Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)
Gena Showalter

Chapter one

“You are better off Unsigned than a slave to Troikan law.”


I’ve been locked inside the Prynne Asylum—where happiness comes to die—for three hundred and seventy-eight days. (Or nine thousand and seventy-two hours.) I know the exact time frame, not because I watched the sun rise and set in the sky, but because I mark my walls in blood every time the lights in the good-girls-gone-bad wing of the facility turn on.

There are no windows in the building. At least, none that I’ve found. And I’ve never been allowed outside. None of the inmates have. To be honest, I don’t even know what country we’re in, or if we’re buried far underground. Before being flown, driven, shipped or dropped here, we were heavily sedated. Wherever we are, though, it’s bone-deep cold beyond the walls. Every day, hour, second, our air is heated.

I’ve heard friends and enemies alike ask the staff for details, but the response has always been the same. Answers have to be earned.

No, thanks. For me, the price—cooperation—is simply too high.

With a wince, I rise from bed and make my way to the far corner of my cell. Every step is agony. My back hates me, but the muscles are too sore to go on strike. Last night I was caned just because.

I stop in front of my pride and joy. My calendar. A new day means a new mark.

I have no chalk, no pen or marker, so I drive the tip of an index finger over a jagged stone protruding from the floor, slicing through the flesh and drawing a well of blood.

I hate the sting, but if I’m honest, I’ll love the scar it leaves behind. My scars give me something to count.

Counting is my passion, and numerology my favorite addiction. Maybe because every breath we take is another tick on our clock, putting us one step closer to death...and a new beginning. Maybe because my name is Tenley—Ten to my friends.

Ten, a representation of completion.

We have ten fingers and ten toes. Ten is the standard beginning for any countdown.

I was born on the tenth day of the tenth month at 10:10 a.m. And, okay. All right. Maybe I’m obsessed with numbers because they always tell a story and unlike people, they never lie.

Here’s my story in a nutshell:

Seventeen—the number of years I’ve existed. In my case, lived is too strong a word.

One—the number of boys I’ve dated.

Two—the number of friends I’ve made and lost since my incarceration.

Two—the number of lives I’ll live. The number of lives we’ll all live.

Our Firstlife, then our Everlife.

Two—the number of choices I have for my eternal future.

(1) Do as my parents command or (2) suffer.

I’ve chosen to suffer.

I use the blood to create another mark on the stones. Satisfied, I head to the “bathroom.” There are no doors to provide even a modicum of privacy, just a small, open shower stall next to a toilet. For our safety, we’re told. For the amusement of others, I suspect. All cells are monitored 24/7, which means at any given time during any given day, staff members are allowed and even encouraged to watch live camera feed.

Dr. Vans, the head of the asylum, likes to taunt us. I see and know everything.

A good portion of teachers scold us. Time waster!

Orderlies belittle us. Put on a little weight, haven’t we?

Most of the guards leer at us. They hail from all over the world, and though their language varies, their sentiment is always the same. You are begging for it and one day I’ll give it.

Just some of the many perks offered chez Prynne.

Not everyone is horrible, I admit. A small handful even strive to keep the others from going too far. But it’s no secret every staff member is paid to make us hate our stay, to make us want to leave more than anything. Because, the more we want to leave, the more likely we are to do whatever our parents sent us here to do.

My friend Marlowe dared to pawn her mother’s jewelry to buy groceries, and she needed help with her “kleptomania.” My friend Clay, a drug addict, needed to get clean.

The institution failed them both. A few months ago, Marlowe killed herself, and Clay... I don’t know what happened to him. He planned an escape, and I haven’t heard from him since.

I miss them both. Every. Single. Day.

I begged Clay not to risk a breakout. I tried to leave once, and I had help. My boyfriend, James, a guard high on the totem, arranged for cameras to be shut down, certain doors to be unlocked and other guards to sleep on the job. Still I proved unsuccessful.

For his efforts, James was shot in the head. While I watched.

Hot tears well in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks as I slowly strip out of my jumpsuit. Every motion comes with another blast of agony. When finally I’m naked, I step under a tepid spray of water. Modesty has long since been beaten out of me—literally!—but I wash as fast as I can. We’re given a small ration of water a day. If we run out, we run out. Too bad, so sad. Something we’re never given? Razors. I keep my legs and underarms smooth with threads I’ve pulled from old uniforms. I already feel like an animal; there’s no reason to resemble one, too.

Not that a well-groomed appearance matters. While we’re allowed to socialize with the opposite sex during mealtimes, I’d rather dig my heart out of my chest with a rusty spoon than date again. Yes, the rewards are tremendous, but the risks are more so. When everything comes crashing down—and it will—I’ll be shattered into a million pieces. I’ll have to rebuild. Again.

I should have resisted James’s pursuit of me, but I’d been at a low point, desperate for any show of affection. He’d risked his job every time he’d disabled the cameras to sneak inside my room. He snuck in so many times, in fact, his memory still lives here. Every night when I climb into my twin-size bed, I’m reminded of the way he teased me out of my initial shyness. Of the way he cleaned my wounds whenever I was hurt. Of the way he held me in his arms, offering comfort and kisses. He’d wanted to do more. I hadn’t. Not here. Not with a potential audience.

Forget the past. Concentrate on the present. Right.

I shut off the water and towel dry as best I can. I step into a clean, peed-in-the-snow-yellow jumpsuit, but only manage to bring the material to my waist, my arms refusing to work properly, my shoulder muscles giving up.

What am I going to do? I can’t leave my cell like this.

The door suddenly slides open with a quiet snick. My blood flashes ice-cold as two guards march inside my cell, a flailing girl between them.

I gasp, my surprise giving me the strength I need to lift my hands and cover my breasts.

No, I’m not modest, but this is a special kind of humiliating.

The guards release the girl and push her in my direction. The first thing I notice about her? She has unevenly cropped pink hair.

“New roomie,” one of them says to me. When he notices my partial state of undress, he grins. “Well, well. Vhat we have here?”

His Russian accent is as thick as ever, one of the many reasons I refer to him as Comrade Douche. Though my cheeks burn, I strive for a confident tone. “Vhat we have here is an underage girl who, upon her release, will ensure you rot in prison.”

His grin only widens as he takes a step toward me. The pink-haired girl kicks him in the stomach, surprising me.

He focuses on her, raising his hand to deliver a strike. “Suka!”

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