Jason suddenly felt smaller as the eyes of his parents were directed at him.
"You don't need to be nervous Jason," Father insisted. "I wasn't very scared for my ceremony because I knew I would be a Nurturer. I spent all my volunteer hours after school in the Nurturer's wing helping take care of newchildren. The Elders noticed that. But the point here is that the Elders know you. They will assign you what job they think you'll do best in. They will also take in account of your interests. They are the most powerful people in government after all."
"I thought The Reciever was the most powerful?" Jason raised an eyebrow.
"He is," Father amended. "First he, then the council."
"Just trust them. They are in charge for a reason. It's very rare if you get a job you don't like. Then you can always apply for a study."
The three of them laughed at that. They knew the council never looked at people who applied for a study- which in that case meant sort of a 'do-over'.
"Are you all quite done in there?" Thalia's voice drifted to them. Jason turned to see his sister standing in the doorway, crossing her arms. "Some people are waiting for a certain Comfort Object over here."
"Thalia, your nearly a Seven. You shouldn't be having your Comfort Object anymore." Mother shook her head meaningfully.
But father had already gotten up and taken her comfort object off the shelf in which he kept it. He handed it to Thalia who squeezed it tightly. Hers was called 'Elephant' and Jason's- before it was taken- was called 'Bear'.
The next day, school was uneventful except for one thing. His best friend Percy was once again late for school. When he burst into First Class breathless and panting no one was startled because it happened so often.
"I apologize for my tardiness," Percy spoke immediately.
"Apology accepted," Teacher replied and waited for him to go on.
"I...I left the house on time," Percy said. "But I stopped by the river when I thought I saw a bug. I was very distraught by the idea of finding that bug and bringing to class that I lost track of time."
The class struggled not to laugh. Last week Percy had been sure he'd seen a giraffe behind a tree. Everyone knew bugs and giraffes did not exist. They were mythical beings, fantasy creatures.
"It seems your mixing up two different words. Distraught is not the right word to use while capturing a bug. Try 'distracted' next time," Teacher had said with a sigh before diamond Percy to his seat.
The days came and went. The afternoons he spent riding to different places like The House of Old or some other building to fill in his volunteer hours. His friends, Piper and Percy usually accompanied him. It wasn't a bad way to spend the time. No one had ever known any different.
One particular evening when Jason parked outside the House of Old he saw Piper's bike already there in the racks. He'd gone inside, waves hello to her and gone immediately to help some of the Old. The Old were almost like newchildren but with more years of experience. They were respected.
It was against the Rules to see anyone naked, but that rule was not extended to newchildren or the Old. So, he went right up to an old woman who was called Katherine and helped her slip of her special robe that only the Old were permitted to wear. He led her to the bathtub and drew the water to the perfect temperature and helped her in.
"Katherine?" He asked as he scrubbed at her hair.
"Yes?" Katherine asked, eyes closed as she enjoyed the luxury.
"Do you...do you ever wonder what Elsewhere is like?" Jason felt silly for asking this type of question, but he enjoyed talking to the Old so the minutes flew by faster.
He could hear Piper laughing with her own patient. She was sure to be a Caretaker when assigned at the Ceremony of Thirteen. She loved the Old.
Jason immediately realized his rudeness when Katherine stiffened under his gentle touch. "I...I apologize for my rudeness. I hadn't thoughten that you would be released into Elsewhere..." Jason faltered and grimaced at his own rambling.
"It's alright Jason. I know you meant to offense, apology accepted." Katherine let her shoulders sink back against the tub and gave Jason a warm smile. "To answer your question, yes, I do think about Release nearly everday now that I know it grows closer. Elsewhere is a place without communities and...it frightens me a bit."
Work in Progress