“So, how long do you have to follow me?” Jasper turned the corner, walking in the flow of surprisingly light pedestrian traffic towards their dining hall. Ciel was only a step or two behind him, never faltering.
“For as long as needed,” she replied, stepping on the edge of Jasper’s robe. His hands went to his neck quickly and he immediately bent backwards to avoiding being suffocated. Ciel stepped back, allowing the pedestrians to walk around them, like a creek splitting at a boulder. Jasper spun around to face her.
“Listen,” Jasper said quietly. “I’ve done what you wanted. When I asked what was going on, nobody had the decency to tell me, but do you know what I am going to do? Go have lunch. With my friends. Do you know what I am not going to do? Make a scene.” He sighed.
“You were the one who went looking for questions you didn’t want,” Ciel refuted. “You made me look tactless. I’m 19 years old, and it is very difficult for authority figures, even in this day and age, to respect my decisions. I need Director Valois-Milton to take me seriously.” The two studied each other for a moment, the foot traffic bending around them, surrounding conversation drowning out their silence. “Go have your lunch, Jasper,” Ciel stated, “But know that I am going to go with you.”
“Jasper!” He spun around to see Cassiel pushing his way through the foot traffic towards him. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking for you. There’s someone I want you to meet.” He flung his around Jasper’s shoulder with a grin that disappeared the moment he noticed Ciel.”Oh, hey, Miss Garian. Come to join us for lunch?”
He snickered, turning Jasper around with him to march towards the dining hall.
“Thought you were a gonner,” Cassiel whispered, as they stepped into the atrium. “I didn’t want you to worry, but, I mean, I was worried. She’s from Europa, you know? They had that Ableism Movement, with the “burn the cyborgs” slogans and what not.”
“You didn’t want me to worry?” Jasper whispered back with a smile. “When have I let anyone like that get on my nerves? That accident didn’t just give me a new arm- I also developed tougher skin.” They laughed, waltzing towards their normal table though the assortments of people.
But someone else had gotten their first.
A girl with dark, frizzy hair was sitting near the end of the table, straightening her utterly by her plate, attempting to make them perfectly parallel. And Ciel was not far away. Jasper turned to Cassiel, confused.
Cassiel put on a smile, and stepped up to the table. “Avary, this is who I was talking about.” The girl, Avary, looked up with shining eyes, dark green just like the color of her robe. “I’d like you to meet my friend, Jasper Harkenshine.” She stood, and stepped towards him.
“Pleasure to meet you Jasper,” she said, sticking out her hand for a handshake. “I’m Avary Plume. I am here on the exchange program.” Jasper shook her hand.
Cassiel nudged him. “She was in my tour group,” he added. “Only here for a few weeks. Thought I’d take her under my wing of the time being.”
Jasper nodded. He looked to Ciel in the corner of his eye, who was only a few seats away, picking at her food half-heartedly, though he could tell she was listening intently. Now was not the time to discuss the morning with Cassiel.
“Where are you from?” Jasper asked. He took a seat across from her, with Cassiel joining her on the other side. He raised his hand to the Dining Hall Aid, and ordered a few dishes quietly.
“I’ve lived on Mars for all of my life, in the Cebrenia Quadrangle,” Avary replied. “My father is the Chancellor there, and I want to pursue a career in diplomacy or something polical.” She shrugged. “So, I’m here to learn. Read history. Learn about other’s mistakes and hopefully learn from them.”
“Not many Martians make it over here,” Jasper replied. “I’m Melas, myself. I lived there for ten years.” Avary’s eye lit up.
“I’m from Isidis,” she related. “That’s not too far from Melas. We have a vacationing house there.”
“Wow,” Cassiel chimed in, sarcastically. “Look at you two, all cultured and cosmopolitan.” A Dining Hall Aid placed three steaming bowls in front of them. Cassiel began to sign for the food. “I’ve been stuck in this place all my life.” He looked up to the Aid with a smile, and sent her off. “And it’s not even a planet- it’s a moon! A moon that revolves around an uninhabitable planet- Jupiter, of all planets. The closest livable moon to us is, what, Ganymede?” He picked up a spoon and slurped a little at his soup irritably.
Avary followed his lead, but stopped short. “You’ve never left Callisto?”
Jasper shook his head. “Jasper’s a Child of the Library. There is a hundred or so.” Avary looked wildly back to Cassiel, hoping for more information.
Cassiel groaned. “Here’s the basics,” he began. “My parents are Librarians in Polexia Spiritual Records. Now, as a Library kid I’ve got three options.” He held up one finger. “Join the Military Alliance.” A second. “Be shipped out to some engineering or manufacturing school.” A third. “Or stay here and train for a division.” He leaned back and put his attention on his soup. “So I stayed- easy work, space from parents but still close to home, and free food.” He held his bowl up as a toast, and the two followed his example, picking up their porcelain bowls and clinking them together with a laugh.
“You didn’t share you motives Jasper,” Ciel state flatly from down the table. She didn’t look at the group, only focused on cooling her soup with her spoon.
“I didn’t think you were in this conversation, Ciel,” Cassiel chimed in, his smile dropping.
Ciel looked him in the eye with a cold stare. “My question still stands.” She looked to Jasper. “Why are you here?”
“Why are you here?” Jasper asked.
“To preserve all the knowledge of the universe,” Ciel replied evenly.
“Bullshit,” Cassiel called back. “That’s supposedly why everyone is here, but we all know that’s not true.”
“That is my answer.” She turned to Jasper. “And now, you.”
Jasper looked to Cassiel and Avary for a moment, with an uneasy silence, and then his attention refocused on Ciel. “Because it’s still one of the few places where a black, orphaned cyborg can feel safe.”