Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(4)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(4)
Gena Showalter

Another round of boos and cheers ring out.

Sloan forgets all about me, baring her teeth in a scowl. “Maybe I won’t remove your tongue and eyes...yet. I want you to see what I do to you, and beg for mercy I won’t give you.”

“Enough!” A harsh voice booms from overhead speakers. “You know the rules, girls. There’s no loitering in the hallways. Go to the cafeteria or go to the whipping post. Your choice.”

I look at Sloan, who’s glaring at Bow, who’s smirking at Sloan.

Sloan bares her teeth and says to me, “You do know your boyfriend wasn’t the only one capable of paying the guards to shut off the cameras, right? If I were you, I’d start sleeping with one eye open.” With that, she turns on her heel and flounces off. Or tries to.

I grab her arm, stopping her, and get in her face. I keep my voice low as I say, “You sneak into my room, and I’ll fillet you like a fish. No one will pay attention to your screams. You know that, right?”

You scream, I scream, we all scream. No one cares. The asylum’s unofficial anthem.

Sloan jerks free and stalks away.

I cast Bow a humorless smile. “Welcome to Prynne.”

Chapter two

“Take comfort. Our laws are the same yesterday, today and forever.”

—Troika

Bow laughs, which I don’t understand. My temper is a bear that’s just been poked with a stick. I don’t like threats. And I especially don’t like waiting to deal with threats. Yet, she’s amused.

“Come on,” I mutter, dragging her down the hall despite my physical discomfort.

There are multiple doorways, each painted puke green. The walls are medicine-tray gray, and the floors are some type of soil-your-pants brown. I know this for a fact. Last week, a guard threatened a new guy with castration and all hell broke loose...just like his bowels.

“Thank you for having my six.” Bow bumps shoulders with me, only to mumble an apology when I wince. “Yeah, I could have taken her down, no problem, but you still put yourself on the line.”

“Don’t thank me. Just keep your head on a swivel and your insults to a minimum. I don’t want to mop up your remains.”

Her grin slips a little. “I didn’t enjoy lashing out at her. Sloan has some pretty big baggage. But her general nastiness triggered my inner bitch. I didn’t even know I had an inner bitch! But yeah, okay, I should have handled the situation differently.”

“How do you know about her baggage?”

“Uh, perhaps I misspoke. I mean, who doesn’t have baggage, right?”

True. We all arrive with a couple carry-ons.

We pass through the commons, where our classes usually take place. There’s no escaping high school, even here. There are plush leather couches and three different circles of chairs—which makes sense. (1) Thought, (2) word and (3) deed, the sum total of human capability.

Around the corner and through a wide set of double doors is the cafeteria. A colorless, utilitarian room with a sea of tables and benches that have been bolted down. The male inmates are already seated, eating from trays.

As Bow and I take our place at the end of the buffet line, I narrow my focus to the nitty-gritty. The number of inmates in the room: one hundred females versus ninety-seven males. It’s uneven. I don’t like uneven. The scales should always be balanced.

There are twenty guards—ten males, ten females—one “good guy” for every ten “bad guys.” Despite the fact that outside these walls there’s a Laborer from both Troika and Myriad for every one hundred humans, there are no Laborers here.

“Are you mathing?” Bow asks. “You look like you’re mathing. Well, here’s an equation I think you’ll like. There are roughly two billion people in the world, and twenty million Laborers. With those kind of odds, I never should have been assigned to stay in your room.”

“Are you hinting life is a zero-sum game? You won, and I lost.”

She snorts. “You basically won the lottery, and you know it.”

“Or, your guardian paid extra to pair you with an Unsigned, preferably one with a Myriad background.” Which is actually counterproductive to Dr. Vans’s goal in my case. But when has the man ever resisted a bonus?

“Hey, look at you! Pretty and smart.”

“And hungry,” I grumble.

As we edge our way to the front of the line, multiple conversations take place around us.

“—too bad. I called dibs.”

“—did you hide them? Tell me!”

“—don’t allow Myriad scum near me.”

How many of these kids are pro-Myriad? How many are pro-Troika? How many are Unsigned?

Bow clearly hasn’t gotten the memo. Talking about the Everlife is forbidden. Well, only with each other. Dr. Vans’s way of avoiding a riot inside these walls, I guess.

I deduced Sloan is Unsigned, which wasn’t exactly hard to do considering she’s said “I’d rather be a queen in Many Ends than a drone in the realms” countless times.

Okay, not countless. Twenty-three.

“We’re going to be spending a lot of time together,” Bow tells me. “Let’s get to know each other better.”

“No, thanks.”

She persists. “How were you introduced to the realms?”

“The usual way.” Since public schools aren’t allowed to lean one way or the other, only private schools, children are told stories by biased parents. Also, different facilities offer virtual tours but, depending on who’s running them, the tours are always skewed.

My aunt Lina is my dad’s crazy twin sister who, I’ve been told, suffers from polyfused disorder, meaning the older spirit (supposedly) Fused to hers is strong enough to gain control of her body. When she isn’t acting like a giggly ten-year-old who speaks in the past tense, she works for A Look Beyond, a tour company owned by Myriad.

I’ve seen night-kissed castles overflowing with orchid gardens. Bustling cityscapes with stone and metal skyscrapers intermixed with nightclubs and spas, everything connected by sleek silver bridges and tunnels illuminated by wrought-iron, dragon-shaped lamps. Vibrant white-sand beaches with a moonlit view of ruby, sapphire and emerald coral.

A bit of high-tech flare topped with old-world charm.

There’s something for everyone, Aunt Lina likes to say on her sane days. On her insane days? The light bled into the darkness and the darkness died... I didn’t want to die.

On the other hand, Troika’s version of Myriad is frightening. Darkness pervades. Darkness so thick it oozes over your skin like motor oil. There’s field after field of dead trees, the limbs gnarled, the bark dripping crimson—bleeding. Any birds able to survive the lack of sunlight cry rather than squawk. The city is overcrowded, everyone packed as tight as pickles in a jar, and the beaches resemble life-size litter boxes.

Myriad’s version of Troika is no better. Apocalyptic wastelands scorched by an unforgiving sun.

As a child, I was desperate to avoid Troika...until I heard my Troikan Laborer’s description: dappled sunlight falling over intricate gardens, wildflowers and rainbows. A thriving metropolis both fantastical and futuristic, with palatial country estates and chrome-and-glass buildings in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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