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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10. Imperium

 

The Revelation landed swiftly, with a soft thud, but that didn't stop Cressida from yelling out in surprise. Even her father looked anxious. The others, though, seemed unaffected.

"That's the softest I've ever seen a ship land," Lyra said. "You're lucky. Most are louder than this."

"Lucky," Cressida repeated, feeling slightly green. The inky blackness of space had vanished, and the twinkling stars had been replaced with synthetic neon lights that covered every building. There wasn't any natural anything anywhere. Everything seemed artificial, somehow. It was exciting, but it didn't have the same natural beauty as Mars did for her.

Look at Aleskynn, she thought. Leski had finally changed sullenly out of her wrecked clothes into something nicer. Like her sister, she was covered in flashy jewels and platinum. The opals that covered her hair in elaborate brooches and pins were beautiful, but fake. They had that made-in-a-lab quality, almost too bright, too shiny. Maybe not so much Lyra, or Ace, but the rest of the Eleutherians had a gaudy, faux, even uncanny-valley look to them. Was that what it meant to be rich, here? To have almost nonhuman features, to look at strange as possible?

"I will be right back," Dalia said softly. She disappeared around a corner for a minute.

"What's she doing?" Aleskynn asked.

"She's your sister," Athena said, shrugging.

Dalia came around again, this time wearing slightly more practical white pants and less jewelry. She held a bin that looked like a briefcase, with sleek silvery handles. 

"What's in there?" Leski asked.

"Weapons," Dalia replied matter-of-factly. She unhooked the hinges and put her eye up to a scanner.

"What are you doing?" Leski asked again.

"Using the iris scanner. Now stop asking me nonstop questions."

"Fine," Leski huffed.

The case opened to reveal a bigger-than-it-looked inside stocked with laser pistols. Dalia took one for herself and strapped it into a holster on her thigh. Cressida wanted to laugh- she looked like a strange mixture between an aristocrat, with the rings on her fingers and her elaborate braided hair, and a foot soldier.

"Does anyone else here know how to shoot?" she asked.

Ace, David and Athena all raised hands. Carina looked at her partner reproachfully. 

"Take these," Dalia said, tossing small black objects to each.

"Damn, these are nice," Ace said. "Better than my cohort ever got. Better than half the soldiers in the legion, actually."

"They're fully charged," Dalia said. "Don't waste it. I have portable battery packs, but I'd really rather not have to use them, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Athena said. She picked up the gun and it accidentally fired at a wall. Dalia tried to give her a dirty look, but she just giggled. Athena scowled. 

"Shut up," she said.

"What about us?" Carina asked nervously. "What are we going to do?"

"Well, those are all the guns I have, so you all get knives," Dalia sighed.

"How do I use a knife?" Carina asked, a bit hysterically. 

"Really?" Athena groaned. "Stabby stab, aim for the spleen."

"Why the spleen?"Ace said. "Not the brain? Heart?"

"Dunno, I just like the word 'spleen.'"

"No 'stabby stabby' unless it's in self defense," Dalia sighed, handing Carina a laser blade. "And you should really educate yourself on anatomy. Here, Lyra, take one."

Lyra accepted it gratefully. On ground level, she'd use regular metal kitchen knives as weapons. If she ever got into a scuffle, she'd have been killed, but it felt better than going with nothing. She liked laser blades a lot more.

"I can shoot a rifle," Cressida offered. "A hunting one, with a metal bullet."

"Rifle," Dalia said. "Like one of those trophy guns people collect?"

"Yeah."

"I probably have one around here somewhere, but I rarely ever use them. They're such a hassle- bullets, reloading, and that awful kickback when you shoot, but if you can do it-"

"I can," Cressida assured her. 

"Check the game room," Dalia said. "There's probably one in the closet. Alestra collected quite a few, though it wasn't like she'd know how to use one. Bullets and whatever else are probably in her room."

"Where is that?" Cressida asked.

"Down the right hallway, three doors down is the gameroom, then- actually, Leski, you show her.'

Leski gave her sister a loathing look. "And what do I get?"

"You are thirteen," Dalia said, "so you get chemical spray." She handed her a bottle.

"That's it?" she whined.

"We're probably not even going to have to use this," Dalia sighed. "You'll be fine. And you can't shoot anyway."

"Why don't I get a knife?"

"You're liable to accidentally stab yourself," Dalia said. "Now show Cressida where the-"

"Fine," Leski huffed. David gave Dalia a knowing look and Cressida glared at him.

"So," Athena said nonchalantly, "where are we going? Because this landing pad doesn't look like a base to me."

"Wait," Dalia said. "Lyra, hand me that holocube."

Lyra tossed the small chrome cube to her. She put it to her eye again for another scan, entered a few passcodes and muttered something under her breath. 

"Acidalia Planitia, Aquilifer," she said to the cube. Lyra noticed she left out the Alestra, Cipher part. 

And then suddenly, the ground began to dissolve. Cressida ran out from the game room to the window, staring at the expanse of ground below her. In a hexagonal pattern, pieces folded up and away into the wall. She had never seen anything like it before.

"Does this happen all the time?" she asked over the sound of the pieces moving into the wall.

"No," Leski said, looking nervous. "Come on, let's go ask them."

Cressida trailed her out to the cockpit where the others stood, gaping for the most part.

"I must confess," Dalia said finally, "I was unaware that would happen."

"You've never been to Delta before?" Athena asked. "You said you knew what you were doing!"

"I manage what we call the overworld," she said. "The city itself. I work in enemy territory. I am- was- a double agent, not an underground officer."

Athena began a retort, but then the ship fell down and she let out an involuntary shriek. Dalia clutched the armrests of her chair and everyone else screamed.

"It's fine," Dalia assured them. "It's supposed to happen." But she still clenched her teeth. Cressida still stood at the window until her father pulled her back, Carina and Leski clung to each other, and Lyra braced herself for impact, but impact never came. The ship floated gently down the dark passage as the floor sealed above them. 

"What is even happening?" Lyra asked nervously. "I'm so confused!"

"Military ships do this all the time," Ace said reassuringly. "It's a channel to bring things into the literal underground."

"Like below the surface?" Lyra asked. 

"Even lower than ground level," Ace said. "I know that in the Ignis sector there are entire channels devoted to the military. None in Terra, though, or Appalachia."

The ship came to a soft stop and was pulled sideways by some sort of pulley system. From the window, Cressida could only see black. David tried not to look agitated. 

Years ago, he'd been like Ace- funny, witty, bright, definitely had a thing for a girl. Only David's "thing with a girl" went too far, and he was forced to leave the military before they killed him. He felt a twinge of nationalistic pride, of patriotism, the minute they landed- but he had to remind himself, these feelings weren't real

He was constantly torn between hating Eleutheria and loving it like a red-blooded Appalachian. On one hand, it had raised him as a child soldier, separated him from his girlfriend, forced him off planet if he wanted his daughter to survive. On the other- well, there was nothing that logically made him love the place. It wasn't rooted in logic, it was rooted in something as primal as DNA, as natural as man's craving for food and water and war. Every man loved Eleutheria as every man wanted food. It wasn't a conscious choice. It was programmed into them.

He saw Mars in much the same way Lyra did- as freedom. He made a name for himself- literally- and a career. He'd fought off the impulses they'd forced into his genome- the impulses to kill. He couldn't stop thinking about what Dalia had said before- plasmids in the drinking water.

They subdued entire populations that way. That was why everyone was so good at jobs they didn't choose- it was instinct. Why the soldiers want to kill, why the scientists are curious, why the Ciphers need power and the lowlives stay low. His whole life- his entire body- was a program written by someone else.

He'd decided early on Cressida wouldn't have that fate. But now- maybe it would have been better for her to grow up here. The technological miracles David had never gotten to see before, the beautiful lights, the swirling marble clouds of black- maybe he should have left her with her young mother, let her become an Eleutherian-

Or maybe it was the instinct forcibly programmed in his mind.

He felt like he was losing his grip. His sanity was slipping, teetering on the edge between love and hate- 

"Dad?" Cressida asked. "You okay?"

David realized he'd been staring at nothing for the past five minutes while he got lost in his imagination.

"Fine," he said gruffly. "Let's go."

"Ready?" Dalia asked. "Weapons ready, just in case."

Cressida slung the rifle over her shoulder, realized it was too heavy and began carrying it awkwardly in her arms.

"That's very unsafe," David pointed out.

"Granted, nothing about this is safe," Carina sighed.

"I'm opening the door," Dalia warned. The door slid upwards and vanished. Lyra gaped.

Thousands of people must have been milling around there. Thousands. Soldiers like Ace and Tee, milling around with less armour and less sternness but with the same easy gait as boys who aren't taking things seriously. Even female soldiers, she noticed. Women just like her, acting just like Ace. Everything echoed against the black domed ceiling, creating a loud and wonderful cacophony of noise. It seemed like an easy place to get lost in.

Carina looked nervously around, dark eyes darting from one thing to another as fast as they could. She felt overwhelmed. Even Dalia didn't seem at home, exactly.

Together, they stepped down from the ship. A few people galnced at them curiously, but no one said anything. No one really noticed them save for a few people waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Uneasily, Lyra grabbed Ace's hand and stepped slowly, but Athena sprinted down the ramp like she was being chased.

"Andromeda!" Dalia exclaimed, running to shake hands with a friend. Carina glanced at the pair, and struggled not to recoil.

The woman's skin was torn from her face, just above her ear, down to her left thigh. But there wasn't any blood, there were- 

Circuits. She was a cyborg.

"What's wrong with your face?" Aleskynn asked candidly. David glared at her.

"Hmm? Oh, the plastiskin tore again. It's no big deal," she said. "Happens a lot. I snag it on stuff. It's a lot weaker than normal skin."

"Why are you like that, though?" Leksi interrupted again.

"Massive burns in a fire at the factory," she replied candidly. "I was only about ten or eleven. They offered to fix me up here, and well, I couldn't say no because I looked terrible and probably almost dead. And then I got involved in this whole thing..."

"Do you have to join when you're a kid?" Carina asked. "Because I'm fifteen, and-"

"No, you don't," Andromeda assured her.

"I was fourteen," Dalia said. "Half of the people that join us are teenagers. You're fine."

"All of you, come with me," Andromeda said. "I'll take you for processing. C'mon."

"Wait," Dalia said, "where are the other Aquilifers? I want to talk to them."

"Elevators are to the left, you want floor 271 left wing."

"Thanks," Dalia said. "Oh, and we'll have to talk later."

"Absolutely," Andromeda said. "Oh, and, there should be a program for navigating the place in your cuff."

"Thanks," Dalia said cheerily, and walked off. She felt a lot better in this complex than she did Mars, the land where she'd technically been born- it was less rustic, less raw, more synthetic, and she was more comfortable that way. 

"Follow me," Andromeda said. She led the group to an elevator packed with people. There was the unfamiliar lurch as it soared downwards. Carina felt uncomfortable. She wondered if she wanted to be "processed."

The elevator continued for what seemed like forever, but was probably only ten minutes. The doors kept opening on different floors, and the sheer amount of bizarre people that got on and disembarked was enormous. People like Andromeda, with obvious cybernetic implants. People like Cressida, off worlders. No one even batted an eyelash when the group left the lift and entered another small, darker room.

Nervously, Cressida grabbed her father's hand. He clutched it right back. This place made him feel cramped and anxious. It was so unlike the rural Martian plains where he raised his daughter- the entire place brought back strange feelings. Like before, he felt a combination of fear, trepidation, and pride that made him worry if he was truly in control of his own mind.

The younger soldier, Ace, seemed absolutely fine with it, which settled David's nerves a little. He sat down in a black chair, spinning from side to side and tapping his foot, whistling casually like none of it even mattered. David supposed none of it did, for him.

"Right," Andromeda said, sitting at the center of the table. "Gimmie a quick backstory."

"You don't do this for everyone," Ace said. "Normally you just-"

"Yeah, normally we don't care," Andromeda replied. "But with the rioting and the craziness on the surface, well, we better be careful. Besides, I kind of want to know your backstories. Don't lie, I can tell." She fixed an unnervingly blue eye at him, in contrast to her natural brown one.

Ace looked around. "Well, I was a soldier. TB-2115, Dalia's brother, recruited me. I don't know. He and I shared a bunk room, I started to notice his involvement, and well, his policies just seemed to make a lot of sense. I was with my platoon, but broke my arm, and a lot of people died, and I wasn't sure who I could trust and who I couldn't, and it was all very complicated, but, long story short, I wound up finding everyone else here on Mars."

"Alright, that adds up," Andromeda said callously. "Besides, I already know about you. Next. Gimmie full name and story." 

"Athena e Stellara, Ciencia," Athena said. "So me and Carina picked up a ship that crashed on the radar, but they wouldn't tell us what it was even though we could obviously tell. Naturally, I went to go find Kalyn- you know her- 'cause she always has a pretty good idea of what's happening, but I accidentally hit Lyra with a car, and then we started talking, and then she fed me fake information so I'd take her up to the surface and then skedaddled."

"Pretty much," Lyra sighed.

"Anyway, then Carina told me they want to murder a Cipher, so I got involved because murder is interesting."

"That's... a way to put it," Carina said.

"So we get there without a plan in mind other than 'tell Dalia she's about to get ambushed,' and that's when Dalia got ambushed. So Aleskynn- Leski, whatever- and us got out because all the focus was on trying to kill Dalia. Then she escaped, we got on the Revelation and ran off to Mars, then Ace showed up and told us to come back."

"That sums it up," Cressida said. "I'm Cressida Seren. My dad is David. And her story was pretty much, well, it. Lyra showed up one day, and then a few days later so did an entire ship full of people, and then Ace said we all had to leave because more soldiers would come later."

"Right," Andromeda said. "Lyra. Why were you there earlier?"

"I decided to leave Eleutheria," she said. "So I convinced Athena to get me up to the surface, then I snuck onto a ship, then Ace found me and told me he'd leave me on Mars for the time being. So he did. Then everyone else showed up, and Ace came back and said we'd have to leave. So... we did."

"Full name?" Andromeda asked.

"Lyra. Cantator."

"Anything else?" 

"Just Lyra." She wondered if there would ever come a day when she'd stop being 'just' Lyra. 

Slowly, Carina recounted her own story, then David and the rest. EVentually, everyone had given bits of information, except Leski.

"I don't have to tell you," she pouted.

"Actually, you do," Andromeda said.

"Why?"

"I run this sector," she said, much like a mother answering her toddler's frequent "how comes?" and "whys?"

"What caste are you?" Leski asked.

"What has given you the impression that it matters?"

"Caste always matters."

"It doesn't have to," Carina said softly.

"Yes, it does!" Leski said. "All you people should be listening to me!"

"You're nothing but a whiny teenager," Athena scoffed. "Right, sorry, we'll listen to you because you were born to a sociopath that tried to murder your sister."

"My ancestors were great," Leski protested.

"Man, have you been indoctrinated or what?" Andromeda asked. "Don't worry, you aren't the first kid that's been filled up with propaganda about how much better you are."

"Will you just tell her what happened?" Lyra asked. 

"Fine. I was going to be a Cipher, because I'm better at it than Dalia is."

"That is not what happened, and you know it," Cressida said. 

"Yes it was. Anyway, apparently that couldn't happen, because Dalia didn't want me to-"

"She didn't want to die," Ace said. "It was not an offense against you personally."

"Whatever," Aleskynn scoffed. "So all these guys show up, and try to kill me-"

"They were not trying to kill you," Carina sighed. "They were trying to put you in power because you'd be easier to manipulate."

"And then my brother died!" Leski finished. Pouting, she sat back in her seat. 

"You are so aggravating," Athena complained. 

"Eh, I've seen lots of kids like that," Andromeda sighed. "She'll get over it. I've drafted your assignments, look."

"Already?" Ace asked.

"We have a lot of positions to fill. Carina, Athena, you're working with Kalyn in the science wing. Also bunking together."

"Neat," Athena said.

"Ace, you're alone for now. You know the ropes, so I'm not going to go through it all again."

Ace sighed. Normally, he'd be placed with Tee. But... well.

"Cressida, you're with your father. I'm putting you both down for agriculture, but we can always change that later. I'm just trying to play on what you know."

"I'm okay with that," David said.

"Great, we need more agricultural specialists."

"We're just farmers," Cressida said.

"Potato, potato. Same thing."

"What's a potato?" Lyra asked.

Cressida looked at her incredulously, but Andromeda interrupted again before she could say anything.

"Lyra, how good are you at dealing with kids?" she asked.

Lyra shrugged. "I mean, I haven't really done it much. But I'm fine with it."

"Great, you're a child care specialist."

"Why do you have kids here?"she asked.

"Not voluntarily. Most of our members are parents, you know. Some are refugees, some are from god-knows-where, some are accidents."

"What- oh." 

"Yup."

Lyra shuffled uncomfortably, remembering the woman from the spaceport that had pulled her child away from her, eyeing her suspiciously. 

"What is it?" Andromeda asked.

"I just- will people be, like, okay with that? With me- watching their kids?"

"Why not?" She looked nonplussed.

"I'm a Cantator." 

"Like that matters."

"It does," Leksi piped up.

"Well, you're gonna have to get used to the change real quick, 'cause she here is your new babysitter," Andromeda laughed. Leski looked as offended as it was possible to look.

"Please tell me you're kidding," she moaned. "I don't need a babysitter. I'm thirteen!"

"Can you even boil water without a robot's help?" Athena asked.

"No," Leski said defeatedly.

"There you go. You need a babysitter."

"But the castes-"

"Listen," Ace said. "No one here cares about that. Surprise, surprise, people don't blindly follow you because of who you were born as anymore. Get over it. Lyra is just as much of a human being as you are.

"I was born as a lowly factory worker and it's people like you, who don't care about basic human rights, that caused this." Andromeda put her hand under her eye and pulled down, revealing a gaping hole of circuits and pieces of computers. "I was ten years old when my face was burned badly enough to fall off  my body and show the bone underneath. I still can't be around fire. I still can't stand smoke. And if it were left up to people like you, I'd have been dead twenty times over and half the people in this base wouldn't be standing here listening to me talk about human rights violations. We all have the right to live, everyone from Ciphers to Servorum to Laborem like me and Cantatores like Lyra. Get used to it."

"But-"

"Don't underestimate us. It's a dangerous game to play," Andromeda finished.

Leski sunk back in her chair, defeated.

Author's Note

One of the coolest things about writing sci-fi is not having to deal with guns and how they work. Everyone has lasers and cool sci-fi weapons, so I don't have to learn anything about guns and reduce the chance of making myself sound like an idiot. It's nice.

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