Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(2)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(2)
Gena Showalter

Bitch in Russian. A word that’s been thrown at me, as well.

She smiles and crooks her fingers at him, the universal sign for bring it.

The other guard grabs Comrade Douche by the arm and drags him into the hallway. Both men frown at me as the door slides shut.

Without missing a beat, the girl waves at me, looking almost...giddy. I blink in confusion. She’s happy rather than scared? Really?

“Hello,” she says, and I detect a slight British accent. “I’m Bow, your new best friend.”

She’s crazy. Got it. “I’m not in the market for a new friend.” I hoped I’d remain solo. I don’t like sleeping in front of another person but I have to steal catnaps to function. My last roommate told me I toss and turn, screaming about the torture I’ve endured or singing a number song my aunt taught me as a child.

Ten tears fall, and I call...nine hundred trees, but only one is for me. Eight—

Oh, no. I’m not getting lost in my head right now.

“Here.” Bow stalks toward me, her stride long and strong. Up close, I can tell her eyes are the color of freshly polished pennies. They’re odd yet captivating, smoldering with an intensity that should be too much to contain. “Let me help you.”

Out of habit, I step out of range when she reaches for me. But...zero! My favorite four-letter curse word. I don’t think I can finish getting dressed without her.

She cups her breasts in a mimic of me and beams. “Boobs are awesome, yeah? Literal fun-bags. I don’t know what you girls are always complaining about.”

“Don’t you mean us girls?”

Her hands fall away from her fun-bags. “Dude. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the equipment and getting a little some-some of my own goods and services. Seriously. I’m so hot even I want a piece of me.”

Hot? Debatable. Bizarre, narcissistic and pervy? Unquestionably. She’s the trifecta. In other words, I hit the probably-gonna-get-murdered jackpot this go-round. Yay, me.

“I’d rather not talk about your goods and services, thanks.” Slowly I pivot, placing her at my back. This is a rarity for me. A low point, a moment of utter desperation. If she attempts a hit-and-run or a grab-and-stab—anything dirty—I’ll make sure she regrets it.

She inhales sharply, and I assume she’s studying the wealth of bruises I’m sporting.

“Sometime today,” I snap, horrified by the perceived weakness.

She gently works my arms through the sleeves. “I hope you’re prepared for the Everlife. Another beating like this could kill you.”

Doubtful. Dr. Vans has the torture thing nailed. He knows when he’s about to push a body too far. “Trust me. Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me.”

“Of course it isn’t. If you haven’t made the right plans for the Unending, you’ll wish you ceased to exist.”

The Unending, where Myriad and Troika—the two realms in power in the afterlife...aka the Everlife—are located. Where “real” life is said to begin.

Over the years, the world has been divided into two factions. Those who support Myriad, and those who support Troika. No one ever supports both. How can they? The realms are too fundamentally opposed—about everything!

Myriad boasts about autonomy...bliss...indulgence. To them, Firstlife is merely a stepping stone into the Everlife, everything happens for a fated reason and, when we experience Second-death—death in the Everlife—our spirit returns to Earth, the Land of the Harvest, to Fuse with another—brand-new—spirit.

They are willing to negotiate covenant terms to win over a human.

Troika, on the other hand, is known for structure...constant study...absolute conformity. To them, Firstlife matters just as much as Everlife, fate is a myth and, when we experience Second-death, we enter into the Rest, never to be seen by human or spirit again.

Troikans refuse to negotiate covenant terms, offering the same benefits to everyone everywhere without exception. The same laws, too. To them, what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong, for one and for all. Everyone on equal footing.

If one realm says the sky is cloudless, the other will say a storm is brewing.

They’ve been at war for centuries, the other’s destruction the ultimate goal. That’s why they fight so hard to win souls. That’s also why picking the right side is so important. Someday, someone is going to lose.

Here on Earth, the Myriad and Troika supporters aren’t segregated...exactly. They try to coexist, but it’s in imperfect harmony and there’s always an underlying hum of tension.

Sometimes riots break out, and the government is forced to execute martial law to prevent an all-out brawl.

A rare few people, like me, have no idea which side to back. We see merits to both sets of beliefs. We also see downsides.

We are called the Unsigned.

For us, there are rumors of a third spirit realm, the place we’ll end up after Firstdeath. My parents used to tell me horror stories about it, stories whispered in the dark of night. The Realm of Many Ends, where nightmares come to life.

I’ve often wondered... Is Many Ends a made-up place intended to scare kids straight?

“Do you?” Bow asks as she zips up my jumpsuit. “Have plans for the Unending, I mean?”

“I’m not talking Everlife with you.”

Her features scrunch with disappointment. “Why not?”

“I’ll be here another three hundred and fifty-two days.”

3 + 5 + 2 = 10

“And?”

And she will leave sooner rather than later. I recognize her type. Extremely optimistic until something goes wrong. After her first beating, she’ll cave and do whatever her parents want, guaranteed.

“Forget the next life. What about this one? Tell me why you’re here.” I motion to our illustrious cell with a tilt of my chin.

“My guardian sent me.” She strides to the second twin bed and sits, and there’s nothing graceful or feminine about her. “Told me to be a light.”

Ugh. What I hear? Absolute conformity. “You signed with Troika, then.” Not a question.

Her nod contains a thread of pride. “I did.”

We’re going to clash so hard. “What is light, exactly?” What’s she going to be pushing on me?

“Whatever is needed to help someone find a way out of darkness.”

Darkness. “Meaning Myriad.”

She ignores my dry tone. “Meaning a problem, any problem.”

Well, I’ve got plenty of those—though I tell myself this situation is fertilizer, and something good must grow from it.

“Why are you here?” she asks me.

“I refuse to make covenant with Myriad.” Covenant—the equivalent of signing a contract in blood.

Sometimes, in an attempt to convince me to sign away my rights, I’m pampered. Isn’t this nice? This is what awaits you in Myriad. Most times I’m tortured. This is only the beginning of what you’ll endure in Many Ends. Not knowing what awaits me is the worst.

“Prynne is supposed to be unaffiliated with either realm,” she says with a frown.

“It is.” How else could Dr. Vans convince one kid to sign with Myriad and another to sign with Troika? Which he does. All the time.

She meets my gaze, a little surprised, a lot hopeful. “Do you want to make covenant with Troika?”

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