Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(8)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(8)
Gena Showalter

She says Myriadian with the same inflection she might use with cancer. Does she hate him just because he signed with the other realm? “Have you ever heard of HART?”

“Humans Against Realm Turmoil? Yep. They like to protest the war between the realms in front of the House of Myriad, the House of Troika, and the White House.”

“Right.” From my History of the Worlds class, I know their ultimate goal is a treaty between the realms and the Land of the Harvest. I also know the first members got together soon after the realms revealed themselves...again.

Apparently, the realms did the whole “Hi, we’re here and we’re real” a few times over the ages, but humans—being human—romanticized the truth. Myriad has been called everything from Valhalla to Mount Olympus, while Troika was once known as Paradise. Then, around the 1500s, both realms began to insert themselves into everyday human existence, drawing us out of the dark ages.

“Why?” Bow asks, her tone cautious.

“Well, I’m wondering why members of the realms haven’t agreed to a peace treaty. Or, you know, just hugged it out. I’m wondering why you hate a boy just because he’s different. Or because he’s hurt you for some mysterious reason. You Troikans claim you’re all about forgiveness, right?”

“Forgiving someone isn’t the same as letting him crap all over me. Dude. Have you ever heard the Myriad pledge of allegiance? We won’t rest until Troika is nothing but ash in the wind of eternity. Also, the HART campaign is ridiculous. Light and darkness cannot coexist. A house divided cannot stand.” She pushes her tray to the middle of the table, as if she’s lost her appetite. “We’d be a two-headed beast, and we’d consume ourselves.”

Speaking of consumption, she’s eaten so little since her arrival I’m beginning to worry about her health.

“Distract me,” she says.

“Eat,” I reply.

“No. Distract me,” she repeats.

“Want me to sing and dance for you?” I ask drily.

“Yes!”

“No way, no how. Not happening.”

“Fine.” She sighs with disappointment. “Just... I don’t know, talk to me. Tell me something about your life before the asylum.”

I don’t want to share details about myself, but I also don’t want her to starve, and it’s now clear she requires motivation. “I’ll give a nugget or two, but only if you eat everything on your tray.”

“Are you kidding? It’s gross and—”

“Trust me, you need the vitamins.”

“Fine.” With a grimace, she returns the tray to its proper place. “Now talk.”

Where to begin? It seems like an eternity since I’ve revealed even a minor detail about my history. “I attended a Myriad-endorsed private school.”

She waits for me to say more. I don’t. She gives her tray another push.

I scowl at her. “What do you want to know?”

“How about your studies?”

“Besides the usual courses?” Easy. “The inner workings of the realm.” Those classes were taught by Messengers, people responsible for spreading the word about the realm they loved.

Mostly, I’d been fascinated by the daily life of spirits. Unlike us, they have no need to sleep. They eat only one meal a day, a single piece of manna. A honeycomb-like wafer. Anyone under the age of eighteen attends school to learn more about their realm and its leaders. Kids are also taught the skills they’ll need for whatever job they’ll one day be assigned.

Everyone over the age of eighteen works an assignment nonstop until completion—even if the assignment takes years. Like undercover cops.

Bow swallows a bite of slop and grimaces. “What about your friends?”

“They were sheltered, like me.” The answer leaves me without hesitation, as if I’m already used to sharing. “We could hang out together, but only with a parent or Laborer in view. We weren’t to get behind the wheel of a car or even into a car with someone other than the person paid to drive us.” At first, I accepted it. I thought, My parents love me, want me protected. Then came resentment. My parents simply need me alive, whatever the cost.

The day of my sixteenth birthday, after I refused to sign with Myriad, I stole the keys to my mom’s car. I’d never driven before, but autopilot made it effortless. I’d soared, and I’d never had so much fun.

But that kind of fun never lasts, does it?

The next day, I ended up at the asylum, scared out of my mind, shocked and confused.

“Does Troika choose humans the same way Myriad does?” I ask.

“Pretty much. Headhunters monitor people on the earth, searching for a certain trait.”

Headhunter, a subdivision of Leader. “What trait?”

“Willingness.”

“Willingness?” What does that even mean?

“Anyway,” she continues. “Laborers are sent to protect the chosen and then, when the human reaches the Age of Accountability, they negotiate covenant terms and guide the human through the rest of Firstlife. With us, though, covenants are voided if the signer is coerced. With Myriad, a coerced signer must go to court to gain freedom.”

Court? “There’s a way out?” The news gives me hope.

“Yes, but too many lose the case, since the court insists both Troikans and Myriadians attend. The signer often cracks during questioning.”

Well, a little hope.

“Now I know the before-Prynne Ten.” Bow waves her spoon at me. “Tell me about the after-Prynne Ten. What are you going to do when you’re free?”

Reveal who I want to be, rather than who I used to be? That one proves more difficult. “You first.”

“As if you couldn’t guess. I’m going to continue spreading light, and I’m going be the best Troikan Laborer—and the sexiest—in the history of ever.”

I’ve struggled to pick a side for over a year. Here she is, unwavering in her belief. I’ll just pretend I’m not writhing with envy. “How do you know you’ll be a Laborer? There are four other jobs in the Everlife with multiple subpositions under each.”

“I’ve known here—” she taps her fist over her heart “—all my life.”

“And the feeling has never wavered?” Not once?

“Why would it? My position in life—and death—is part of who I am.”

The envy I’m totally not feeling prompts me to say, “Or, fate has decided for you.”

She scoffs, saying, “Don’t get me started on fate! Fate is an excuse, a way to remove blame and therefore guilt for poor decision making. Free choice decides the outcome of your life, not fate.”

Girl makes a good point.

“Why aren’t you branded?” Those who make covenant with Troika are supposed to tattoo a three-point star on the top of each hand—not that everyone does. Those who make covenant with Myriad are supposed to tattoo interlocking jagged lines on their wrists. Again, not that everyone does. It’s supposed to be an outward sign of an inward commitment.

“Oh, no.” She shakes her head. “I answered your question. It’s your turn to answer mine. What are you going to do after the asylum?”

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