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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9. Aedificationem

Dalia couldn't think.

Her sister hated her, her mother tried to murder her, which resulted in the death of her brother, her friend was a traitor... where had things gone this wrong?

She fingered the scar on her side. She could have dealt with it already, gotten rid of it, but she didn't want to, really. She didn't know why. Maybe she deserved it.

Two weeks ago and everything was perfect. Two weeks ago and she was safe, the Revolution was safe, Leksi was safe and Tee was safe.

But Dalia couldn't dwell on that. She had a rebellion to remotely run.

The last message on her communicator cuff was from Tee. She tried not to think about it too much. Kalyn, a Revolutionary spy working with the Caedis and Sanguis gangs and recruiting ground-level dwellers, needed her help with something. Dalia was glad at least to see that; the woman had gone missing three weeks ago with no warning, and she'd feared the worst, but hadn't seen anything anywhere. Luckily, it was just a minor gang dispute that had resulted in her being trapped in a different territory for a few weeks.

Dalia had to ask Lyra about that. She'd know. Or maybe Athena would. That girl seemed like she got around more than her partner. Hotheaded, ambitious, smart- Dalia was lucky she hadn't gotten involved in the Movement first. 

She scrolled through her comm again, reading messages from various Revolutionary leaders, and sending words of advice back. The majority were teenagers, young and brash and maybe a little stupid. Their postings were intentional, though; children attracted very little suspicion.

Dalia was happy, at least, to be back in the Revelation. She decided she hated Mars. Dusty, old, archaic and ancient, it was the polar opposite of sleek Eleutheria, even if it were slightly more "free."

Free. At first that had been her impression as well. But the more Dalia thought about it, the less she really thought that was so; it was really the same as Eleutheria, when you got down to the core principals of it all.

Look at Cressida, she thought. Sixteen years old and trapped. What would her future have been? Farming rice? That's it. It was just as bad as being a factory worker in Eleutheria. And they didn't live as long, and they didn't have medical care, and- well, they lived like ancient Americans themselves.

Of course, she'd never say this to David, or to the girl herself. But still, it felt so much better to be back aboard her home-away-from-home again, floors bloodstained as they were and anxious as she was. (Not grieving- she refused to acknowledge that.)

A knock sounded suddenly on her bedroom door. 

"Come in," she called, not bothering to get up. The door swept upwards silently and Ace stepped in.

"Fancy a game of chess?" he asked. "Never played before, but Leski and David 've been showing me how."

Dalia didn't, really, but at least it would get her mind off the moping. 

"Just let me finish talking," she said, typing out another message to Kalyn. 

Lucky, she said. You're away from here. Planet's broken out in a warzone.

Yeah, I expected that, Dalia typed back. 

Alestra's been cutting heads off again, Kalyn said with a strange degree of conversationality that was not lost on Dalia.

Expected that, too, she typed back. Call me if you need anything. I'm coming. Meet me at base delta. A.P.

"You okay, dude?" Ace asked.

"Don't you start," Dalia said. 

"I'm trying to be friendly here."

"You aren't helping," she said.

He shrugged. "Lyra thinks I'm alright."

Dalia laughed. "Not to look down on Lyra, but she's barely sixteen, starry-eyed and has a head full of ideas about the Revolution. And she hasn't seen anything yet."

"Don't underestimate her," Ace warned.

"I'm being realistic. Come, let's play chess." She folded her comm back into a sleek metal bangle and waltzed out into 
the parlor.

Athena and Carina sat watching the viewscreen- mindless entertainment made by scientists to be as enthralling, distracting and useless as possible. Lyra looked shell-shocked and excited in a much, much too big white dress that trailed behind her even though it was ankle-length on Dalia. Leski grumpily moved a rook and David captured it. She huffed and Cressida rolled her eyes. 

Dalia tried not to be annoyed at her sister. Thirteen, hormonal, upset- but her attitude was getting on her nerves.

"Move over," Ace said, and Leski sighed dramatically

"WIll you quit it?" Athena asked. "You're getting annoying."

"My brother just died!" she complained.

"Brother you never knew," Athena said.

"Leave her alone," Carina whispered.

"When she stops whining."

"Leski, go take a nap," Dalia said. "You'll feel better."

"Shut up," Leski said, but stormed off to her room.

"Don't worry about her," David said. "She's just mad at the world. Cressida used to be the same way at thirteen. It's just a combination of what happened with Tee and this sudden new influx of information, plus hormones- she's a little crazy right now."

Thanks to me, Dalia thought, but didn't say it.

"You want to play with us?" Ace asked David. "She's got a three-way chess board."

"How did you find that?" Dalia asked. "I never play it three-way."

"I maybe snooped a little," Ace confessed.

Dalia sighed. "In what?"

"Nothing, really, the pantry mostly. And all those bedrooms on the starboard side."

"I don't think I've ever even been in the pantry," Dalia said. "Or the maids' rooms."

"Maids' rooms?" Lyra asked. "Holy- those were like suites!"

Dalia sighed. "I sound so stuck up, don't I?"

"Yes," Athena said.

"Not really," Ace said. "I mean, high-class, sure. But not stuck up."

"It just feels weird travelling in such a small group," Dalia said. "Normally we'd have staff, robots, et cetera."

"Where did this ship even go?" Ace asked. 

"Nowhere," Dalia said. "Out to the cities on the gas giants. We never even stopped at Mars or Pluto, which is odd because I'm named after Mars."

"Acidalia," Athena said. "Of Venus. Not Mars."

"Acidalia Planitia," Dalia corrected.

"'Of Venus' plain?"

"A plain on Mars," Carina said gently. 

"Right, the desolated dusty desert of death," Athena said. "I remember it now. That was the one I didn't pay any attention to in class because it was boring. Nice name."

"At least she wasn't born on Utopia," Cressida said. "And isn't there a bunch more, Dad?"

David smiled. "Amazonis, Argyre... I'd say you're lucky, Acidalia."

"Lucky," Athena snickered.

"Sorry, she gets sarcastic when she's tired," Carina said, motioning at her partner.

"Excuse me," Athena said, "I'm sarcastic 100% of the time anyway."

"Shush, Real Scientists of the Memnonia Quadrangle is on," Carina said. 

"I will never understand that stuff," Lyra sighed. Not that she'd ever had the opportunity to watch a viewscreen before- she didn't exactly have the money for one- but it looked so mindless.

"I don't get it, either," Ace said. 

"Leski loves it," Dalia laughed. "There's a reason for that, though."

"Which would be?" Ace asked. "School me, I'm clueless."

"It's engineered that way," Dalia said. "Scientists actively try to make it as entertaining yet mindless as they possibly can while shoehorning in the themes they want. Audience reactions, emotions, everything is so perfectly manipulated. And Dictatoria- that's the caste that's supposed to technically have power but function as a propaganda machine- essentially have complete control."

"I can't see how that would work," Lyra said. 

"It's very panem-et-circenses," Dalia said. "That is, a distraction. Say something important is happening in the upper levels. Remember last year's plague that killed half of the Elysia sector?"

"No," Lyra said.

"That's because of a combination of things specifically orchestrated to make you forget," Dalia sighed. "That week, a major view program killed off a bunch of innocent young girls in horrible gory ways."

"That's awful," Lyra said.

"And it kept people talking," Dalia replied. "At the same time, several very popular Incentor castes dropped albums. Auctores castes dropped sequels. No one but Elysians noticed the plague. And they killed anyone who made a big deal out of it."

Carina suddenly stopped watching the view program. "What?"

"That's absurd," Athena said. "They can't just keep everyone clueless because of TV and stuff."

"Why?" Lyra asked.

"Because if no one asks any questions, they don't have to provide answers," David said. 

Dalia nodded. "Very true. You know what a utopia versus a dystopia is, of course."

"'Course," Lyra said.

"A utopia is a place that's perfect for everyone," Dalia said. "A dystopia is terrible for everyone. I'm not going to lie. Eleutheria is a dystopia disguised as a utopia."

"But you have constant entertainment and riches and-" Cressida began.

"We're the one percent," Dalia said. 

"Trust me," Lyra snickered. "It isn't all sunshine. Actually, no sunshine."

"What does perfect sound like to you?" Dalia asked. "I want you to think about that."

"Perfect to me," Athena repeated. "I dunno. Experiments. Lots of 'em. The best equipment in the world. No supervision. Nothing to stop me. No supervisors. Infinite space, and subjects."

"Subjects," Dalia said. "And how do you think those subjects would feel?"

"Hey, you said perfect to me, not them," Athena said.

"But that wouldn't be perfect for everyone," Dalia argued. "Lyra?"

"What would I love?" she asked. "Nice clothes. Servants, I guess."

"And what about the people making those clothes or serving you?" Dalia asked. "See what I mean? If it's perfect for you, someone else has to make it perfect. So it isn't perfect, not for everyone."

"This is hurting my head," Cressida said. 

"My point is you can't have a utopia unless some people are going to be miserable. Eleutheria makes it seem like everything is great because they hide whatever isn't."

"Like me," Lyra said. "They hide the slums. They hide the plagues."

"Which is why it's a dystopia," Athena said. "Life sucks. I haven't ever thought about it like that before."

"To have a perfect world, you have to kill the wrong," Dalia said. "And to kill the wrong is to have an imperfect world."

"I see it," Cressida said. "A little. Not much, but I see it."

"Me too," Carina said, shutting off the viewscreen.

"You haven't seen the half of it," Dalia sighed. "The drinking water. It's always clean."

"So?" Lyra asked.

"We change genetic code by modifying it in the computer," Dalia said. "Then we export it- the computer extracts the genes we need, inserts them into man-made transport vesicles- DNA holders- and puts the vesicles in a drink."

"Yeah," Athena said. "Duh."

"Oh my god," Cressida said. "That's why everyone bows to the Ciphers."

"That's why," Dalia said. "I don't. I never have. But I could kill or cripple entire populations with the change of a single base."

Lyra's mouth dropped open.

"That's what started the stim addiction," Dalia said. "Years ago. I took out the gene, but it's still everywhere. Addiction doesn't leave."

"I never-" Lyra began.

"That's what they did," Dalia sighed. "I'm trying to reverse it, but the process takes years. That's why the Revolution has had such a problem. It's impossible, undoing years of damage so gradually."

Her communicator blinked again. Kalyn wanted to call her.

"Excuse me," Dalia said serenely, and unhooked the cuff. The sleek metal bracelet elongated into an earpiece. "Hello, Kalyn."

"What's up?"

"We're fine. How's Delta?" Base Delta was a hidden Revolutionary base, one of many, nestled into a hidden spot in a Terran slum. The rebellion itself operated mostly on a secure intranet-  like the ones they used to communicate. It was a network between thousands but entirely in cyberspace and under so many layers of encryption the only real danger were traitors selling out secrets- no outsider could possibly hack it. The bases were used for fugitives, runaways, or anyone without lodging or a place to stay in Eleutheria, as well as the occasional spy dropping off evidence or material that couldn't be safely digitized and sent through the net. 

"Don't worry 'bout Delta," Kalyn said. "'Sides, there's nothing important here. But they did get Epsilon."

"Dammit!" Ace swore. "Epsilon?!"

"How?" Dalia asked. Epsilon wasn't huge, but it had direct pathways to Alpha and Gamma if you looked closely enough.

"Tip-off by a traitor. The Movement's getting crazy down here and people want to be on the winning side. 

"I'm going to put you on speaker," Dalia decided. "Don't worry- secure environment and everyone here is trustworthy."

"I do not trust your judgement," Kalyn said, "but you are my superior."

"Just tell me everything that's happened," Dalia said.

"Stars, is that Kalyn e Cassandra?" Athena asked. "I know her!"

"Athena!" Kalyn said. "They said they killed you! Well, they said that about me, too-"

"Wait, why?" Athena asked.

"It's a sudden crackdown," Kalyn said. "I'd better start from the beginning. It all started when they tried to murder Dalia."

"Yes," Dalia said, "we are aware."

"So, um, she got away, as evidenced by the fact that she isn't dead. And Aleskynn, too, the younger one."

"Alive and well with us," Athena said.

"Good, I thought they might have just killed her and not told anyone yet. So anyway, they were met with a surprise bunch of soldiers, I guess, and those soldiers started fighting the murder team- you know they called it Operation Sundown? I like to call it Operation Stabby McDeathface. Anyway, there was this massive, brutal slaughter of like, fifty Revolutionary soldiers. Well, not massive when I say it's only fifty. But gory. I know Tee was killed."

"We are aware," Dalia sighed.

"Only about five or six escaped, but same goes for the other guys, so I guess it's all good," Kalyn continued.

"Only five or six escaped?" Lyra asked. "Wow, Ace."

"I got away wounded, though," he said. "Not bad. Broken arm. I put some of that stuff Dalia has in her pantry on it. Works like magic. That's the only reason I left my squad to follow you all."

Dalia laughed. "You're welcome to it. Continue, Kalyn?"

"So right afterwards, Alestra came out and told us all you were a Revolutionary and a traitor and they started a witch hunt. Anything that may have had anything to do with you or Leski, and random people they never cared about before. There was blood everywhere. Thousands of people flooded the bases, me included, 'cause things were getting wild."

"They kill anyone important?" Athena asked.

"No idea," Kalyn said. "We're keeping communication on the down-low so they hopefully won't recognize excess traffic. But we wanted to make sure our Aquilifer was safe."

"My technical Revolutionary title," Dalia explained. 

"So, anyway," Kalyn added, "the planet's become a war zone. Half the people up in the high castes are openly flying Movement flags, but the Revolution's always been more subtle, hasn't it?" She laughed dryly. "We're sending out full-on centuriae now. Anyone that can revolt is taking a stand, so if they see you missing or can't find you, the Movement has been just declaring you dead as to not have to worry about it."

"That's messed up," Athena said.

"I suppose I'm dead as well," Carina sighed. "I've been missing, too."

"So many people really are dead, though," Kalyn said. "Like I told you, full on centuriae. The planet's a war zone. Everyone's looting everything they can, the Revolution and the Movement are battling it out and anyone who doesn't take a stand for one is being slaughtered."

"What about the Miramans?" Dalia asked. 

"Miramans... they just made it past the asteroid belt," Kalyn sighed. "It's a mess. We need you down here."

"You know I'm coming," she said. "I have a handful of new recruits, as well."

"Anyone with anything cool?" Kalyn asked.

"Two Astronomicas. They could help the others. They've been surface recently and they'll know more."

"Surface?" Athena asked.

"Up there," Kalyn said. "Out in the open, in Eleutheria, not hiding. So that'll be Athena, huh? I knew most of these guys before that little stunt that sent me into the underground."

"You mean that time you destroyed the internet and half the computers of three different districts?" Athena asked. "That was for the Revolution?"

"Of course it was," Kalyn said. "If it makes you feel better, my mother didn't really disown me either- she's covering for me up there. Or at least she was. She's probably dead."

"Oh," Athena replied, not sure what to say.

"Anyway," Kalyn continued, "anyone else useful? Actually, just give me the names."

"Okay," Dalia said. "Cressida and David Seren. Martian. Agricultural specialists." That sounded much better than "farmers," Cressida thought.

"Excellent," Kalyn said.

"Then we have Athena e Stellara, Ciencia Astronomica, and Carina Nebula e Julia Maxima, also Ciencia Astronomica."

"Those the two from before?" Carina asked.

"Yes," Dalia said. 

"Cool, cool. I remember Carina. Always the quiet ones you gotta watch out for. I'll report this to Andromeda, right?"

"Absolutely," Dalia said. Andromeda was Kalyn's superior officer and leader of the Division for Protection of Endangered Individuals, was around Dalia's age. The DPEI was in charge of protecting and assimilating new recruits, especially those being actively persecuted- which was everyone, now.

"Alright. More?" Kalyn asked.

"My sister may as well be considered active now. Aleskynn e Alestra, Outcaste. You know that, though. And Lyra, Cantator."

"Lyra e who?" Kalyn asked.

"Lyra e no one," Lyra replied. 

"Good enough," Kalyn replied. "Cantator and a little sister. Let's see what Andromeda makes of you."

Great, Lyra thought. Even the Martian farmgirl is needed. I'm just as useless and captive as I was there.

"And I believe that's it," Dalia said. Herself, Leski, Carina, Athena, Lyra, Cressida, David, and- "Oh, and AX-"

"Ace!" Kalyn said. "Yeah, I know."

"Make sure this is a secure channel," Dalia added. "I'll sign off now. I don't want to be found out."

"Bye, Aquilifer," Kalyn said. "See you at Delta if we all don't explode."

She hang up.

"Wow," Athena said. "You know, Lyra, that's who I was looking for before you steered me away from it with fake info."

"Leave her alone," Ace said. "If she hadn't escaped the planet earlier, she'd be dead. And if Athena didn't believe her, she wouldn't have been able to plot with Carina to save Dalia. And then most of us would be dead in the planetwide riot Kalyn says they incited."

"Thanks," Lyra said in a small voice.

They lapsed into silence once more, hearing nothing but the soft droning of the Revelation and the click-click of moving chesspeices.

Author's Note:

Three way chess is real, and it's awesome!

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