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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14. Proditone

"This is stupid," Carina said. "Leski, please. You'll get yourself killed."

"I don't care," Aleskynn snapped. "I'm sick of people telling me what to do. I'm not listening anymore."

"You can't just go out there on your own!" Carina shouted. "Come back!"

"I won't! I'm not going back in there to be told I'm a child and I can't be trusted!"

"That's not what they're saying!"

"Oh yeah? Because it sounds like it!"

Carina ran after her friend. "Leski, you don't know what you're doing."

"I absolutely do, and you can't stop me. You can't!"

"Please, just listen for one minute," she begged. "It would destroy Dalia if you got killed."

"Oh, like it destroyed her when my brother died trying to save her?" Aleskynn asked. "Dalia ruined everything. If she was dead I wouldn't be standing here right now!"

"Don't say that," Carina said, eyes brimming with tears. "This isn't her fault. This isn't anyone's fault but the Movement."

"All you're doing is feeding into their propaganda!"

"I am not-"

"If you hadn't gotten involved, I wouldn't be in this mess! If you hadn't gotten involved I would have been so much more than I am now!"

"And your sister would have been dead!"

"Who cares?!" Aleskynn screamed. "Acidalia took everything from me! She took my title, she took my place, hell, she took my right to exist! Do you have any idea who I would have been if it weren't for her?"

"You-" Carina begin, but she was interrupted. 

"I would have been a Cipher. I would have money, power, I wouldn't be stuck down here because a bunch of people I don't even know said so, and I wouldn't have let the planet collapse into a war zone!"

"That was all your mother's fault!" Carina screamed.

"Maybe my mother had the right idea!"

"Murdering her own daughter for politics-"

"It's not murder if she was right all along!"

"Murder is always wrong! You're talking about filicide-"

"I'm talking about fixing a problem!"

"You're wrong!" Carina shrieked. "What the hell are you saying? You're advocating for the death of your sister, you're leaving the only semi-safe place on the planet-"

"Acidalia ran off to say hello to murderous aliens," Aleskynn said. "If that's allowed, I should be allowed to-"

"You're thirteen."

"Almost fourteen. I can do what I want. I'm willing to bet that Acidalia's already gotten herself killed-"

"Don't say that!"

"-and if she's dead, guess who's left in the line of inheritance?"

"Leski, you don't even know if she's dead."

"It's not Leski anymore. It's Aleskynn e Alestra, Cipher. I'm done being an outcaste. I'm done being a bargaining chip. I'm done being treated like I'm a toy. And I'm done living in Acidalia's shadow!"

"Please, listen to reason!"

"I'm a Cipher now. I don't have to listen to anyone but me, and I definitely don't have to listen to Ciencia girls who are so far below me it's ridiculous that they even talk to me."

Carina gaped. "We've been friends since we were nine years old."

"And I don't even know why I bothered with the embarrassment." Aleskynn stormed to the trapdoor and slammed the button to open it. She climbed up and out quickly, leaving her childhood friend alone, staring, teary-eyed.


***


"Remember Diana?" Athena asked. "You know the klutzy chick we always made fun of?"

Kalyn giggled. "Yeah?" 

"Well, she discovered eleven new solar systems."

"Holy stars!" Kalyn yelped. "I always thought she was such a moron."

"Me too!" Athena laughed. "And y'know Illa?"

"Don't tell me she-"

"She finally got herself kicked out of the lab," Athena snickered. "It was the best. The Supervisor yelled at her and everything."

"Man, that must have been awesome," Kalyn said wistfully. "She deserved it, that bully. I've been gone for too long. Whatever happened to Rhea from Biologia?"

"Vanished off the face of the earth some time," Athena replied. "Her, Rubía and Perla. Probably caught something and died."

"Oh, I know Perla!" Kalyn said. "She's here!"

"What? She was like, the quietest, most boring rule-follower ever!"

"Yeah, she's been working with mutant anthrax!"

"Dude, what? That's insane!" Both girls collapsed into giggles, chatting about the fates of classmates they hadn't seen in the past few years. 

"And Ravena killed that guy-"

"And Megara got infected with that virus-"

"And Anima exploded-"

"And Clarity joined us when she got pregnant-"

"And- wait, Carina?" Athena asked suddenly. "Hold on- Kalyn, hold that thought for a sec."

"Okay," Kalyn said. "But seriously, you have to hear what she named her kid. Ugh, it's the stupidest, best thing ever! Or, wait, was that Amissa's kid?" 

"Rina?" Carina looked frazzled, and that was an understatement. She looked borderline panicky. 

"Is Dalia back yet?"

"What? No, she isn't back yet, she went to go fight aliens!" Athena said. "She might not even be back, why?"

"Leski left," Carina said.

"What?" Kalyn asked. "You mean Aleskynn?"

"Outside one of the side entrances," Carina added breathlessly. "I tried to tell her to stop, but she wouldn't-"

Athena rose suddenly. "You didn't grab her?!"

"I weigh like 90 pounds, she's bigger than me!"

"Did she have weapons?" 

"I don't think so. Even if she did, she wouldn't know how to use them." Carina wiped sweat off her brow.

Athena sank back down again. "Well, she's already dead meat, then. You've seen it out there. This planet's a war zone. Why the hell would she leave?"

"She was mad at Dalia. She can get... emotional."

"She ran straight into a riot because of sibling rivalry?" Kalyn asked. "Sounds like more than a bit unstable to me." Obviously not taking it as seriously as her friend, she picked at her food.

"She did just lose her brother," Carina said. "I think that had something to do with it-" 

"Oh, come on," Athena sighed. "Did she ever even meet Tee?"

"How does she have any idea who her brother is?" Kalyn asked.

Carina shook her head. "I don't know the whole story, but Tee and Dalia were working together for a while. Leski didn't even know about him until a few days ago."

"Sounds like she's a drama queen." Kalyn flipped her black hair. "I have a brother. You have a brother. Who cares?"

"She was just upset." Carina sounded stressed.

"Eh, she was kind of a brat." Athena shrugged. "I don't understand why you were ever friends."

"Dalia's going to be so upset. That's two siblings in one week."

"Dalia's probably dead too. Or being abducted by aliens."

"How are you so- so callous about this?!" Carina exploded. "Leski is thirteen and she's probably going to get herself killed!"

"I wouldn't be worried about that," Kalyn said nonchalantly. "Unless..."

"What?" Athena cocked an eyebrow.

"You don't think she could be involved in the Movement, do you?"

Carina gasped. "Leski? She hardly knew what the Movement was!"

"It's true," Athena admitted, "but that doesn't mean she won't join them. That's how they prey on you, especially little kids. That's how they got Anima, right?"

"Anima e Astra Minor, Technologia? What?"

"Yeah, she joined up a while ago. Y'know, they have these women in fancy ballgowns with tons of money or attractive soldiers with the latest tech or whatever seems the coolest, and who wouldn't want to get involved in something where a bunch of upper crusts tell you you're special and should be included in the new world order?" Kalyn shrugged. "And no offense, but if this chick is as weak-willed and emotional and mad at Dalia as you say, she's be a prime target."

"And her mother is some sort of Movement higher-up," Athena added. "You hear about that? Alestra? She tried to murder Dalia so Aleskynn could take over without question."

"Damn," Kalyn said. "Well, then I can see why she's mad. It doesn't make her any less stupid, but look at it from her perspective- she's a younger daughter, she was gonna be killed soon anyway, and then this new opportunity pops up for her to suddenly get all these new privileges and power, all courtesy of the Movement. Then you guys show up and kreth it all up and then she's stuck running around the solar system with no idea what's happening and her sister is the one in charge again, and well, I'm not saying it's right, but this kid's like 13. She doesn't realize or care about the moral stuff."

"Shit," Athena swore. "She knows a whole lot of information that could give us a lot of problems."

"Didn't you say she would die?" Carina asked weakly.

"Not if she's got Loyalism protecting her. She's no nameless soldier, she's the sister of one of our most high profile leaders- or, at least, was, because I think Dalia's dead. Anyway, she's definitely someone they'd want."

"I should have tried to stop her more," Carina said, swiping at her eyes. "We have to tell someone she left."

"Yeah, let's go." Athena stood up and pulled her black hair into a ponytail. "Kalyn, you wanna come?"

"Fine."

"Don't do me any favors." Athena looked mildly put out. 

"Eh, keeps my mom from tracking me down. I was supposed to check on this thing I was building, like, an hour ago, but I'd rather not. Androids and gynoids are as boring as those stupid nature hikes on the Moon we used to have to do."

"Come on." Carina stood shakily. She felt like an idiot. She should have realized how dangerous Aleskynn was earlier.

"Who do we go to?" Athena asked. 

"Artemis," Kalyn said. "She's head of the transport division."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Nothing, but she was friends with Andromeda who was in charge of the newbies, and Andromeda went to zap aliens, so she's the closest one we got to her."

"Right. Hey, Rina, let's go."

"Coming," she said softly. Suddenly the world seemed very large and very dangerous. Dalia and Andromeda were practically already dead, Aleskynn would be too, and all those girls Athena and Kalyn were talking of- Anima, Rubía, Rhea, Illa- gone forever. One stroke of bad luck and Carina would be another corpse, forgotten in a dusty street, and everyone else would continue their lives, cogs in a machine, always working for something bigger than themselves. 

She felt rather nauseous.

***


Ace stared awkwardly at the black cape on his bed. A small hole had been singed in the corner, and a tear crossed the center. At the edges, bits of fabric crisscrossed, becoming undone, falling out of place. 

Tee had worn this cape. It was the last thing he had ever worn. 

Their uniform hadn't ever involved capes, not for soldiers of his rank. Not for centurae. Tee had worn one anyway. He had done it when he was twelve years old when he and Dalia first met, because she wore those sheer cloaks with those elaborate dresses of hers, and he hero-worshipped her at first. Tee was lucky enough to know his sister, and even luckier in that she was an influential woman, and beyond fortunate that she agreed with his cause. Ace had a sister. Everyone had a sister, and no one ever was supposed to know.

Siblings. It was such a foreign concept to Ace- another human being who shared your mother, your lineage. Even some of your genetic code. 

They said that millennia ago siblings were the norm rather than the exception. Eons in the past, they would even share both parents; they'd be so similar to one another one could easily tell their relationship. There were even talks of twins- double people, people with identical DNA, similar in everything. 

On one hand, Ace felt it would be nice to have someone like a built-in partner or mentor, someone who understood you, someone who shared your life to the point where they could give you advice. It was like how he and Tee had been, but closer, he surmised. But on the other, someone so alike to you, who knew everything about you, could be irritating at best and dangerous at worst.

Dalia and Leski and Tee. A trio of beings with the same mother. It was such an absurd thought it was almost alien. He wondered what that was like. He wanted to ask Tee, but Tee was gone.

Ace wondered what had happened to his comrade's body. In the army, they'd just spaced them. Burial in the stars. It was a romantic idea, but in Eleutheria they didn't honor lives like that. Everyone and everything was disposable for the greater good- and there was always a greater good. 

Eleutheria. He wondered absentmindedly what the country's name even meant, and why he loved it so much in the first place. Each time they passed the planet in their journeys, he'd gone to the window and looked on, every time they'd taken a rare shore leave, he'd roamed as much of the city as possible. Every inch of it from the sparkling lights of upper Appalachia to the decrepit slums of ground level, from the glittering platinum and lapis of the Ciphers to the high-tech low-life feeling of Laborum, was attractive to him. He had barely set foot on the planet, yet was seized with a feeling of home, of family, of brotherhood, whenever he was near. Everything Ace had ever done was, at its core, for the good of Eleutheria, from the Miramans he'd shot down to the revolution he'd been dragged into. He couldn't place a finger on why.

He pondered it for a moment before fingering the clasp of his dead friend's cloak. It was cheap plastic, and it was more valuable than anything in the world to him. Slowly, he packed it away into a drawer, the one nearest to his bed. Having a space so large was strange with no one to share it with.

He heard a soft creak suddenly from outside the door. Padding over, he cracked it open slightly, to be greeted by a teenager with rose-pink hair. 

"Lyra!"

She smiled sadly. "Hi, Ace."

"You look upset."

"So do you." 

"Can I come in?"

He chuckled. "Not like I'm used to being alone."

"Neither am I." Lyra sat on the bunk across from Ace's, shuffling feet clad in grey shoes. They didn't speak for a moment until Ace joined her. She leant her head on his shoulder.

"What's up?" he asked gently.

Lyra sighed. "I don't know. I guess this isn't what I'd imagined when I thought of a revolution."

"It's less exciting than propaganda makes it look," Ace agreed.

"I just... am I really any better off here than I was a few weeks ago?" she asked. "There's not much different than being a Cantator."

"What?" Ace asked. "Of course it is. You're working for something better than what you were, and isn't this much better than dancing in those brothels?"

"Brothels?" she asked. "Is that what you think of me?"

"Sorry, I-"

"It's okay," she softened. "Many of those places were pretty much brothels. I never did that, but I wasn't considered much above the girls that did. Not that they were below me- they did what they had to do to survive."

"Sounds tough," he said. "So why is the Revolution the same?"

"I mean, it isn't at the surface. Rebels don't dance. But at its core, it's the same philosophy. I'm just going through the motions for the good of something I don't really understand, whether I'm singing or babysitting. It's like I'm faceless."

"I know the feeling," Ace agreed. "But there's something different in me. I genuinely want to help Eleutheria. It's my city, and I want to make it better."

"David Seren talks about the same thing. He was a soldier too. Maybe it's a military thing."

"I thought it was a thing or everyone."

Lyra chuckled. "Ever spoken to any of the girls you've met on ground level?"

"Not much. I saw them sing."

"That doesn't mean anything. Most of the women who raised me actively hated it. You can't blame them. Cantatores were not given a good calling in life."

"Why was it so bad?" Ace asked. "I killed people, not to sound like I'm belittling you, but-"

"You don't understand," Lyra sighed. "It was just- you have no control over anything, no standing. Cantatores are like toys. People watch you and when you break they throw you away because you're disposable, and if you don't find someone else to entertain you'd just rot. People could do anything to you if they wanted, make you do anything for them, and you couldn't ever say no because everyone but Servum are above you. Gangs are everywhere. I witnessed my first murder at six years old, Ace. They shot her, not with a laser gun, but a real one. And then they just left the blood there, sitting on the streets, as a warning."

"Wow. I was in training school at six. All of our fighting was from afar anyway. Dogfights for the most part."

"Have you ever seen one?" Lyra asked. 

"Miramans? Not up close to really stare, but I've seen them for sure. They're strange colors, and their skin shines."

"Shines?"

"And their hair. It's glossy, sort of. Like a type of oil. They're a lot like people, really."

"That makes me feel a little better about Dalia and Atlas and Andromeda."

"Maybe they'll be okay," Ace said. "The Miramans never struck me as the fighting type. If you look at them, they're not strong. The men aren't all that masculine by human standards. Most of what they did was technology- without their fancy tractor beams and everything, they're as helpless as most humans are. I don't think they genuinely wanted to hurt us. They were keeping us busy, for what I don't know."

"You're very enlightened," Lyra teased. "I hope you're right."

Ace stared at her. Her eyes were vitreous, glassy, a soft chocolate color. Her expression was difficult to read, somewhere between sad and hopeful. She stayed like that for a long moment before a knock sounded on the door, ringing through the silence like a shot through the air. Lyra started.

"Come in," Ace sighed.

Athena kicked open the door. At seeing the two together, she rolled her eyes.

"What is it?"

"It's about Aleskynn."

"What about her?" Ace asked.

"She left."

"She what?"

"She left," Athena said. "Carina and Kalyn just went to tell Artemis. I inured I'd tell you. You're an army guy. You'd have advice."

"She's what, fourteen?" Ace asked. "Christ, that poor girl. She'd be dead in an instant normally, but Aleskynn-"

"The Movement," Lyra realized. "They want her."

"Kyrie elision," Ace whispered. "She knows too much."

The soft, gentle aura of the moment between himself and Lyra had passed. Suddenly the room had an anxious feeling in the air. The pair stood quickly.

"What do we do?" Lyra asked.

Ace's shoulders sank. "I don't know. Is there anything we can?"

Author's Note

Kyrie elision="Lord have mercy." Most "swears" are Latin or Greek-ish.

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