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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18. Vincula

First contact! Lyra was going to be involved in first contact!

Well, first contact had happened decades ago with the beginning of this infernal war. But this was the real contact- the meaningful first contact, the exchange of culture and discussion and and talking, just talking, and not trying to kill each other with lasers.

"She asked me," Lyra said, feeling giddy. "She wants me to represent Eleutheria."

"Don't get all big headed, she asked me too," Athena said. "I'm more worried about what we're gonna tell her about Aleskynn. Stars, that's not going to be pretty."

"It could be a trap," Artemis suggested. "This is risky."

"I'm willing to undertake it," Lyra replied.

"I will if she does," Ace said. "For Tee."

"And naturally, I will," Athena added, "because what's the point of anything if you only ever go with what's safe?"

"You get to live?" Artemis asked.

"You can't seriously be denying this," Lyra said. "Do you know how incredible this is? How many people can say they did this? We'll be immortalized!"

"No we won't," Athena sighed. "Your optimism is making me irritated."

"You're not exactly negative though," Ace replied. 

"Yeah, but I don't talk about it like a toddler talks about candy. But whatever. I don't care. Let's just go."

"I can't," David said. "I have different responsibilities right now."

Artemis huffed. "Do I even want to know?"

"My mother," Cressida said.

"This plan is stupid," Athena and Artemis both said in chorus. "She's dead."

"She is not," Cressida argued. "I have proof."

"Good luck," Athena huffed. "Can't believe you're passing up the chance to literally meet aliens to hunt down some chick you barely know, but okay. It's not my life."

"Don't any of you have family?!" Cressida asked, exasperated. "Athena e Stellara, right? Do you even know who Stellara was?"

"I knew well enough," Athena shrugged. "She was a scientist like me. We don't really talk."

"What happened between you?" Lyra asked. "Stars know if I had a mother I'd talk to her every day."

"Nothing happened. We just don't talk. It's the same with Carina."

Carina shrugged. "Only certain castes have great family relationships. The small ones, usually the upper classes or the service classes like Suffragia or Servus, because there are so few people. Ciencia is big. Most people only know those few assigned to their lab, and if mother and daughter are assigned to different labs, which they almost always are based on age and experience... well, they don't know each other."

"She was a Suffragia," Cressida said. "It makes sense, I guess. But why no family? What's to be gained by that?"

"Men and women are separated and siblings aren't allowed," Carina replied. "That means no aunts or uncles, no nieces and nephews, or brothers or sisters, and depending on the caste, well, older relatives die."

"I thought you guys lived into the hundreds."

"Occupational hazards happen," Athena shrugged. "Some are cushy jobs, like Actoris or Auctor or Incentor or any of them. But Dictatorum get assassinated a lot, I've seen in happen, 'cause they don't have the same security around them as Ciphers or Generalises. Ciencia Biologicas get sick with those viruses they work with all the time because no one cares enough to have better lab safety, Cantatores get murdered by those guys they hook up with, Servum and Suffragium- mostly Servum- get beaten up and die of brain bleeds, Laborum die at crazy rates."

"I thought they were common workers."

"Yeah, and expendable. There have been tons of stories of girls who get their hair caught in a machine and are scalped, girls falling into vats of molten lead and being burned alive, girls catching fire- look what happened to Andromeda. I guess the Revolution fixed her up but most aren't that lucky. Most just... die."

"That's horrific." David didn't react, but Cressida looked upset.

"How many Martians die of cancers and illnesses that would have been fixed in Eleutheria?" Athena asked. 

"It's not the same. That's something no one can help," Cressida argued. "All these things can be fixed."

"It's not that easy," Lyra sighed. "Social change takes a lot of time. That's what Dalia said. And that's not even all of it. Plagues, riots still happen occasionally- I mean, before this mess, they happened all the time, and Dalia said they just shushed it up."

"Can confirm," Artemis added. "Saw that stuff happen."

"Plus the gangs," Athena said.

"And the gangs," Lyra confirmed. "You pay them dues and 'taxes' and they kill you if you can't. One of my friends, Faye- she got ripped up. I mean, literally. And there's organ harvesting- biological organs cost a lot."

"Why organ harvesting?!" Cressida looked a mixture of angry and depressed. "You guys can literally make anything out of cybernetics if you can't fix an issue by just hacking the DNA!"

"Cybernetics aren't pretty," Athena said. "Upper-crusts will pay a lot for real organs. Stupid people that think anything organic is better get it a lot too. Trust me, plenty of idiots will pay tons for real transplant lungs."

"So what happens? People just die, all because these morons want all-natural lungs?"

"They don't always die," Lyra said. "Some people just wake up in a strange room, covered in ice... sometimes they trick you into giving them things. You have to be street smart."

"You can grow stuff from stem cells! This is just stupid and unnecessary!"

"I agree," Carina said. "But there wasn't much I could do about it."

"No one could do anything about it." Lyra looked at her feet. "People think Eleutheria is like some sort of utopia. It's not true. Everyone has something to be afraid of."

"I don't know why I ever liked this place." Cressida put her feet up on the table and leant back, looking disgusted.

"Me neither," Athena said, mimicking her. "Anyway, we all get it, home sucks. So let's go meet some aliens."

Artemis sighed. "This is so dangerous. Just because Dalia said they're friendly doesn't mean they are. What if they're in her head or something? What if they've sent the message themselves?"

"Doesn't it have a DNA stamp?" Ace asked. "All the military stuff does."

"What if they can mimic our DNA?"

"You're reading way too much into it," he said. "Trust me. They're not horrific monsters. Their tech is really advanced, but that's my point- if they genuinely wanted to hurt us they would have. They were just defending themselves against us- after all, we're the ones that attacked them in the first place."

"I mean, they're purple and they sparkle," Lyra said. "How bad can they be?"

"Purple and sparkly?" Athena asked. "Seriously?"

"Not quite," Ace replied. "Some are purple. Sort of. They're aquatic, I think- their skin is shiny, maybe scaly? I only saw them from afar. But mostly they're humanlike from what I can tell."

"See?" Lyra said. "How bad can they be?"

"Fine," Artemis grumbled. "I'll put Cassandra in charge, I suppose."

"Kalyn's mom?" Athena asked. 

"Is there a problem?"

"No, just wondering. You're cranky." Lazily, she leaned back farther. "Well, what are we waiting for?"

Lyra stood. "She's right. Let's go."

***

Artemis moved her black braid to the side. She stood, squarely, outfitted in amour that looked ill-fitting on everyone but her. Behind her, the others shifted nervously- save for Athena, who just looked thrilled. Carina held her forearm anxiously.

"Well," Ace asked, "where do we go from here?"

"Good luck, guys," Cressida called from the doorway.

"Good luck finding your mom!" Lyra called. "And Estella!"

"You'll need it," Athena added softly.

"We have to get away from ground level," Lyra said. "Trust me. There will be carnage everywhere when that door opens."

"I hate to say it," Athena said, "but she's right."

"I suggest we get to the middle castes. There are a lot less people there and a lot less insanity. We want to avoid the uppercrust, especially Appalachia," Lyra continued. "People will be looting anything that looks like it's worth anything."

"I have a better idea," Ace said. "We could go through the military secret tunnels."

"There are military secret tunnels?" Lyra and Athena both asked. Even Carina, ever-quiet, looked intrigued. 

"That's stupid," Artemis brushed off. "We'll be even worse down there. They have tons of soldiers."

"So do we," Ace said. "And not everyone has secret clearance."

"Being on ground level is bad enough. Navigating some secret military base is plain stupid."

David walked up to the group. "Ace is right."

"Not you again," Artemis sighed. "You have no idea-"

"Trust me," he said. "Listen for a minute. I was a rebel too, one day. I know how this works. They're mobilizing troops everywhere- the Dictatorum and Generalises that are still around and running this sham of a country-"

"Sham?"

"You know what I mean. Anyone trying to uphold Eleutherian society- we both know it's just Loyalism versus us Rebels now. But anyone stupid enough to try won't be thinking about the secret tunnels. The only things in some of them that make them so 'secret' are ancient relics whose purpose is unknown, and some dangerous weapons. They'll have taken the weapons and gone. They'll be funneling men out via the main exits and they won't care about the side passages."

"This sounds risky."

"Hate to break it to you," Athena said, "but we're making true first contact. Everything about this is risky. And if I know Dalia, she wouldn't have asked us to meet her if it wasn't important."

"What sort of dangerous weapons?" Artemis asked.

"Nothing bad," Ace said, "or, well, that bad. Nuclear bombs, that type of stuff. Things that can be contained."

"Nuclear bombs can't be contained," Cressida said. "One blast of those could wipe out Schiaparelli in less than ten minutes!"

"Yeah, but that city's like the size of a crater," Athena shrugged. "Not that it wouldn't be bad, but that's a blip in Eleutheria. What we gotta worry about-"

"-is biological and chemical weapons," Ace finished. "Stuff that could affect us that we could potentially carry out with us and spread. But I know how to avoid those."

"Or take them," Athena said. 

"According to Atlas," David replied, "our soldiers have already taken everything they can."

"My contacts say the same," Ace said, gesturing to his commcuff. "Anything left, I can get around. Tee and I were specialists in the tech department once- I mean, they shuffle you around a lot to avoid this happening exactly, but I can still use their tech to my advantage, and I have a great knowledge of these passages. I'm explaining it badly, but just trust me."

Lyra sighed. "I agree, actually. Ground level is dangerous at best. I would know. Do you know how many people I've seen murdered on a good day? It'll be worse now. Much worse."

Carina piped up from the background. "The maps Kalyn showed me said that you have an entrance to a military complex a few blocks away."

"See? It's smart," Ace added. 

"I don't know about this..." Artemis looked anxious.

"Well, I'm not debating this any longer," Athena decided. "Everyone shut up and follow me, then follow Ace, then, well, whatever. This constant thinking in circles is driving me mad. Let's go."

"Fine." She shuffled her feet, tugged at her ebony hair. "Leto, send us up. Tell Cassandra she's in charge for now."

Guards stepped to the side as the silver-chrome doors opened get with a sick, crunching mechanical sound. Lyra didn't know what she was expecting- more carnage, probably- but this place looked empty. It didn't even look like ground level, and from her companions' faces, she suspected it wasn't. 

Athena marched forward, brandishing a laser pistol like a wand, hoping secretly she'd get to use it. This place definitely wasn't the slums. It was too clean. 

"This isn't bad," Carina said.

"We haven't left the base yet," Artemis said, waving a goodbye to David and Cressida. 

Carina swore softly.

***

There had been a lot of reasons Dalia had asked her latest companions to meet her; for starters, Artemis was experienced in leadership, and she needed another level-headed person here. Andromeda was great, but she didn't have the same political charm, and could be crass- not that the Miramans seemed completely offended, but she didn't exactly want to risk anything. And secondly, she recognized her own privilege- regardless how much she didn't want to admit it, she was born of Alestra, a Cipher, and placed above most in society. Having someone decide the fate of a planet they themselves barely knew anything about when it came to the proletariat and the middle-class was wrong, and she recognized that. 

And they would make good representatives, too. Normally when something groundbreaking like this happened, it would have been just the Ciphers, prehaps Generalises, maybe a few Dictatorum at best. Nowhere near enough to represent the trillions of beings that made up the planet- nothing could ever represent every individual opinion. But still, these people came from all walks of life. Lyra, the performer, Athena and Carina, two scientists who saw everything differently but ultimately just wanted knowledge, the Martian farmers Cressida and David who came because of Lyra and stayed because they believed in the cause, Leski, the outcaste daughter of a ruler- it wasn't perfect, but they painted a better picture of humanity than a few politicians. It was a larger sample size, a more diverse range of people, than the few that would have been involved had everything not gone completely to hell.

And oh, how everything had gone to hell.

Raeilya had said they would provide a sort of safe passage, somehow, for those included; a type of teleportation was what it appeared to be, but that wasn't the word they used. Dalia had the idea that they didn't know their own technology any more than she did, looked at it the same way she looked at the monorail trains- vaguely knowing the basic science behind it, but unable to give a word-for-word description on how it worked. It wasn't their job to know. Nevertheless, Dalia saw their technology everywhere- it was easy to understand why Ace had said that if they genuinely wanted to win the war, they could have. Atom-replacement tech was used for the simplest of things, and everything could easily have had military applications.

Still, there were some places in which humanity clearly outstripped the Mira. They had never changed their genetic code. According to Cadé, that just wasn't something that was done in their species- everyone had the traits they were born with. You couldn't change your hair or skin color, you were just... you. It sounded strange. Dalia had always been in control of everything she'd ever wanted to be in control of- her DNA, her planet, her people- and though she was reluctant to wield that power, the thought of using it always sat there in the back of her mind like a dormant creature in hibernation, a little reassurance that she could always fix whatever went wrong because the only person on the planet that could tell her what to do was her mother. But the Mira were different. They didn't go by caste, they didn't have a society anywhere near that of Eleutheria, and they'd only met for the past few hours, after all- she had no reason to take everything they said as gospel. The idea that it might just all be a trap was nowhere near improbable, but Dalia chose to ignore that. 

She wondered how Leski would react. Maybe she'd be more forgiving if she got to participate in something this big, but it was unlikely. Davids's words echoed in Dalia's mind: hormonal, cranky, unstable- it was unlikely Aleskynn would be in a forgiving mood any time soon. 

A hand tapped her shoulder.

"What is it, Andromeda?"

Andromeda stood holding the remains of her mangled cybernetic arm, looking annoyed. "They say they can't find Leski."

Dalia raised an eyebrow. "What? Why? The bases have the cloaking tech, but they should be out of there- wait." Her mind reeled. "Stars, Andy, is she dead?"

"They don't know," she said. "They can't pick her up on their atom tech. Either she's being shielded by something, or-"

"Oh Christ." Dalia didn't know who Christ was, but she'd picked it up from her grandmother Harmonia before she'd been assassinated; it seemed like a more appropriate term than "stars." 

"They want you," Andromeda said. "Come on."

Dalia followed her friend through a winding corridor dripping with what looked like mother-of-pearl; her heart pounded in her chest, every beat jagged. What happened to Leski? Why wasn't she with them? Had she been killed

Please don't be dead, she thought, unsure exactly what she was doing or who she was begging. If there are gods, celestials, Fates out there- don't let her be dead, too.

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