“This just in: violent protesters in Refuge were subdued by Edenian authorities,” a copper-haired reporter broadcasted. “At about eighteen-hundred hours tonight, a crowd gathered in the city square, demanding an end to the Trade Accords and for independence from the Galactic Conglomerate. Members of local police instructed people to calm down and return home. In response, someone threw a firebomb, killing an officer. A stampede ensued, leaving forty dead and dozens more wounded. The crowd quickly dispersed after that. Police Chief Oberon Hill has declared a curfew. Anyone found in the city streets after dark is to be imprisoned without trial. Galactic troops are on their way in an attempt to restore order. Will these issues be resolved? Will the people of Eden come to a compromise with the Conglomerate? For Holonews, I’m…”
Serenity turned the show off in anger. “What was that for? I was watching that!” her father complained.
“Oh please Dad, it’s nothing but Galactic propaganda,” she replied.
“Don’t be ridiculous Serenity. The Accords are in place to protect workers in the Inner Reaches, and so our traders aren’t cheated in the wider economy."
“By placing unreasonable tariffs on imported and exported goods? That doesn’t protect us, it impoverishes us. Might as well call it a blockade. Don’t even get me started on the independence issue.”
“Nonsense,” her father dismissed. “We are a valuable part of the galactic government. Eden has provided numerous crops, soldiers, and some of the greatest minds in history. Why would we want to leave?”
“A single government cannot hope to manage over a thousand different star systems effectively. Do you honestly believe that bureaucrats on Earth can manage issues on a planet hundreds of light years away? Remember the Great Famine on Talus V? What did the government do when their algal farms dried up, and millions starved? Food aid was sent, but it was too little, too late. That’s what happens when two thousand Councilors have to argue about something for two years. What if something like that happens here? Or what about the Scourging of the Carian Fields by space pirates? Galactic forces arrived two weeks after the carnage was over. It’s time for us to govern ourselves. Eden should be run by Edenians.”
“How many times have I told you that such talk is dangerous? Should Eden rebel, what do you think the Conglomerate will do to us? Any fleet we manage to build is doomed. Our oceans will boil, our landscape burned, and our lives destroyed. We’ll be made an example of.”
“There are signs of discontent on numerous planets. Even riots on Babylon, Jericho, Ninevah III, and Terra Nova. Others will soon follow.”
“They’ll be annihilated as well. The Conglomerate is too powerful to resist.”
“You fought in the First Terran Rebellion, Dad. I want to represent those same ideals.”
“And I barely escaped with my life!” he yelled, dark with rage. “Earth never forgets such slights. Why do you think I tread carefully, even to this day?”
“So you just gave up? I never knew you to not adhere to your principles.” She exhaled a frustrated sigh. “There’s a protest tonight, here, in New Eden. Half the city’s been talking about it, and I’m going…”
“You will not! Weren’t you watching the same Holonews as I was? It’ll escalate out of control and take a turn for the worse. You could get killed.”
“I’d rather die standing up for freedom than live cowering like a slave!”
“Don’t raise your voice with me! You are not going and that’s the end of it! I don’t want to lose you like I did your mother.”
“I said no. My sweet daughter, there’s so much at stake here, so much that you don’t understand.”
“Don’t play that bullshit with me, Dad, I’m not a child anymore!”
“You’re still my daughter, and you will not leave this apartment!”
Knowing her father would never budge, she gave up. “Yes Dad,” she replied meekly. His expression mellowed. “It’s settled then.” He looked at his watch and announced, “It’s getting late, you should go to bed now.” She nodded and went down a small corridor. Turning her head, she said, “Good night Dad.”
“Good night Serenity.”
Serenity laid awake in her bed, forcing her heavy eyelids to remain open. It wouldn’t be long until her father fell asleep. What can he do to stop me then? Luminous blue numbers on an adjacent clock read: 23:16. Okay, time to go. She slipped out of the sheets and crept toward the door. The soft floor groaned with each step. Silently cursing herself, she inched on her toes. Next to the door was an orange switch. She flipped it, and the door slid open. Her father sat on a couch in the other room. She gasped. When she heard him snoring, she relaxed again and continued to the exit. Flipping another switch, she slipped into the bright hallway. No one else was around, the rest of the doors on the floor were closed shut.
She went to the elevator and pressed the ground floor button. One wall consisted entirely of glass. Outside, tensions were rising to a fever pitch. The streets filled with people. It seemed they came from every building, all converging on New Eden Square. A few open doors and a short dash later, she was among them. Men and women of all ages packed tightly together. Many carried signs, rocks, and numerous other objects. A few even had guns. Elbows jabbed her from every direction. Her thoughts were nearly drowned out by a sea of voices. The collective heat grew almost unbearable as she shoved and prodded her way toward the front.
A line of policemen in heavy body armor stool vigil like obsidian statues on the steps leading up to the massive city hall. From behind an elaborate barricade line, they blazoned some sort of assault rifle, which they aimed at the crowd. Loaded with taser rounds no doubt. Others set up portable railguns every ten meters or so. Those must be for show. They wouldn’t actually use them on civilians, would they? She gulped. Drones buzzed overhead with what appeared to be cameras attached to the bottom. As time passed, the mob grew increasingly irate.
“F*** the government!” someone shouted.
“Eden for Edenians!” another yelled.
“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” people chanted. Fists rose and fell with each repetition. She joined the euphoric uproar. In seeming unison, the mob inched forward. She hesitated, but the mass of bodies was too strong. The police snapped into formation, ready for action. Rocks flew at him. A few found their mark, hitting helmets and chests. They countered with gas pellets. Gray clouds filled the air. Serenity coughed violently. Her eyes blurred from tears. This did little to tame the majority of the furious Edenians. A young man rushed toward the barricade. He raised his arm, and an energy pistol went off. The world seemed to freeze as one of the railgun operators collapsed dead. The authorities opened fire. Screams replaced shouts as people fled. Numerous energy bolts struck the belligerent man. His blood filled cracks in the stone. Drones swooped downward and peppered stragglers with machine guns. A railgun screeched, causing others to explode into a scarlet mist. Through the commotion, she saw a small boy kneeling on the ground. Tears streamed down his face as he called out for his mother and father. She snatched him up as she ran so he wouldn’t get trampled. That was easy, he was light for someone his size. The boy wailed as he beat his fists on her back.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she exclaimed. “I’m gonna get you out of here. We’re going to find your mommy.” That made him relax enough to let her carry him with ease.
They didn’t get far. A sharp pain pierced both her legs, forcing her down. She cradled the boy to shield him from the fall. I’ve been shot. Trying to get up was too painful, it made her bawl. She let go of him and screamed, “Go! Leave without me! Go!” He did as he told, taking off and disappearing into the escaping crowd. Brown, lifeless eyes of a bloody corpse stared at her. Panicking, all she could do was crawl among the dead and dying. Gunfire persisted as she struggled along. The scent of burned flesh and smoke assaulted her nostrils. I need to get out of here, Dad was right. In the chaos, the squeak of rubber boots stood out. It was close and fast approaching. Terrified, she squirmed faster, desperate to get away. A meaty hand turned her over. She screamed as he lowered a policeman lowered his weapon. The last thing she ever saw was a flash.
David’s brow dripped with sweat and his hands trembled as he faced a crowd of thousands. A hologram on the podium displayed his speech transcript. Here it goes, he thought. Clearing his throat, he began, “Today, we celebrate victory over the vile Galactic Conglomerate. Three years ago today, the last of their warships left our planet to sulk in the stars. My fellow Edenians, you have every right to be proud. It was our twenty-year-long rebellion that opened the floodgates for numerous worlds to discard Earth’s oppressive dominion. Eden, Babylon, Talus V, all four Ninevahs, Jerusalem, Solitude, and Terra Nova are the founding members of the Confederation of Free Planets. This new organization makes freeing other star systems from tyranny its paramount objective. It will be an honor to represent our world in their Parliament. Justice will be served to those who deserve it, and those who need protection shall receive it. Along with the triumphs, we must also consider the tragedies. Forty million died in the liberation of our home. Numerous atrocities perpetrated by both the Galactic and Edenian governments have left open wounds in our society that have yet to heal. I was right here, in this square, when members of the New Eden Police Department initiated a massacre that killed more than a hundred and wounded five hundred others. I was only seven years old at the time. Separated from my parents when things went downhill, I would have died if a young woman hadn’t saved me. I never learned her name, or even if she left the square alive. She had the same expression of fear that I did that night. Despite this, her courage was one of my motivators when I sought to help oust the Galactic tyranny. For this, I give her my undying gratitude. In honor of the brave men and women who sacrificed themselves for a brighter future, it’s my great pleasure to help inaugurate the Eternal Flame of New Eden.”
Resounding applause met his conclusion. A small pit graced a section of New Eden Square. Granite blocks ringed it, forming a low circular wall. A message carved into the rock read: In memoriam for the fallen, may they rest in paradise. David smiled as the yellow-orange flame blazed to life inside its enclosure.