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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13. Populi Sidernum

 

Raeilya stared at the camera.

Three humans. Leaders, likely. Perhaps scientists. They stood outside the entrance to the ship, shuffling and moving nervously. They didn't look exactly like her notes, but new species rarely did.

The one in the center- she assumed it was a woman- had brown skin, contrasting the two others' pink, and hair the same shade of the oceans on her homeworld. The other female may not have been human at all; her arm hung limply at her side, flashing with light like that of a damaged gynoid, and half her face glowed silver in the light. The final human was different- Raeilya would have placed him in his forties or fifties in Earth years- was this place still called Earth?- and he was by far the most like the images depicted on her photocards. Stocky, strong, almost definitely a man.

"Should we let them in?" Cadé asked behind her. 

"I suppose there's no more waiting." Raeilya had only been Chosen for the overseer of new species to pass the filter sixteen years ago. It was a short time. The last species near Polaris had gone wild with their newfound discoveries, destroyed their entire society. Everyone had died.

Technically, they weren't even supposed to be doing this- meeting the humans. But she couldn't stand seeing another civilization collapse unnecessarily, and if that meant breaking Lightyear codes, so be it. The Mira had always been on their own, anyway.

***

"Are you nervous?" Dalia asked.

"Me?" Andromeda shuffled anxiously. "Not a chance. No way. Nuh-uh."

"We all are," Atlas said.

"Yeah, I take that back, I'm terrified." Andromeda tugged at the end of her ponytail."

"Wait," Dalia said. "Something's happening."

The previously opaque door they stood in front of was slowly becoming translucent. The three felt a slight feeling of heat as the door faded away.

"Atom replacement technology," Dalia said, awed. "Kalyn said they can only do that on specific tiny molecules."

"Can we... go in?" Andromeda stuck a hand through. She felt a slight resistance, but was able to push through completely. By the time Dalia and Atlas stepped forward, there was no door.

Inside the ship, something fizzled and sparked. A pale, gaseous substance emitted from the ceiling.

What is that? Dalia wondered, but then it hit her face, and she took a deep breath. Mist. Pure, cool mist.

She looked at the other two. "Where do we go?"

"I say we just wait here," Andromeda sighed, turning her face up to the vapor. "This feels nice."

"Let's wait," Atlas agreed.

Small silver bands dropped from the ceiling. Some sort of earpiece. "I think they're translators," Andromeda said, slipping hers into her ear with no sign of being wary. The other two waited a moment to see if anything happened, but she looked fine. Dalia and Atlas put the other earpieces in their own ears. They didn't talk for a few minutes.

At least they don't seem murderous, Dalia thought. And they were water-lovers. Miramans seemed relatively nice. 

Then she noticed a silhouette behind the vapor. Two silhouettes. As they stepped into the light, she made out their features.

Both looked vaguely feminine, in an odd way. One was a pale violet, with slick, oily hair that reached down to her waist. If one went by the human gender binary, she was obviously a woman, with a slim figure and curved hips. The other, a baby blue shade with equally long hair, but in braids instead of down, was more androgynous. Both had wide eyes with a kaleidoscopic look, and the light reflected off their irises. Small notches under their eyes and a strangely flat nose completed the look of beauty, but complete otherworldliness.

Dalia felt something move in her stomach. They were gorgeous, but unsettling- human, but not. Wrong. Too like humanity but at the same time different. Uncanny. They brought up the same feeling in her as those terrifyingly realistic but not quite there androids- too close for comfort. 

"Greetings."

The humans jumped back, startled. 

"How do you-" Andromeda began, but Dalia interrupted her.

"Hello," she said back, softly.

The violet woman extended a hand- three webbed fingers, no fingernails. Dalia hesitated. It was risky- who knew how many diseases they could be transmitting, or if touching them was even safe? What if their skin was corrosive?

"Is this not the standard human method of contact upon a first greeting?

Her words didn't match up with the movements of her mouth, Dalia noticed. It was like a broken hologram that didn't move with the audio. She wasn't actually speaking Latin. She was speaking something else, and it was being translated in real-time audio.

Dalia extended a hand anyway. The alien was cold to the touch, and her skin was wet- not slimy, but damp. Both of them wore black tunics over black leggings, with black shoes. Their clothes were form-fitting but allowed freedom of movement. By Eleutherian standards, they looked like Laborum- common workers, like what Andromeda had been- but Miraman standards had to be different. Common workers wouldn't be used for first contact, would they?

She examined her hand where they had touched. Nothing happened. It was just wet. 

"We welcome you to our planet," she said, choosing her words carefully. "We apologize for the years of unnecessary warfare. I am afraid it was out of the control of the majority."

"Why would a minority dictate the actions of the majority?" She pronounced her t's like d's.

"That is what my political platform is trying to fix," Dalia sighed. "I am Acidalia Planitia. What are you called?"

"Acid-alley-uh plan-eesh-uh," she repeated. "What does it mean?"

"Acidalia Planitia is our name for a plain on Mars," Dalia said. "It's a large, flat area known for agriculture."

"Are you a farmer?"

"No. I was named after it because I was born there," she replied. "I go by Dalia."

"A dalia is a flower."

"I've never seen one," Dalia said. "Most flowers are extinct."

"A shame. The life on this planet was beautiful. I am Raeilya. Light."

"Ray-ill-ya?"

"Raeilya."

"Ray-ill-ee-uh?"

"Raeilya."

Dalia couldn't say the vowels right. They were more rapid, and sounded different, beyond the capabilities of human speech.

"I am contented with Rae," the alien said. "Many species cannot properly pronounce Mira names. My consort is Cadé."

The C had a guttural sound Dalia knew she had no hope of reproducing, so she just nodded. 

"Wait a second," Andromeda said suddenly, "how do you know what the life on this planet used to look like?"

"The Mira have been watching," Cadé said. "We have waited patiently for the filter to pass."

"The great filter," Atlas said. 

"You are aware. That is good. Awareness is a prerequisite. I see hope that this species will survive," Rae said.

Andromeda blinked, confused. "Explain?"

Dalia sighed. She'd heard of the filter before- an old theory on why humanity had not yet met extraterrestrial life. It was the idea that a species had to pass some sort of intergalactic test to survive- but no one knew what that test was. It had been popular in the early 3000s and gained much scientific interest, but as humanity evolved further and further, people began to speculate that they'd already passed, and alien life was simply either behind or nonexistent.

"It's a scientific theory," Atlas said. "It's never been proven until now. It stats that all life must pass some test that filters out the bad species, hence the name. We thought we already passed. We didn't."

"So we're screwed?"

"Not yet," Rae said. "It goes against Lightyear law, but the Mira are inclined to assist in the passing."

Dalia shook her head. "Lightyear law?"

"The Lightyear Star Corps. An intergalactic organization spanning species to avoid conflict whether intentional such as war or natural such as disease."

"There are more of you?" Andromeda asked.

"The Mira are far from the only species in the universe."  
Dalia's mind reeled. If she told those science girls about this- Athena, Carina, even Kalyn- they'd be thrilled. Alarmed, but thrilled. Astronomica girls spent their whole lives waiting for this, watching for this, watching the army countering Miraman attacks, aching for the day they finally made true first contact- and here they were, and there were more. More species, more alien life, more people of the heavens. Humans were just another addition to an interstellar grouping of more sentient beings.

"Why are you helping us?" she asked quietly.

Rae looked at her. Her violet eyes reflected the mist. "I refuse to watch another species destroy themselves over something preventable."

"We commend you," Atlas said.

"How?" Dalia asked. "How do you plan on assisting us?"

"We have the Corps behind us."

"You said you're going against the Lightyear Corps laws."

"They will still support me." I hope, Raeilya thought. I hope.

***

Lyra stood in a room lit by flickering florescent lights. In a ramshackle cradle, a baby boy slept, oblivious. Two toddlers argued over a toy starship. A ten-year-old sat in the corner, expression blank and eyes unseeing. A girl in gray blinked her new cybernetic eye and stared at the wall.

And Aleskynn glared.

"Childcare specialist." They hadn't actually thought Lyra would have been good at this, had they? They were just looking for a place to put her. 

She was free, but not really. She wasn't doing anything productive. She was just being kept busy while others risked their necks.

The Revolution. The Movement. Both sides were mad. It was a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. One side was insane genetic supremacists hell-bent on splitting the human race into masters and slaves; the other was a group of naive, hopeful, starry-eyed youths who wanted change and didn't know how to do it, so they sent people to their deaths in gory battles that became nothing more than riots. 

It wasn't much better than being a Cantator. It was even more dull.

The baby stirred but didn't wake. Aleskynn kicked at the wall. A gas-lit lamp flickered and sparked. Utter bleakness filled the room. No place for children, Lyra thought. This is no place for anyone, and especially not me. No place in the world for me.

***

A tiny green shoot stuck out of brown fertilizer. Ultraviolet lights glowed in a small, cramped space. Cressida touched its tiny leaves, felt their softnes between her fingertips. She missed home. 

She had left her computer on. It was still playing that hologram she'd left on. Everything had been a whirlwind. She still didn't understand why they had to leave so suddenly and so soon. Soldiers were looking for Dalia, soldiers were looking for Aleskynn, everyone was in trouble and someone's brother was dead- and she didn't understand any of it.

"This isn't so bad," her father said in a faux-cheerful voice. "I sort of missed this place."

"Don't see why you would."

"You can't tell me you hate it," he said. "Come on. Did you see those buildings, all towering and beautiful, and those signs, and the marble and the gemstones everywhere?"

"It's awful." Cressida touched her pendant- shiny blue fabric stamped with gold, a relic from the ancient olden days. Meaningless, cheap, but real, and natural, and normal. "Everything is manufactured and so synthetic."

"This is where I met your mother."

"I never even met Mom."

"With good reason," David sighed. 

"Tell me about her."

David hesitated. The story of how he'd come to be a father was a painful one; it brought back memories he didn't want to recall, but his daughter was reaching seventeen. She was already an adult in her own right.

"I told you I left to avoid the draft," he said slowly. 

"You've said that a million times."

"There was no draft."

Cressida looked at him. "What? Then why is everyone in the army whether they like it or not? That's not-"

"Sort of," David reprimanded hastily. "The draft never began when you were an adult. You were drafted as a baby, Cressida. You didn't get a choice because you didn't know anything else."

"What?" His daughter stared at him. "Dad- you were a soldier? Like those boys?"

"For the first sixteen years of my life," he sighed. "I forget my serial number. I forget my rank. It was all so long ago."

Cressida blinked slowly. "And Mom?"

"Seventeen. She was one year older than me, but I probably acted a lot like it was the opposite. Soldiers age faster. She already had a daughter."

"What? She was my age and she had a kid? Wait, I have a sister?"

"Half sister." David gave her a wry smile. "They do things fast in Eleutheria. These girls get two, three hundred years to live and they get everything done in the first few decades of their lives. Cities don't slow down."

Cressida tried to picture herself with a child, then Lyra, then the scientists. Each outcome seemed strange. Even Dalia, the most responsible and high-ranking of them, seemed much too young. The toddler-age twins she babysat's mother was at least thirty when she had them. 

"What was she like?"

"Her name was Thea. She had hair like yours, and she was the most beautiful woman in all the city, or at least, I thought so. I wasn't supposed to be anywhere near her. She was a Suffragium."

Cressida shook her head. "I don't understand this. These castes. I don't get them. What was that?"

"I don't know exactly, some sort of secretary or assistant. I don't think she was particularly high-ranking. Ciencia is sort of middle class, I think, and Cantator, Labora and Servus at the bottom, so somewhere in between those two. She wore dark gray, which is a good indicator of class." He racked his brains. "She liked that music people like Lyra played. It was considered trashy. I enjoyed it."

"Of course you did," Cressida laughed. "Country boy."

He ruffled her hair. "I can say the same about you."

"We're both just rednecks in a big city, aren't we?"

"Sure. I won't deny it. Even your mother was an outcaste. I think she was a revolutionary too. Maybe she's still alive somewhere." He doubted it.

"Probably not. Maybe my sister is. What was she like?"

"I don't know," David replied. "She was little, barely a year old. Maybe less. Her name was Stella, maybe? Stelle?"

"Stelle." It was a very urban name. "She was too little for you to really know her, wasn't she?"

"Unfortunately."

"I'd like to meet her someday. If she's alive."

"I hope you do." David spread some sort of fertilizer on his plants. "I hope I meet her someday."

"Wait," Cressida asked,"that was the only reason you had to leave? Because of Stelle?"

"They kill younger daughters. You would have been like Aleskynn. The only reason they've even tolerated her survival thus far is because her mother is a Cipher- and her mother had plans for her, anyway. Thea wasn't rich. You would have been murdered. I couldn't let that happen."

"If it weren't for her-"

"I would have gone back in the army, you would have grown up a Suffragium, and you would never have known me. you would have been a regular Eleutherian girl."

Cressida squeezed her father's hand. "Well, I'm happy I'm not."

 

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