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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19. Luxuria

It hadn't even been thirty seconds before the Revolutionaries were swallowed completely by an unforgiving mass of screaming people. Athena felt herself jostled interminably by the chaos, but the flashing lights were half-blinding and she couldn't hear anything over the sounds of shrieking. Magistraum police shot aimlessly into the crowd, but it was completely ineffective, and they were killing their own just as much as they were killing everyone else. The whir of laser weapons just added to the constant droning noise.

Someone seemed to be calling her name over the insanity, but she could only hear it faintly- people were screaming slurs at each other, slurs at the Ciphers, down with this and down with that. She had no idea whether they were protesting Loyalism, the Revolution, or the current regime- or maybe the proletariat just wanted something to rally against. 

Athena realized with a start she couldn't see anyone she had come out here with. They'd been lost in the sheer mass of people.

Crap.

She had no idea where the secret passages were for the soldiers or whatever they wanted to do- she was stuck without them.

"Carina! Artemis!"

Her voice was in the screams. Just a few feet in front of her, a woman collapsed to the floor and blood sputtered out of her chest and into the street. Panic rose in Athena's throat. 

Another girl fell.

There was no word to describe it other than massacre. Half-dead people stumbled around, holding intestines in with their hands. Blood spurted into the air like a fountain from a dead man lying in the street, coating the surroundings with the scarlet liquid. It brought to mind the images she'd grown up seeing as a precaution for lab safety- Biologica girls dying of deadly diseases caught from mishandling of fluids. Athena wanted to back away, but there was nowhere to back away to.

"Ace! Lyra! Carina! Carina! Rina!" She knew no one would hear her. "Rina! Anyone!"

"Praeterita obliviscentes!" Distantly, she heard one phrase over the general hysteria: the beginning of one of Eleutheria's favorite propaganda phrases. Forget the past. For the sound of it to reach her ears, thousands must have been screaming; she didn't know if it was mocking or literal. Were these supporters or rebels? Which rebels?

"Clara est et futurae!" Bright is the future. Something from above began to collapse; she could hear the telltale sound of creaking fortisteel and shattering glass. Frantically, the crowd realized they were probably about to be killed and moved to the side. Athena jostled with them just in time to see a massive statue of some political leader fall five hundred stories, six hundred, seven, eight, nine hundred stories and smash against the ground amidst cheers from those above. Shards of alabaster and platinum embedded themselves deep into the skin of anyone close by; masked soldiers were spared, but women clung at their bleeding faces, stumbled around blindly. 

"Praeterita obliviscentes! Clara es et futurae!" She realized suddenly it was a mockery of Eleutheria's motto, with the city's regime being the forgotten past and the rebellion the promising future- were these protesters Loyalists? Revolutionaries? Did it matter?

Down here in the masses, it may well not have. It had no meaning. Nothing meant anything.

"Carina!" she called again, though she knew it was helpless. "Rina!"

A soldier cocked his laser pistol, shot into a crowd. A cybernetic arm fell to the ground. Athena didn't even question what had happened to its owner. If she stayed in this any longer, she was going to die. It was only a matter of time. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to back away to, with so many thousands of people all pushing against each other, soldiers and police shooting at random, propaganda being torn up and shattered only to be replaced with Loyalist chants...

***

Lyra clung to Ace's arm as hard as she could, screaming and trying desperately not to be separated. He wished anxiously for a stimshot, the epinephrine soldiers injected before battle- it was a weird feeling, being in these crowds, and not having the adrenaline to accompany it.

Things fell from above and rose up from below- a cloud of something white and dusty began to rise. 

"Get down!" Lyra screamed to him. "Cover your face! Get down!"

He'd never seen anything like it before, the way the material fluttered in the wind and expanded over the heads of those around them.

"Ace, please! Cover your face and get down!" With surprising strength, she pulled him under, and he noticed with a start that women in black were kneeling or crouching with their hands over their eyes or their dresses tucked over their faces everywhere. Lyra pulled up the fabric of the jacket she wore and flipped down the goggles of her too-big armor, and Ace did the same, though he didn't know why. Agonized, incoherent screaming rose up over the protesters as shouts of "Clara es et futurae" faded into shrieks.

"What is this?!" he shouted. "Lyra, what's happening?"

She could barely hear him, but threw herself closer to him, crowding herself against his chest and burying her face in his shirt. "Ketacyanide bomb!" Her voice was muffled, half-inaudible. 

A ketacyanide bomb. Ace had never seen one in action in his life.

He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and pulled Lyra closer, so close she could hardly breathe. Ketacyanide was one of the deadliest weapons known to mankind; a single injection or a pill could kill a person. When it was dispersed in the air like this, anyone nearby could suffocate, suffered chemical burns in their lungs and on their skin, be blinded near-instantly. They never used them in the military anymore after it was discovered the effect on Miramans was minimal. The only place you could see a bomb like that was in a gang war.

That explained how Lyra recognized it.

A stampede of people had began as everyone rushed to get away from the bomb, but when Ace opened his eyes for a split second, he saw yet another being released in the distance. They made a loud, but not entirely unpleasant, whoosh sound, and the gas they emitted was a powder white that created pretty swirls against the never ending black and neon of the slums; nevertheless, he knew better than to look at it.

***

Artemis couldn't breathe. She shut her eyes against the world, trying to control the panic rising in her throat, to no degree. Her very lungs themselves screamed in pain, even as she felt herself knocked to the ground and trampled. Another small canister, only the size of a few centimetrons, landed beside her from above, and began to emit a strange sound. She glanced at the device, and instantly fell backwards again, shrieking and clawing at her face. She opened her eyes one more time, and saw her flesh bubbling and charring, turning black and sloughing off in pieces; she didn't even feel anything but an overwhelming sense of fear. The world faded to a white-and-silver cloud, and then she couldn't see anything-it was not blackness, it was nothingness. Her mouth and nostrils stung horribly before the pain crept somewhere deeper within her, into her stomach and brain and everywhere.

Help, she begged, but all that came out was an inhuman, gurgling sound. She dared not open her mouth again. Sensations came and went- she could see nothing, as if she were looking into the void, feel nothing but pain and the drip of hot red liquid from everywhere on her body she touched, taste nothing but the iron of blood.

Then it was gone. Somehow, nothingness was gone. Pain. Taste. Feeling. All gone. The world faded into oblivion.

***

The future is bright. The future is bright. The future is bright.

Lyra pressed her face closer to Ace and pulled down her helmet over her head- not that it would help; these weren't meant for ketacyanide.

"Move!" she shouted over the unending din of the screaming crowd. "Get inside!" 

"Inside where?"

"It doesn't matter!" These bombs dispersed quickly; if they didn't get clean air they'd suffocate. People were already dropping down like flies or lab rats, and Lyra was sure they'd be next if she didn't get out of here.

"This way!" She felt herself pulled sideways, jerked to the side, then slammed into a woman in black. There was no room to move- the floor was littered with corpses, people stumbled around and into each other, and every time someone dropped dead another person took their place. After several seconds of struggling, Ace pulled out his pistol, pressed it to the back of the man in front of him, and pulled the trigger. Lyra shut her eyes again against the flash of the laser as she was pulled into the place he'd just been, Ace yelling and shaking his gun and mowing down anyone standing between them. She felt compelled to scream out for him to stop, but she already felt her nose and mouth stinging under the mask, a telltale sign of poisoning, and it would be useless anyway.

A Magistratus shot at the place they'd just been standing; blue laser bolts flashed beside the pair. 

"Don't shoot!" a man yelled. Save your breath, Lyra thought. She chanced opening her eyes for a second; they were relatively close to a building. 

"Ace, there!"

"Got it- argh!"

"Are you okay?"

"My eyes!"

"Keep them shut!"

His response was lost. Clara est et futurae. Bright is the future, bright is the future, bright is the future... the cry was a mockery of everything Eleutheria had stood for. The utopia in the sky, the attractively neon-lit, almost cyberpunk streets, the glass castles stretching up and into eternity- all of it was a lie.

Finally, she felt herself careening into a doorway; Ace pulled her back up again and tore off his helmet, sputtering. Lyra peered at his face- his nose was bleeding, badly, and blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.

"Are you okay?" she asked, half-hysterical. "Can you see?!"
    
He blinked, spat crimson blood. "I think so. You?"

"I'm fine- seen stuff like that before, but never all at once, never with that many people." Her eyes stung. "Oh stars, where are the others?!"

"There's some sort of communication system in here," Ace said, pointing to the helmet. "They disabled it, or maybe it was broken."

"Can you fix it?"
    
"I can try- I was a specialist, technology, Tee and I-"
    
"Please, try!" Lyra said.

"I am!" He pulled off his helmet and peered into the inside, blinking back tears from his stinging eyes. "I was right, it was just disabled."

"Why would they have disabled it?" 

"Stop the Movement from tracking us, I guess- but that's not important. We have to find each other, come up with a plan to get out of here."

"Can you get it back on?"

"I think so. Ugh." He spat out more blood, his mouth filled with the taste of iron. Lyra's nose started to bleed. "It wants- never mind. Got it. Can you hear me?"

"Yes!" His voice came through on her helmet, clear as Martian daylight. "Anyone else? Can you hear us?"

"Lyra! Thank the stars! Are you-"

'We're fine, who is this?" Ace asked.

"Carina- everything is white and I'm hiding, should I-"

"No!" Lyra practically yelled. "Cover your face! Do not breathe it and do not let it get in your eyes! It's ketacyanide; it can and will kill you in a heartbeat!"

"What do I do?" She sounded panicked.

"Rina, relax," another voice came through.

"Athena?" Ace asked.

"Yes. You mean to tell me there was a communication system in here the whole time?"

"It was disabled- I'll explain later," Lyra explained hurriedly. "That's four of us. Artemis?"

No response.

"Artemis?" she tried again.

Dead silence. 

"Artemis! Are you okay?" Carina called. 

"Artemis e Luna Minora!" Ace shouted. "If you hear me, say affirmative! Or yes! I don't care, just say something!"
    
"Maybe her helmet is broken?" Carina asked.

Lyra looked out a bent window. Gas from the bombs rose into the cold darkness, illuminated by flickering neon signs advertising services from people who were probably long-dead. The chances of their friend being out there, alive, were minimal. And the chances of her living even if she wasn't yet dead were even worse.

In a screaming crowd, a young soldier tripped and fell onto a burning, bloody corpse of a woman; her raven hair and ebony skin seemed to dissolve along with his vision as the ketacyanide gas crept into his eyes, his mouth. He, too, faded into nonexistence to the sounds of "Artemis! Artemis, please!"

***

"My daughter! What happened to my daughter?" Thea screamed. "Cassandra, please, my daughter-"

"I know, I know," Cassandra said, trying not to panic herself. She'd never even met the girl before, but the motherly part in her, the part that had screamed in alarm when Kalyn had come home that day saying Mom, I think I messed up when all those systems had crashed and everything had gone to hell before the Revolution said, hey, join us- that part, that instinctive protectiveness, pity, called out to the woman. 

Thea's mind screamed in panic. She'd long since forgotten about picking up the shreds of her epic teenage love affair- any thoughts of David, any thoughts of romance for herself, had vanished when that bomb went off in Estella's face. They had been so close to safety, so close to being away from the fire and the shooting and the violence- and she'd taken one step too far and here they were. 

"Do you think you can save her?" Thea half-begged. 

"We can try." Cassandra hadn't seen the girl, but this was always tricky territory; advanced prosthetics were in short supply. The Medsec had been trying to triage everything but it was failing miserably; there were just too many people dead and dying. 

Still, she didn't want to tell Thea.

Everything was broken and crowded instead of the militaristic, pretty organization she needed. Soldiers that had once been in neat lines now stormed to their own deaths, wearing barely functional armor and broken headsets, young men and women ready to give up everything for the cause- a cause they had no reason to support anymore.

Eleutheria had always been simmering with this anger, bubbling with hatred and rage under the surface. Humanity could not be kept as a caged animal. People would always bite back at their captors.

A civilization in chains could not stay that way. This city would return to its beginnings. A society built on the idea of a rebirth after a massive die-out was in Eleutheria's genesis, and it would be in its resurrection. Cassandra could only hope this innocent girl would not be one of the fatalities, but seemed unlikely.

From ashes the city came, and to ashes it would return.

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