On the Edge of Eureka

To be a utopia, one must eliminate the wrong.

To eliminate the wrong makes a dystopia.

Eleutheria is a paradox.

Dalia is at the pinnacle of human evolution. In a world where entire populations can be subdued with the touch of a button, she holds the key to destroying the planet- or saving it. Leading a double life, she's the picture of a perfect leader- and a perfect rebel. But when her childhood best friend joins a dangerous movement that goes against everything Dalia stands for, it all goes south.

Warring political parties demand change for all the wrong reasons. A planetwide revolt ends in tragedy. And life from beyond the solar system slowly inches closer, but their intentions are unknown and they themselves are dangerous.

Dalia finds herself running with people she'd never thought she'd meet, shooting down people she'd never thought she'd hate, and fighting against a city she thought she'd always love- and in the end, it might not even matter.

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3. Excessus

Athena screamed.

If the woman she'd just hit was a member of Caedis- well, Athena was dead meat. They'd kill her faster than she could ever possibly run, and who would miss her? Carina? Like she'd ever speak out for the death of one lab partner.

Athena threw herself out of the hovercar and onto the worn asphalt. She had half a mind to just get up and run- but run to where? She looked around wildly. Nothing but laser lights and abandoned shacks, old statues and broken robots. 

Maybe Carina was right, she admitted. This place is dangerous. Real dangerous. 

But was the girl dead? If she were dead, she couldn't gather her friends and ambush Athena. If she were alive- well, Athena could deal with that later.

But she didn't look exactly like a Caedis member, either. She wore a tight black dress that stopped a few inches above the knee, sparkly sheer tights, and plastic pumps. Her hair was bubblegum pink. She gave off an air of cheap-trying-to-look-expensive, with the knockoff versions of what middle-class Incentor dancers wore. 

She was laying face down in the street, so Athena couldn't see her eyes. She leant down beside her and brushed a finger over her neck, felt a pulse beating steadily under her fingers. So the girl was alive.

Athena stood up and nudged her with a foot. No response. She kicked her again on the ribs, harder. Nothing.

Well, even though she wasn't dead, she almost definitely had brain damage. Athena might not have been a biologist, but she knew that much.

She sighed and walked to the hovercar. It didn't look too bad, having only hit a small woman. There was a dent on the left side, but if she put it back facing the other way, no one would notice until long after she was hopefully gone. The struggle was how to get it there. A scientist, Athena hadn't exactly been built for muscle. She had brains over brawn. 

Still, she pressed a hand against the cool black exterior and pushed.

It did not move.

"Stars!"

She kicked it again, but only succeeded in hurting her foot. Clutching her ankle, she hopped in a circle, cursing and swearing at nothing in particular. "Stupid- wretched-"

A clang sounded from the street behind her. Athena whirled around, expecting to see angry gang members. All she had was a sedative hypoderm, but she pulled that out too.

But it was not angry gang members. It was the girl she had knocked unconscious in the street, looking perfectly fine, save for a few out-of-place hairs and a broken heel she held in her hand.

"Listen," the girl began, raising her hands, "I don't want any trouble."

"You were just pretending?" Athena snapped. "What the hell were you doing that for? Lying in the street like a- like a-" She didn't know what to compare it to, and searched aimlessly for a metaphor. 

"Don't be angry, please," the girl pleaded. "I know you guys don't like us, but it wasn't intentional, I promise. I won't do it again!"

Athena's mind flickered from anger to confusion. "What are you on about?"

"Please," she begged. "I'll leave you alone. I won't- I have a-"

"I'm not Caedis," Athena said, and finally, the girl let out a huge sigh of relief.

"Who are you, then?" she asked, trying to look tough, which was rather laughable.

"Athena e Stellara, Ciencias. You?"

"Ciencias?" the girl asked. "That's- well- you're rich. What are you doing down here?"

"Answer the question," Athena said, waving her hypoderm.

The girl gulped. "Lyra."

"Just Lyra? Lyra who?"

"I don't know," she said. "Just me."

"Then what class?"

She looked at her feet.

"Answer me."

"Cantator."

Oh. That explained the black minidress and the sequins and the sparkles and the bubblegum hair that no one else seemed to have around here. Class Cantator consisted of the underground "musicians," different from Incentor, the upper-to-middle class group of actors and singers. Cantators weren't as respectable by any means, serving as cheap entertainment for bored low-class workers. As compared to the Incentors, they were trashy and had a rather obnoxious reputation, especially amongst the soldiers. 

Lyra certainly fit the picture.

When she said she didn't know her mother, she wasn't lying. She vaguely remembered her, or someone who may have been her, but never in a positive way; she was never quite at all there. Lyra had been raised more by the dancing girls down the block from Ebony Street, the people drunken workers threw money at. It wasn't a terrible career down here; she made a decent amount. Still, most of her money went to the Caedis gang- a bribe to keep them off her. Taxes they demanded from everyone in the district. Once Faye didn't pay tribute- and, well, Lyra wasn't anxious to follow her based on what Caedis did to her over a few dollars.

The girls had taught her well, though; Lyra knew just how to swindle money out of people, how to win a crowd. She could do any performance- singing, dancing, even fighting. (The key wasn't in winning, it was putting on a good show.) She knew how to act peppy and excited, even though she loathed the work- smile, always smile, and bounce with every step. Her collection of cheap dresses and heels rivalled no other.

And she hated it.

Every day, there would be some of those snobby, rich upper class people, down in underground Terra for some entertainment. Ciencia, Generalis, Incentor, on and on. They weren't around just to see a pretty girl sing, though; they were there prop themselves up on the dregs of society, look at the addicts and the homeless and make themselves feel better. And Lyra always played her part- had to.     

Where else would she ever go? She'd been looking for an escape since day one, but the only option she had was Mars. Mercury was far too hot for someone who couldn't afford genetic modification, Venus too poisonous, and the floating cities on Jupiter were just the same as here.

But now, looking at Athena- well, Lyra thought she might just have a chance. Scientists had money and power- not all that much, but enough. If she could provide Athena with whatever she was looking for, she'd be sure to ask for a reward.

"So," Lyra said, conversationally, "what are you looking for down here?" The sudden switch from terrified to ordinary was not lost on the scientist.

Athena narrowed her eyes. "How d'you know I'm looking for something?"

"No one like you comes here just for a walk. I might be able to help you."

"Yeah, right," Athena scoffed. 

"You'd be surprised," Lyra said. "I pick up quite a bit from my patrons at the club."

"Like?"

"Oh, I don't know," Lyra said thoughtfully. She tried to imagine what a Cipher might look like- she knew they had bright hair, olive skin, white clothes."Some real rich girls."

"Gotta be more specific," Athena said, but she had put her hypoderm down.

Lyra thought. "Blue hair. White robes- you know the kind, glittery, but real glitter, and all sheer..."

Evidently, she'd said the right thing. 

"Was it a Cipher?" Athena asked.

"Think so."

Athena nodded. "Sounds like Acidalia- my friend's sister. Well. Not friend."

Sister? Lyra thought.

"It's complicated," Athena said, seeing her confused expression. "It's not important. She tell you anything about a crash near Mars?"

"Yeah, now that you mention it, I think she did," Lyra said. Taking a wild guess, she added "I think it was military- the Martians don't have the tech to get out that far."

"Tell me more," Athena begged.

Lyra wanted to smile. This was what she was good at- changing who was powerful to the weak one in a conversation. A few minutes ago, the newcomer had been the one pointing a sedative at her and screaming, and now she was begging for information.

"For a price," Lyra said.

"I have money. Is that what you want?"

"Sort of," she sighed. "I need to get to the nearest spaceport."

"Why?"

"Not your business."

"Fine," Athena huffed. "Got a working hovercar?"

"No."

"Then I guess we'll have to walk."

***

The two had continued endlessly through winding streets, into buildings, up flights of stairs. Lyra was soon holding both her shoes in her hands, and Athena was sweating. It seemed like trying to crawl out of hell- up and up and up, but it still smelled of brimstone and flames still danced all around you.

Finally, though, Lyra was beginning to see an improvement. First in two little girls playing hopscotch in a large glass room, then in a platoon of young boys that looked around fifteen. At long last, Lyra found herself in the most beautiful place she'd ever seen.

Marble and gold paint filled the walls. Artists had covered the ceiling in murals of things she did not recognize- people with scales instead of legs, perched on rocks near an ocean that looked turquoise instead of like polluted brine. Some near the top of the hall were babies with angels.

"What are those?" she asked Athena breathlessly.

"I dunno," she said. "You'd be better asking some historian about that. I'm pretty sure it's either a religious thing from the old days, or the people from that screwy genetic experiment from eleven years ago that tried to give people wings. They didn't look like that, though. Also, they died."

"You tried to give people wings?"

Athena shrugged. "Sort of. It didn't work all that well. Like I said, they died."

"Still. That's fantastic."

"Not in the eyes of the victims," Athena laughed callously.

Lyra continued to feed her nonsense about the military crash- which she knew nothing about anyway- saying gibberish about asteroids hitting a ship, whatever the girl wanted to hear.

"That can't be true, though," Athena argued.

Lyra shrugged. "Sorry. I'm just repeating what I was told."

"Anything else?" Athena asked hopefully. "Or is that all you know?"

Lyra sighed. "That's it. They don't usually get into deep political discussions, you know. They just want cheap food and music." 

"Thanks anyway," Athena said. "I have to get back to the lab. My partner will be happy I'm not dead. Hey, d'you have a commie?"

"A Communist?" Lyra asked.

"A what? No, a communicator cuff." She held up her own wrist and showed Lyra her shiny black bracelet that probably wasn't as innocent as it looked.

"No," Lyra answered truthfully.

"Oh," Athena said, scribbling down a few words onto a piece of paper. "Well, this is my lab. Come find me if you find anything else."

Right, Lyra thought. If I ever step foot on this planet again, I'll know who to call.

But she took the paper gratefully. Athena left on a sleek white monorail, but there was no way Lyra could afford that. Besides, she wanted to get off-planet for good. And this place didn't look like the type of joint where she could just steal something.

She got up from her chair and started to look around. A mother pulled her little girl closer as she passed by, eyeing Lyra's black dress and stockings.

New clothes, Lyra thought. She'd need new clothes. But first, a place on a spacecraft.

Suddenly, she noticed the abnormally large amount of men in the building. Soldiers swarmed everywhere. She didn't think she'd ever seen one in her life, let alone thirty all at once.

They flocked to a door at the end of the hall, carrying large rucksacks. There were so many of them- too many for someone to notice if a tiny woman slipped through the cracks.

***

Twenty minutes later, Lyra was sitting in a crowded luggage compartment surrounded by dangerous, active weapons. She hid behind a smaller spacecraft inside the larger one. The ceiling was higher than that of her personal apartment, and drier and nicer too. These laser guns were taken care of better than she was.

Absentmindedly, she wondered if they were in space yet. It didn't really feel like it, but then again, she'd never been in space before. Maybe it was just quiet. Someone had once told her there was no sound in space, but she couldn't be sure if that was true yet.

She stared at the wall, thinking. Once she got to Mars, she'd find a job in Schiaparelli- they didn't care about castes. She could probably pretend she was something more important than she was. Her hair fit the picture of an Eleutherian girl perfectly, if she could just get-

Suddenly, she flew into a wall. Everything that wasn't strapped down tumbled around randomly. A sound like a gun but a hundred times louder split the room. Lyra screamed. The world seemed to collapse around her.

When she finally had the strength to look up, she was surrounded by guards.

She tried to scamper away, but one of them grabbed her by the shoulder. He was too strong- much stronger than a tiny dancer was. There was something wild in his eyes, and Lyra thought absentmindedly that his profession fit him perfectly- he seemed thrilled at the idea of murder. 

He grabbed her by her wrists and dragged her against the wall, shouting things she didn't understand. The rest of the soldiers hooted and laughed. Lyra shrieked. One of them shoved her to the ground roughly, scraping her knees and tearing her dress. 

The door burst open and light flooded into the luggage room. More shouting, and a woman screaming. Lyra didn't realize it was herself.

Laser bolts whizzed towards her head and hit the wall behind her. One seared off the end of her curly ponytail. 

The man holding her wrists dropped to the ground. Another soldier yanked her up.

"Stop screaming. What the hell are you doing here?"

"She's scared half to death, Tee," the other said. "Leave her alone."

"We don't know if she's part of the Movement," he said. 

"What?" Lyra breathed, panicked. "No, no! I don't even know what that is!"

"Where you from?" he asked.

"Ground," Lyra said immidiately. "I mean, the lowest levels."

"What do you do?"

Lyra stammered. "Lots of stuff. I sing, mostly, and people give me tips, which is how I get money. And I wait tables on my off-shifts."

"Caste?" he asked.

"Cantator."

"Will you stop interrogating her?" the one called Ace asked. 

"We can never be safe enough. What are you doing here?"

"I'm caste Cantator," Lyra said, like it was obvious. "I live on the ground levels. I work three terrible jobs and it's all i can do to stay off illicit stim and out of the gangs and not getting murdered in some alley. Is there really a question as to why I'd want to leave?"

"Well, what were you planning on doing?" Ace asked.

Lyra shrugged. "Settling down on Mars. Schiaparelli, the city. They don't care about castes."

"Fair enough," Ace said. "And how did you get on this ship anyway? That's pretty impressive."

"It's a long story," she sighed. 

"I got time," Tee said, glaring at her.

"Well, i'd just gotten home from late shift again," Lyra began. "It had been a bad day. Ran into someone from Sanguis- well, you wouldn't know them. They're one of the gangs, and they're- well, it's complicated. But you don't want to run into them. So I was walking home and this crazy girl from the upper levels hits me with a car."

"What?" Tee asked.

"It wasn't that bad. I was fine, except some bruises. You know, it was one of those fancy ones. Not the normal ones with the metal bits everywhere. But anyway, I pretended I was unconscious. And then I ran away. The girl caught me- her name was Athena- and she was looking for information on some weird thing that happened out near Jupiter, in the asteroid field."

The soldiers looked at each other. 

"What did you know?" Tee asked. 

"Nothing," Lyra said. "I swear. But I acted like I did. I don't know, I just made some nonsense up on the spot and it devolved into a long-winded conspiracy. She asked me where I got it from, and I said some Cipher- they're the real rich ones- and she seemed happy with it."

Tee raised an eyebrow. "Acidalia Planitia?"

"Yeah, her!" Lyra said. "I don't really know who she is other than the girl with the blue hair they put on all the propaganda. But that was her name."

"You told this girl that you talked to Dalia and she told you about the Centurion crash?" Tee asked.

"I had no idea what I was doing!" Lyra half-screamed, seeing the man's fiery eyes. "I swear-"

"Come with me."


Author's Note

Eleutheria is based heavily off of ancient Rome and Byzantine to an extent; that's where Cantatores as a caste come from. Not that they were literally called Cantatores, but the viewpoint was similar- acting, singing, and whatever Lyra does was considered low class and trashy. Empress Theodora was famous for being forced to work as an "actress" (read: definitely not what we would consider an "actress today) after the death of her father, then marrying Justinian and taking the throne. (She was awesome, everyone go read about Theadora.) 

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