Ciel was indeed blue.
Europa was one of a few moons in the galaxy that had blue skinned inhabitants. He recalled reading something about a noxious gas in the atmosphere, that was usually deadly, but with medication, the citizens evolved. Blue skin was a side effect.
Ciel was a petite woman who appeared to be a year or so older than Jasper, and was just as Cassiel had described. Her skin was the color of an Earthen sky, but her eyes were dark and void and hidden behind short, ashen hair.
Crossing her legs, she eyed Jasper warily as he sat down next to her in the Great Hall. Ciel mumbled a brief introduction, and then typed on her tablet for several minutes, leaving Jasper shifting uncomfortably until the Students arrived.
“How long have you served the Library?” Ciel did not look at him when she spoke.
“Uh, this my third year,” Jasper replied, stumbling over his words. He turned to face her, hoping for more conversation and less silence, but Ciel did not do the same.
She hummed to no one in particular. “I did not know cyborgs were allowed to become Librarians.”
Jasper looked up to her, and then down at his silver, mechanical limbs- a true arm and leg that had been absent for as long as he could remember. The metallic replacements were a part of him now- nothing more special than the flesh and bone he called his own. They connected to his nervous system and could feel pain just as everything else, moving seamlessly with just a thought to do so. No one else had ever been bothered by his artificial limbs before… no one until Ciel.
“Is not the organization quite anti-technology?” She did not look at Jasper in the eyes as she spoke, instead searching above his head as if she were above him. It disgusted him.
No, Jasper thought, clenching his jaw in frustration. Europans are anti-technology. The only reason you vow to protect us is so you can keep a close eye on our operations. You’re afraid of change.
“The concept is very forward-thinking,” Jasper replied, spitting out his words in a honeyed tone. “It’s an entire planet devoted to the preservation of universal knowledge. They offer these opportunities to anyone who is smart enough.” Jasper was positive he had taken the words verbatim from a brochure on the Library. It sounded too false. The only reason anyone wanted to join the Library was for the protection, the home, the food- the system catered to everyone, including outcasts.
Ciel hummed again, not even bothering with a clear response. She stuck her hand in the pocket of her navy blue robe, signifying she was in the Cadence Composition Bureau
A drama freak, Jasper added silently.
From the pocket, she pulled out a few slips of paper, covered in blue-inked scribbles. She held them out to Jasper between two fingers, lazily.
“You seem quite eloquent for a cyborg,” Ciel scoffed, a smirk crossing her face. “These shall assist you on the tour.”
“What are these?” Jasper growled. Her comments were starting to stick to his mind.
“Look and see, Tin-Man,” Ciel yawned, leaning further back in her chair. “They are notes that I have prepared. You shall be a better presenter than me.”
“I’m sure that’s not the only thing I’m better at,” Jasper muttered, looking over the papers, boiling on the inside.
Ciel seemed to ignore the comment, and stood as the tour group arrived. There were ten Students, about to become inducted as Librarians, as full-fledged members of the society though they were merely fourteen years old. Jasper stood too, his chest heaving with anger, trying to wipe away his impatience for the sake of the order. The group was thankfully quiet as Jasper introduced himself, and Ciel chimed in to mention her name before he heaved a sigh and led them out of the Great Hall.
“The Library was founded at the Dawn of the Second Great Age, over seven-hundred years ago, by those who would later become the Nine Muses.” Jasper read off the card verbatim, the words not truly being recognized by his brain. It was habit. “The Library covers all of Callista, one of Jupiter’s moons. The five departments are named after each of the co-founders, who each had a different definition of cultural knowledge.”
The tablet in Ciel’s hand dinged, making Jasper flinch. The high frequency grated on the metallic ear drum he had. Ciel paid no mind to the curious glances and the whispers the Students exchanged as she unlocked the device and skimmed the message. Jasper rolled his eyes and tried to contain the last bit of professionalism he had left.
“The departments cover every type of information,” he began again. Jasper heaved a sigh. “History, music, religion, dance, and records. These five departments, along with the two private sector units, work together for the same goal: to document all of the universe’s knowledge.”
“She’s here. Mercy to Trinculo and Puck,” Ciel whispered under her breath, and giggles erupted from three of the Students. Jasper mused it was a curse of her mother tongue that didn’t translate properly. She, however, found little humor in this and looked up at him with grim eyes.
“I must go,” she whispered to him flatly, locking eyes with Jasper. Without another word, she turned, her azure robes spinning as they tried to keep up with their hasty host, and flew down the corridor.
Jasper watched as she went for a moment, wary of her gait. Her robe billowed and her hair blew back as the air rushed past her. The lighting differed as she fled between light and shadow, even as she turned back once, staring at the abandoned crowd. But there was more than that. He watched closely as her leg moved, the fabric of her pants lifting ever slightly above her ankle, above a sign etched into her skin. But it wasn’t a tattoo.
It was a brand familiar to all and worn by none. It signified a traitor to the Military Alliance. Any who had the symbol on their skin had a bounty on their head.
He turned back to the Students.
“I’ll be back, uh, momentarily,” he said quickly, taking a second look as Ciel turned a corner, before rushing after her. One of the Students called after him, others mumbled questions but he didn’t respond.
He turned left, just as she had done, but she had vanished. Jasper halted immediately, wildly looking down the next turn to see if she had gone there, but nothing but long dark corridors haunted his vision.
And then there was a light, small and red, that blinked at the end of the long room, almost unseen due to the darkness. Jasper strode to the source, a door as it appeared and pried open the tall, circular port. Inside, was a control room, probably forgotten long ago and the Library expanded, and written out as a useless escape network.
Beyond the rows of seating and old-fashioned control panels, a giant window created a view of a dimly lit air hangar, housing one lonely escape pod, painted in glistening orange and red and flashing a repeated yellow light. It was almost as if it were trying to warn away anyone who dared get too close.
Jasper took a step closer to the pane of glass, staring inquisitively out at the pod as its side door burst open. Ciel rushed to the opening, disappearing inside only to reemerge moments later with a tall figure draped over her shoulder.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Jasper mumbled, slowly moving away from the window.
“You’re right,” he said. “You shouldn’t.”
Jasper spun around to face a rigid silhouette, and even though the man’s face was hidden by the dark, he knew immediately who it was. He bowed his head. It was Director Milton.
Though the Director was wispy and thin, his presence always seemed to demand attention. Perhaps that was how he had risen among the hierarchy to become the youngest leader of any department, including his own.
“What are you doing here?” He asked, cocking her head to one side. “Shouldn’t you be leading a tour?”
Jasper looked between the man, the window and the exit wildly. “Speaking of which, I should probably get back to earning my keep,” he replied nervously, trying to slide past the Director. “You know- books and history and ‘documenting the universe’s knowledge’.” Jasper let out an uneasy laugh, backing away towards the exit.
The door burst open and Ciel ran through, stopping in front of the Director with a bow. “Director Milton,” she addressed, “Adira’s vessel was hit by a beam, and she wasn’t wearing her seat belt.”
“So?” The Director grabbed the back of Jasper’s robe, preventing his escape. For a person who had spent his entire life around books, his grip was unusually firm.
Ciel took a deep breath. “She’s already lost a lot of blood.”
The Director pursed her lips in annoyance. “Does that girl know how important she is to us?” He turned Jasper around, tapping the yellow pin on his robe. “Speaking of earning your keep,” the director whispered. He pushed past Ciel, dragging Jasper behind him unceremoniously.
They entered the hangar Jasper had seen through the window, which seemed more massive than what he had previously expected. The giant concrete and metal walls carried the echo of their foot steps as they reached the top of the stairs. Jasper was made to walk down the steep steps first, Milton and Ciel not far behind him.
“What’s your name, Librarian?” The gravelly voice of Milton echoed as well, carrying not only his words, but also his sense of urgency, provoking Jasper into quickening steps.
“Jasper Harkenshine, sir,” he replied. Jasper turned as he reached the bottom of the stairs to watch Milton descend. He had only seen pictures of him on pamphlets, or perhaps there was a portrait near the main office, but Jasper had never seen him before in person. To many, he was known only as the unusually focused and orderly head of the Philomene Fiction Division, one of the most historically unfocused and unruly sectors of the Library there was.
Milton looked down at the yellow pin on Jasper’s robe. “You’re a medic, then?”
“In training,” Ciel hissed. As she touched down to the floor, she rushed on to the pod, where faint moaning could be heard.
“Let me re-phrase that then,” Milton said with a sigh. He looked to Jasper again. “Can you be a medic?”
A scream escaped the pod. Jasper nodded. Milton nodded.
“Alright then,” Milton replied. He rushed toward the pod, and Jasper followed this time.
As they came towards the back of the pod, Jasper noticed the empty gap in the hatch of the ship’s back. A hole had splintered the glass, almost as if a bullet of greater magnitude had penetrated it. Almost as if it were made with special grade Military Alliance weaponry.
Inside the pod, however, Ciel was leaning over a young woman who was strapped to the floor of the confines. She seemed inflated like a balloon, with her skin stretched to a breaking point over excess. The woman pulled at the restraints, writhing in pain her face contorted. Instead of screaming, however, a growl could be heard emanating from the back of her throat.
“What happened to her?” Jasper asked, kneeling beside her. Ciel was pressing a cloth to the large gash in the woman’s shoulder.
“None of your business,” Ciel hissed. “She is dealing with emulsion, multiple wounds from broken glass and… by Savi’s wit, I hope nothing else.” She focused on the woman with a grimace.
“Emulsion? “ Jasper mumbled. “That explains the swelling. There are air bubbles in her blood.”
“It also causes insane pain, man,” the woman groaned. Her hands clenched into fists again as another wave of agony hit her. She opened her eyes. “Where’d that bastard Cain go?” Jasper looked up to realize she was right: Director Milton was nowhere to found.
As the woman let out another string of curses, Jasper stepped out of the pod, sprinting around to the cockpit that was separated by an impenetrable wall to keep any prisoners during a usual flight from causing trouble. He tugged at the side door, willing it to open, but the lock remained intact. He rushed back to Ciel.
“Give me that gun,” he commanded, pointing to holstered gun strapped to the woman’s side. Ciel looked up from the bandages, alarmed.
“For what purpose?” She countered.
“There’s a better first aid kit in the cockpit,” Jasper replied. “It has medicine and scissors and things like that. It’s kept away from prisoners so they don’t use the things as a weapon.” He held out his hand. “I need to get in there.”
Ciel’ eyes flickered between the woman and Jasper’s palm. “As you wish,” she replied half-heartedly. She pulled the weapon from its confinements and handed it over. Jasper nodded as a way of thanks before bolting back to the front of the pod.
He examined the gun carefully. It was military-grade, sleek and black, and ready to shoot either bullets or electric propulsions depending on the circumstance. The weapon even had the Military Alliance insignia engraved on the side- marking it as stolen property. He pursed his lips nervously as he gazed back towards the back of the pod.
That woman was a fugitive. It was against the Library’s political-free agenda to house fugitives.
This time, the woman screamed, making Jasper’s toes curl into the soles of his shoes. She was dying, reaching the point quicker and quicker every moment he stopped to think.
Raising the gun, he recalled the training he had endured three years ago. Of course, then it was in the name of the preservation of the knowledge, not in the destruction of property. He pointed the weapon to the windshield and fired, thankful that he was far enough away to avoid the shattering glass. After setting the gun down, he ran towards the cockpit, reaching through the splintered glass to unlock the door. Again, he heard moaning, but this time, it was a man.
Jasper stepped inside warily. Slumped over the controls was a man in a Military Alliance uniform, with the side of his neck cut and tiny splinters of glass puncturing his skin. Jasper rushed forward, noting the man had already done his best to put pressure on his bloody neck, to the point where bleeding had slowed, but he would most certainly need stitches.
“Jasper,” Ciel yelled from the back portion of the pod. There was an open porthole allowing Jasper to look back at where Ciel was tending to the woman. “Get your ass back here.”
Jasper knelt by the man, peeling back the cloth the man was pressing to his neck to the best of his ability. He moaned, in pain and tired. The wound did not seem that deep, thankfully, but it couldn’t be left alone for long.
“There is a Military Alliance soldier up here, and he’s hurt,” Jasper shouted back. He felt the soldier’s face, and whispered to him. “Sir, are you alright? What happened?”
“He’s a soldier, it’s his job,” Ciel snorted. “Now get back here. Adira needs help.”
“But, he’s a soldier, and this is a prison pod, and you have the mark of a traitor,” Jasper replied quickly.
“Why are you being so difficult?” Ciel shouted back, this time in rage. “This is bigger than that guard. If you heal this woman, I swear we can explain what is happening. But first, I need you to do something important for once in your stupid android life.”
Jasper stood up bitterly, and scrambled to find the first aid equipment. He didn’t have to like Ciel, to know she was right. Even if they were criminals, Jasper had no right to serve as their judge, to decide whether they lived or died.
He swung open cabinets and panels and drawers until he finally found the heavy, white medical trunk.
Jasper unlatched the sides and rummaged through the neatly organized stacks of bandages and syringe boxes and bottles of pills. Though the trunk was too heavy to carry, he grabbed a vile of blood thinner, a syringe and some pain killers before rushing back to the woman. That soldier could wait.
By the time he had returned, the screams had lulled, and the woman’s struggling was less evident. Ciel snatched the fresh bandages out of Jasper’s hands and quickly applied a dollop of anti-pain cream to the back of the woman’s arm.
Jasper prepped the syringe with shaky hands, Ciel had created a makeshift neckbrace from the flimsy cushions of the transport pod. She snatched the bandages from Jasper and began to tightly tie it around her upper arm to expose a vein.
“I will trust you,” Ciel said. “However, if she dies, I’ll blame you.” Ciel finished the arm band, and sat back from her knees, reaching out for the woman, who grabbed her hand immediately.
“I don’t care about you. Just shut up and let me do my job,” Jasper retorted, after locating a vein in the woman’s arm. He took a breath. He slid the needle into her arm and injected the solution. The woman gripped Ciel’s hand tighter, and she breathed deeply to subside the pain. The woman’s tight skin slowly loosened, like a balloon loosing air, as she slowly returned to her normal shape.
The woman, Ciel and Jasper seemed to let out a sigh of relief all at once.
“She should be fine now,” Jasper whispered, breathless. “There will be stretch marks and she will be more vulnerable to disease and injury for a few days, but otherwise…”
The soldier groaned in the pilot’s room, seeming to come to his senses, and they heard glass brushed off him and to the ground. Jasper stood to look through the porthole, his steps shaky as the adrenaline began to slow.
On the other side, Milton had returned with a woman in a black Administrative Unit robe, who was now looking at the wounds of the soldier. Milton looked up, and nodded in Jasper’s direction.
“Ciel, I brought Doctor Odessa Kane with me,” Milton called. Ciel squeezed one of the healing woman’s hands sympathetically before walking to the porthole. “I trust that… she is well.”
“Of course,” Ciel replied. “Our android did a fair job.” Jasper’s jaw tightened.
“Now, that’s no way to talk about our medic-in-training.” Milton’s eyes flew to Jasper, then back to Ciel. “There was no way Kane would have arrived in time to give her the proper antidote.” He paused. “You’ve been gone an awful long time now. You should get back. I can cover up for your mistake- leaving your tour alone on a whim- but I need you to make sure he keeps quiet.” He turned his head to one side. “Another one of your errors that would have cost us everything had he not been useful.”
“You told me to come immediately,” Ciel shot back, “and I did so. I had no idea that boy would follow me here.”
He looked to Jasper. “Of course.”
“I believe I deserve that to know what I’ve just become a part of,” Jasper chimed in. “I only saved her because she was dying, but don’t think I didn’t take into account the prison pod, or the military grade equipment or the markings on Ciel.” There was silence for a moment, except for the heavy breathing of the soldier and sound of unwrapping and re-wrapping gauze around wounds.
“I’m afraid that you believed wrong,” Milton responded.
“Sir,” Jasper began, “I-“
“However,” Milton continued, raising a finger to quiet him. “That is only one opinion. I shall leave this decision to your discretion Ciel. Keep an eye on him and do whatever you want, just know one more slip-up and I might have to do something about it.”
Ciel snorted. “What are you going to do?” She hummed as a challenge. “Shoot me? Beat me? Become even more of a pathetic hypocrite?” Milton stared back at the girl bitterly. “I’ll keep him quiet. I know the risks. Let me do my damn job, because I do it damn well.”
Before Jasper could protest, Ciel grabbed the back of his rob and pulled him towards the exit of the pod.