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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2. Principium

 

 

Cressida awoke to a burst of light.

The blue-violets of the sky at sunrise were suddenly filled with flashes of white. The house shook with tremors and debris rained from the roof. Far on the horizon, something had hit the ground, and a billow of smoke rose from the reddish-brown terrain.

"Dad?" she shouted. "What is that?"

"I dunno," her father yelled from the deck. "Looks like a crash or somethin.'"

"A crash of what?"

"Who cares?"

"Dad," Cressida said, "I think it's in our rice fields."

"The rice fields?" he sighed. "Oh, come on! I just had those redone. Elders almighty- those wretched spacecraft, think they can just land wherever they want-"

But he made no move whatsoever to get up from his chair.

"I think I'm going to go investigate," Cressida announced. "I don't like it any more than you do. You know how hard I worked on that rice?"

"Don't get yourself into trouble," her father warned.

Cressida rolled her eyes. "I won't."

"Keys are on the hook by the door."

She grabbed the keys and started up the rover. It was an old, repurposed spacecraft- everything here was repurposed. Cressida was good at it, too- snapping together parts that were never meant to fit that way and making it work, somehow. As much as she loved this, though, there were times she wished she lived in Eleutheria instead of on this deserted plain on Mars.

Eleutheria seemed bright, exciting, dangerous. They had new technology that wouldn't reach Mars for millennia. All the Martian tech came from stuff Eleutherians discarded. Of course, it was all perfectly usable- if not functional, it could be fixed- but for once, it would be nice not to be the one digging through other people's trash for scraps. 

Besides, nothing ever happened here. Cressida liked adventure, excitement. That was impossible on Acidalia Planitia.

The only thing that had ever happened here was twenty years ago, when the Eleutherians came to dump their garbage off. One gave birth on Mars and named her baby after the place. Why you'd want to be named after a desolate, useless plain, Cressida didn't know. 

And then they left, and then everyone dug through their junk. As usual.

The rocky Martian terrain made the rover jolt and whir as she pressed on to the rice fields. Her father always said farming was something to be proud of, because they were providing sustenance for the city at Schiaparelli, the mines in Lewis Crater, the shipyards in Utopia Planitia. Cressida didn't quite see it that way. As far as she was concerned, farming made her seem like a redneck hillbilly- overalls, ratty sneakers, frizzy hair. Eleutherian girls had those wild colors and those white dresses. Meanwhile, Cressida had old clothes that didn't fit and black, lopsided hair.

She hoped there weren't people in the spacecraft that had crashed. Bodies were always gross. Especially when they'd been burned.

She hopped off the rover and approached the crater cautiously. Not so much of the rice had been destroyed as she had first thought. The craft didn't even really look like a spacecraft part at all- it just looked like a little hunk of metal. ESC Centurion, read an inscription on the side, in small letters. Eleutherian Spacecraft, Centurion. It must have been a piece of a military ship, probably just fallen out of orbit somehow. Boring.

Useful, though, she thought. It was disappointing that it wasn't anything but debris, but her father could always use more metal.

She tried to hoist the thing onto the rover, but it was too large, so she tied suspension cables around it and pulled it behind her. It made a terrible thumping sound against the rocky roads, but it would be worth it if they could melt it down and use it or sell it.

Another light flashed in the sky. Cressida frowned. It was an abnormally busy day for all that stuff orbiting the planet. Usually you got one incident in a month or so. Two in one day?


***

"Ugh, I can't believe I did that," Carina moaned. "She got so mad at me! It was embarrassing."

"Dude," Athena, her lab partner, said, "it wasn't that bad."

"Yes it was!" Carina said. "The one time I get invited to a party- a real, fancy, initiation gala- I just have to screw everything up. I left right afterwards, I couldn't stand it. I have to call Leski and apologize, I just don't know how."

"I think those things are all nonsense anyway," Athena said. "Just a bunch of stuffy losers trying desperately to show off how rich and important they are."

"But they were rich," Carina complained. "Like, real rich. Like, pearls-and-diamonds, gold dripping from the ceiling rich. They all probably hate me."

Her friend sighed. "Rina, how come you always do this? Why do you even go to these parties?"

"It was Leski's sister's party," she said. "I was invited. She was a Cipher. You don't just say no to them."

"I sure as hell will," Athena laughed. "Like they care if I go socialize with the elite. No offense, but no one would have cared if you didn't go."

"Well, you're you," Carina said. "You do these things all the time. You don't care."

"Well, why do you?" Athena asked. "I personally-"

She was interrupted by a loud bleep from one of the computers. Carina sprinted to the machine.

"Disturbance near Mars," she read. "Assumed to be a large craft. I wonder what that is?"

"A large craft?" Athena furrowed her brow. "Well, I guess it's gotta be a spacecraft, huh?"

"We don't have any out there, though," Carina protested.

"How do you know? Like anyone tells us what the Navy is up to." 

"The computer says there's a significant risk of debris causing harm to human life," Carina said, choosing to ignore her partner's more politically charged statement. "We have to tell someone."

"Go get the supervisor," Athena said.

Carina returned a few minutes later with an older, taller, broader woman. It was idiotic, really, because she was not scientific-minded any more than the janitor was, but there wasn't a whole lot the scientists themselves could do about it.

The Supervisor grunted. "Asteroids, probably."

"They said it was a large spacecraft," Athena said. "There's no way asteroids could have caused that."

Carina stepped on her foot. "Shush."

"Significant harm to human life!" Athena protested. "Come on! We have to do something about it!"

"Is it going to hurt Eleutheria?" the Supervisor asked.

"Well, no, but-"

"They're Martians," the Supervisor said. "Nothing but criminals and cowards out there. Who gives a creth? Destroy the whole planet for all I care."

"There are people out there," Athena said. "You can't just let them die!"

"Yes I can," the Supervisor said. "And let me remind you, you are under my supervision. Athena e Stellara, you are lucky to still be here."

She left with a swish of her gray lab coat. Athena fumed, but Carina looked ready to run and hide.

"What were you thinking?" she hissed. "Do you know how much trouble you could have just gotten in? A lot! The answer is a lot!"

"I don't care," Athena announced. "This whole planet is so stupid. Ready to let people die for the caste system. Disgusting. I have to do something."

"Like what?" Carina sighed. "You're one girl. There isn't a whole lot you can do about it. "

"Well, I'm going to find something out," Athena said. "Even if I can't change it, I want to know what it is."

"That's insane," Carina said. "Dangerous and insane. What are you going to find out anyway? Where are you going to get any information?"

"Ground level," Athena said nonchalantly. 

"Ground level?" Carina asked, her voice escalating to a pitch. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Yes," Athena said. "Don't worry, I know people down there. It's fine."

"Don't come crying to me if you die," Carina said angrily. "It's your fault."

"If I die," Athena said, "at least I won't have to do that lab report about gravitational waves."

Carina did not laugh.


***

Shady could barely scratch the surface of ground level, but that just made Athena like it more. The entire aesthetic of it- a myriad of expensive equipment and cheap people- was exciting. Neon signs shone from every building. Under one that screamed 99¢ VR, a group of bored looking teenagers dressed in black smoked some type of white powder- likely an underground type of stim, a contaminated version of the adrenaline shots soldiers used for battle. Athena knew better than to ask. 

Trying to pretend like she knew what she was doing, she marched right on past, head held high. The girls under the sign stared.

"You from upwards?" one asked.

Athena ignored them. 

"Hey," the girl said, "I asked you a question."

"Not your problem," she said cooly.

The girl sniggered. "Not my problem, sure. You Sanguis?"

"Not on your life."

The woman muttered something under her breath and slunk back into the light, taking a long drag off her pipe. Sanguis was probably a rival gang. There were lots of them down here. Athena assumed this part was Caedis territory. Most of underground Terra was.

Located just south of the capitol at Appalachia, the district of Terra was widely known as the robotics district. They mostly exported hardware to the other districts- Discite, for programming, Luceat for finishing, and Appalachia for the final product. Even Athena could see the lights and sparkles of Appalachia in the distance, reaching so high it went past the clouds.

Someplace up there was Carina and the lab, she thought. How strange is that? And at the very top, hidden in the twilight, the Ciphers.

That was where Carina went the other day. Athena had vaguely wanted to go up there and explore with her, but then again, there was work to be done- there was always work to be done. Besides, rich-people shindigs weren't her thing, anyway. It was Carina who liked that stuff- jewels, gems, gold. She had struck up a friendship with Aleskynn, a disgruntled younger sister of a Cipher, when they were only nine years old. The only issue was that Aleskynn must die.

There wasn't a whole lot for her to become, Athena thought. Dead, or a farmer on some desolate wasteland, or trapped down here for eternity. Though ground level was interesting, being stuck here wasn't a fate Athena would wish on anyone. She'd almost rather be dead.

Not being able to do what you were supposed to had to be terrible. Everyone seemed to be programmed a certain way- only glitches in the code spoke out, made a mess and broke the machine. Athena herself was a glitch in the smooth order of Eleutheria, but one that didn't cause a lot of trouble- she could be aggravating, sure, but not anything worth dedicating hours of time to exterminate. 

Like everyone else in class Ciencia, she was scientifically minded, albeit in a different way than Carina was. Carina liked logic and mathematics, and that helped her enough, but Athena wanted more. She wanted to discover everything and anything, and if that meant sneaking into a gang-filled underworld for information about a spacecraft, so be it.

There was a girl here Athena once knew- three years ago, when they were thirteen. She had been Ciencias too, once. Kalyn e Cassandra, but her mother had disowned her years ago. Talk about a glitch. The girl had made a mess, publicly, for the entire class- she screwed up all the computers in three districts, somehow, and had been scheduled for execution. The thing was, the government scheduled so many people for execution it was hard to keep track of who actually died, so Eleutheria put out a low priority bounty on her, then forgot about it completely. 

Kalyn, meanwhile, had just moved down here and gotten rich from illegal robotics.

If anyone knew what was up, it was Kalyn.

She lived someplace east of the Caedis headquarters, which Athena wanted to avoid. There was too high a chance of being killed there- she'd heard someplace that they murdered whoever was present there without the appropriate signage. Caedis girls wore one eye scarlet red and one eye purple. Athena's were both green, which posed a problem, but at least they weren't orange. That showed allegiance with Sanguis.

The trick to getting into Kalyn's home was through an inconspicuous looking hut, but of course, it opened into a beautiful residence bought with her illegal credits. The issue was finding the hut- it was almost too inconspicuous. 

I wish I thought to bring a car with a tracker, Athena thought. She could always steal one- they weren't difficult- but it seemed to get her in trouble when she took other people's property without permission. Still, she wasn't going to get anywhere without it.

On a nearby street was a small, good-enough looking car. Compared to the wrecks, it looked usable. Athena jacked it quickly, intending to return it in a few minute, after she used the tracker.

The moment she turned the wheel, though, something in the car jolted. It suddenly spun. The magnet that helped it hover wasn't calibrated right.

Okay, Athena thought. I can fix this, I can fix this-

Smoke shot out of the dashboard.

Okay. Maybe she couldn't fix this.

Athena ducked as the car spun out of control and into the street. If she didn't get shot at for stealing a car, she'd probably careen into a ditch. Shrieking, she tried desperately to regain control, but suddenly came to an abrupt halt as a thud sounded loudly in the silence of the street.

On the left side of the car, a girl in a black dress lay in the road. She looked dead.

Author's Note

Acidalia Planitia is indeed a plain on Mars, and Schiaparelli exists too, though obviously neither have people. Utopia Planitia is a real place, and the shipyards are a reference to Star Trek. Lewis Crater doesn't really exist to my knowledge, but in The Martian, it's a crater Mark named after his commander, Melissa Lewis. Pretty much all of Cressida's life is inspired by Interstellar and The Martian, which are both incredible movies, because I'm a nerd. 🤓

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