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.


16. Salvator

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

The five- Raeilya, Cadé, Dalia, Andromeda and Atlas- sat at a circular table decorated with pearls, discussing Eleutheria, the Mira and the stars. The air was misty and wet; everything seemed fluid, liquidy. A servant of some kind brought water in cups, but it was salty; still, the Mira appeared to have no issues with it. Raeilya thanked the man graciously each time he passed- he had another unpronounceable name. At least, Dalia assumed it was a man. Rae appeared overtly feminine, but Cadé looked more androgynous, though perhaps that was just how the Mira were. 

"Tell me about the oceans," Rae said, lifting her glass of saltwater. The T came out as a D sound. Evidently the sound was as difficult for them to produce as it was for humans to say the vowels of alien names. 

"The oceans?" Andromeda asked. "We don't have 'em anymore. I don't know much about them."

"You are not seafaring species."

"Not quite," Dalia agreed, "but we were, years and years ago."

"Why did you stop?"

"The city got bigger," she replied. "The population grew. We needed space, and the seas fell secondary to that."

"I have done immense research on this species," Raeilya said,"but I have not noticed a recent population growth."

"Of course it wasn't recent," Atlas shrugged. "The pandemic."

"I have read about the pandemic. Do you speak of the event in the early- as you count time- years of the 2000s?"

"Historical records debate the subject," Dalia said. "But yes, it was best agreed upon that it occurred at a point in that century. It was considered a major extinction event."

Rae sipped her drink. "It is my understanding that many of the life that once existed on Earth is no longer alive."

Dalia nodded. "Many animals died of the plague. We no longer have records of it, as I once said, but we do know that it had much of the same impact as it had on humans as it had on the rest of the mammals, as well as many avian species and several other subgroups of animals."

"Was this a natural event?"

Dalia had the strangest feeling she was being interrogated. The Mira did not seem dangerous, but she had no reason to let her guard down. "I do not believe so."

"Why is that?"

"The few primary sources we have seem to indicate that the virus evolved absurdly fast, increased rapidly in infectivity and lethality, and became much more dangerous than something that could have evolved on its own. There is also data that suggests it was developed by a country that was at war with America- which, as you know, no longer exists."

"The plague destroyed America?"

"The plague destroyed everything. That is how Eleutheria began."

"Who built this city? Why?" A small bulge formed under one of her violet eyes. Dalia tried to ignore it, but Andromeda stared.

"The people that survived. 90% of the population was killed. Somehow, most of the young scientists, artists, and skilled individuals were not. Many have suggested it was something genetic, and that the Ciphers are descended from the most highly advanced life forms."

Rae shifted. The bulge grew. "Do you subscribe to that theory, Acidalia?"

She hesitated, unsure whether a yes or a no would be a smarter choice. She never had truly believed in genetic superiority based on thousands-of-year-old ancestors, but she didn't know what the Mira thought of it, either. Finally, she settled on a "no."

"Absolutely not," Andromeda added. "Hey, what's wrong with your-"

Atlas shushed her.

"Then how did they survive, if it was not the fault of a specific gene?"

"A conspiracy," Andromeda said. "Eugenics."

"Some believe it was intentional," Dalia sighed. "I am one of those people. It would not be a stretch to assume that the most privileged or intelligent children were hand-picked by authority and assisted during the pandemic. They wanted to rebuild the human race all over again."

Raeilya made a sound passable as a human sigh. "Humans are strange creatures."

"How does this translate to the oceans?" Cadé asked. "Why do they no longer exist on this planet?"

"After the pandemic, it gave the survivors room to discover more. This was around the time period when genetic modification began to be used regularly in humans," Dalia said. "That led to longevity. Biological immortality. People were living to be over a thousand years old."

"Why has that number decreased?"

"Eleutheria put the aging genes back in," Andromeda said. "If people are around too long they get smart and no one wants that in a totalitarian dystopia."

"Increased lifespans led to immense overpopulation in a few centuries' time, and as the city grew, nearly everything that once killed humans was destroyed or incapacitated. Eventually the amount of people got large enough that they startd living underwater, and then the buildings got taller, climate control got more advanced and now most of the oceans are full," Dalia finished. "Is it the same, where you come from?"

"No." The bulge under Raeilya's eye emerged and fell onto the ground, a small chunk of white crystal. Dalia tried not to stare at it, as she and Cadé acted like it was ordinary, but Andromeda did a double take.

"Okay, I have to ask," she said. "What the hell is going on with your eyeballs? What's that white stuff?!"

Rae looked puzzled. "Eyes?"

"She means no offense," Dalia said quickly.

"Salsubocular glands," Cadé said. "She inquires about the salsubocular glands."

"Ah." Raeilya moved a piece of violet hair away from her face. "Do humans not-"

"No, starlight," Cade said.

Starlight? Andromeda mouthed, trying not to giggle. The Miramans' skin was shiny, but starlight?! Was that a normal thing to say to someone or were these two just like terribly affectionate lovers?

"How can you consume the water of the oceans, then?" Rae asked.

"Uh, we don't," Andromeda said. 

"I was under the impression that it was not, per say, entirely unsafe," Cadé said. 

"No, it doesn't hurt us," Dalia added quickly, seeing Rae's confused expression. "It just... is not necessary. It dehydrates us."

"You have no ways of removing excesses of salt," she realized. "That is an odd characteristic for life on a planet that was once covered in water."

"Humans don't do well in the oceans," Andromeda said.

"It must be terribly limiting," Rae said, "to have no access to your own planet."

"We have access to all of the land," Atlas argued, "and we built over the water. We build on what we can't use."

"This civilization does indeed appear to have a lot of space," Raeilya agreed. "Though I have noticed, and I must inquire about- why are there no life forms on the upper levels?"

"The riots are all down below," Andromeda said. "There are riots in the middle classes too, I guess, but there are less people there. Something like half the population are lower-down castes."

"Biological castes?"

"No," Cadé answered. "Humans do not have biological castes."

Dalia didn't even want to know why he knew that, or how.

She chose her words carefully. "It's... more economic and socially based. Not genetically based. The line does get blurred with genetic engineering, but it isn't about genes so much as it is who you were born to."

"Is that not one and the same?" Rae asked.

"Not these days," Atlas sighed. 

"It's more complicated than that," Dalia said. "People don't necessarily have to have the same DNA as their parents anymore. Artificial genes, artificial wombs, artificial insemination- it's not as simple as it was."

Everything in this civilization is so artificial, Raeilya thought. Everything's fake and constructed. She could tell Cadé was thinking the same thing. 

"The castes, then, are what led to this." She gestured aimlessly at the wall, which dissolved quickly into a membrane thin enough to see the empty streets outside. Screaming could be heard from below.

"Yeah," Andromeda said.

"I suppose it was the largest factor," Dalia sighed. "No one was happy with the way things were." Something felt profoundly wrong about seeing upper-class Elysia so deserted. Normally there'd be people milling around, but everyone had either joined the masses of looting, rioting, fighting people, or was hiding. God knows what would happen to an upper crust who ventured into the city right now.

"Which part of this is human nature," Cadé asked suddenly, "and which part of it is not innate?"

"Violence is kind of our thing," Andromeda said. 

Dalia glared at her. "Human beings are not war machines. What's happening right now is because of a chain reaction. If enough others, or even just a few important people, do something, the masses will follow. I won't deny that. But at the same time, we are not monsters."

"You are acting like monsters," Cadé pointed out.

Rae looked at him. "We have discussed this topic at length previously."

"You study culture," he said. "I study biology. I know much more about this species at the molecular level."

"And I know much more about their interactions with the planet around them," Rae said. "They have brutality in their history, and we do as well."

"How long have you been watching us?" Andromeda asked. 

"The Mira?" Cadé asked. "Or the galaxy as a whole?"

"Both," Dalia said, her tone changing from friendly to challenging. "How much do you know about humanity, and why?"

"The Lightyear Star Corps watches every species since their first awakening as sentient beings," Rae said. "Only those who continue to develop and grow to the point where they may pass the Filter are monitored more closely. The galaxy has observed you in that capacity since the dawn of the language you speak currently, though much has changed since that time." Much, indeed.

"That's impossible," Andromeda countered. "Latin is five thousand years old."

"It is quite possible," Rae replied. "The Mira are a relatively recent addition to the universe on a cosmic scale. We passed the filter only three thousand years ago."

"Only," Andromeda scoffed.

"As a species, we have watched ourselves for a few thousand years, but have studied your history extensively from the galactic archives."

"Just how long do you live?" Andromeda asked.

"Notice I said as a species. I am only thirty-six Miraman years old. In terms of Earth time, I have twenty-four years to my name. We live only as long as the average human female in the modern day."

"That depends on which data you use," she replied.

"The Mira on standard can live to approximately two hundred Earth years. Each year on our home planet is 1.5 years on this planet."

"Why mankind?" Dalia asked suddenly. "You say there are thousands, if not more, species of enlightened, sentient beings in this galaxy. Out of the many emerging peoples, why humanity, of them all?"

"Quite simply put," Rae said, "you are like us. It is infinitely easier to sympathize with a being when they are like you."

"They are not entirely like us," Cadé reminded her.

"They are close."

"Close is not exact."

"It is enough," Rae said. "I will not idly watch this planet collapse. We will look for a solution, and if we fail, we will save as many as we can. No intelligent person shall be put to waste."

Dalia found their speech odd. She wasn't entirely sure whether they thought of her as the same as them, lesser than them, or more- it was difficult to judge from their words alone. Their body language was impossible to read, it was hard to pay attention to their voice when their inability to say a sharp t made it sound like they were drunkenly slurring their words, and their face held nothing discernible save for the odd way salt poured from under their eyes, making it look like they were crying solid tears- and these beings were the closest to humanity in that great wide galaxy?

And the sheer mass of the universe, the amount of species out there, was incomprehensible to a human anyway. 

At first she'd thought of humanity as some sort of miracle: trillions of infinitely complicated cells, perfected after years and years of evolution, hurtling through space hundreds of thousands of klicks an hour around a fireball on a planet they'd managed to bend to their own will. But suddenly that had been shattered. Now they were just apes on a tiny piece of dust, incapable of understanding the world around them, reduced to stampeding animals fighting with each other. 

She supposed she should be having an internal crisis, but she wasn't.

"What can we do to stop this?" Andromeda asked, pointing at the city. "What do you want to help us with?"

"That is one of our inquiries," Rae replied. "An understanding of culture and available resources is vital to subduing a civilization this large."

Dalia sighed. "They're just going to keep rioting until something changes, and we do not have the resources to change it right now aside from mass reprogramming."


"DNA alteration," Dalia said. "Complete suppression of free will. But that would just create more problems in the long run, and I have no way of accessing the terminal needed to do that. It's also incredibly complicated, takes a long time to take effect and not to mention is completely unethical."

"That's not gonna happen," Andromeda said.

"I still worry, though," Dalia replied. "We're going to have to get to the central terminal at some point before they do. Or maybe they're already there. The Revolution's water supply isn't hooked up to the main, but stars know what they'll do to the rest of the planet."

"I agree," Atlas said. It was rare to hear him speak, and when he did it was short. 

"I never even thought of that," Andromeda sighed. "Crap."

Another piece of salt fell from under Rae's eye. "How do we go about recovery of this terminal?"

"Only certain people are able to use it anyway," Dalia said, "so I'm not sure if they'd be able to use it. I am a Cipher. I believe we along with Dictatorum, high-ranking military officials and Generalises can access it."

"Cassiopeia e Nayla is a Generalis," Atlas pointed out. 

"Yes, but would she know how to use it?" Dalia asked. "I'm more worried about Alestra."

Cadé and Rae both looked at each other, confused.

"My mother," Dalia explained.

Rae sighed. "A terrible thing, so see families split by war."

"No one really had much of a family in the first place," Andromeda shrugged. 

"Humans are social creatures," Cadé argued.

"We are not bound exclusively by DNA," Dalia countered.

"Yet this society places immense importance on genetics," he replied. "Would that not translate into social relationships?"

"Not necessarily," Rae said.

"Speaking of DNA," Andromeda added, "would all this stuff work on you? Genetic mods?"

"Our genetic material is not deoxyribonucleic acid," she said. "Regardless, it shares a similar structure."

"How so?"

"Rather than four bases, there are two," she said. 

"Like computers?"

"Like binary numerals."

"So like computers."

"If that is the way they are programmed, I would suppose so."

"Humanoid but not quite humanlike," Atlas murmured. "This galaxy we live in is a strange place."

"Indeed." Dalia looked out at the city. Deserted. She couldn't even see the carnage hundreds of levels below, but just because it was hidden didn't mean it wasn't there. Eleutheria was at war with itself, and she didn't know how to fix it.

Author's Note

Making up weird alien quirks is honestly one of the coolest things about writing sci-fi. I wanted to make the Mira both humanlike and not; too similar is lazy and just looks like I'm copying Vulcans. But if they're too different, people won't be able to identify with them and view them as similar to themselves.

I settled on a semi-aquatic species, which is why they have glands under their eyes to filter out salt (like penguins!) Their eyes are also quite kaleidoscopic looking, so they can see better underwater and don't get that stinging pain humans do when they get a face-full of saltwater. Their hair is oily like duck feathers and only found on their head; it keeps their head warm without getting tangled or gross because of the oil it secretes, and it isn't technically isn't hair like humans- it feels pain, which is why they usually don't cut it much, and it moves like flagellae when theyre swimming. Their nose actually isn't used for smelling; it's not really a nose. It allows them to breathe above water. The mouth has gill-type apparatuses for underwater breathing. They're somewhere between mammals and not, and it was so fun to design them.

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