Read Lifer Online

Authors: Beck Nicholas

Tags: #Science fiction, #teen, #young adult, #space, #dystopian

Lifer (7 page)

BOOK: Lifer
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

My hands clench into fists. “Launch it.”

Launch it, the Lifer’s curse, is far from the worst language I’ve heard in the lower levels, but it’s the one that’s full of all the anger of our grandparents’ agreement to serve life on the spaceship.

I’ll check out the panel under the pretense of being worried Lady’s slept too long. I can’t sit here and do nothing.

“Did you say something?” Lady’s voice is bleary with sleep.

There goes that plan. “Sorry, Lady, just talking to myself.”

I wait for Lady’s orders. I’ve seen her collapse once; the last thing I want to do is trigger another seizure.

“Come with me.”

I’m not surprised when she leads me back to what I’m guessing was once Samuai’s room, leaning heavily on my arm. I hover at the doorway. If I breathe deeply enough, maybe I’ll catch a hint of Samuai’s cinnamon scent. I try but it’s useless. The ship’s air conditioning is too good not to have aired this room thoroughly in the weeks since he died.

Lady stands by the wall. It slides back, revealing a small cupboard filled with clothes. Samuai’s clothes. Three sets of the black pants and white t-shirt he wore almost all the time and, at the end, two of the black tanks he liked to wear in the training rooms.

My fingers twitch with a need to touch the cloth, to press it up against my face. I miss him.

Nothing is simple. Beneath the pain of missing Samuai is envy of his family. My mother and I were given nothing belonging to my brother. After he passed, his bed was cleaned down and his uniforms put back into the store. His space will soon be taken by one of the children graduating from the care center.

All we have left is our memories. The same happened with my father when the Fishies executed him for attempted rebellion. I don’t wish this shrine, these pictures or Samuai’s clothes away from Lady, but I hate the injustice.

“Here,” says Lady.

She presses something into my hands. The soft, black material is warm and I imagine it’s from lingering body heat. I shake out his tank top and the memories flick across my brain. Samuai training, smiling when announced the winner, locked in vicious combat with his brother. He’ll never train again.

He’ll never smile again.

I attempt to give it back to her with trembling hands, but she shakes her head. “He would have wanted you to have it.”

“I can’t.” I gesture down at my clothes. “I must wear the uniform.”

Instead of trying to argue she tugs open a desk drawer and pulls out some scissors. “You can wear it underneath.”

We are allowed to wear underclothes, although the color is mandatory navy. Breaking the rules to have Samuai’s clothes against my body doesn’t take a thought. We trim the stretchy fabric and I pull it on over my bra. It clings to my skin. Soft. Now I catch a hint of Samuai in the air.

It takes me back to the first time I asked him about the tangy sweet scent. He laughed, throwing his head back and exposing the smooth skin of his throat. “It’s cinnamon from apple pie, my favorite dessert.” His grin turned cheeky. “My mother orders it for me most days.”

I’d still been confused. The Lifers had fruit and berries from the modified plants in the farm but I’d never seen it in pie. My mouth had actually watered when he described the short, buttery pastry and the spice—incredibly valuable aboard a generation ship—used to top the filling.

He’d promised me a taste one day but never got around to it. We thought we had our whole lives ahead of us.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

My words hover in the silence. A silence that allows the swish of the front doors opening and heavy footfalls to carry to where we stand.

Lady’s eyes widen. “Davyd.”

I too recognize his stride and try not to think about how aware I am of Samuai’s little brother. I follow her out into the hall as Davyd reaches the end of it. His eyes don’t even dart to the closed yellow doors behind us.

“Ready for dinner?” he asks his mother.

“Yes. Asher will join us. We’ll eat in the kitchen”

Davyd shakes his head. “It is time for her to return to her quarters. The maximum shift length is eight hours.”

His words appear to show sympathy toward me but I know he’s not worried about my welfare. He only brought me here at his mother’s demand and now he’s using the first excuse to get rid of me.

I don’t mind. My whole body aches with the stress of being on my guard around the unpredictable Lady. My small sleeping cot and the simple stew we’re usually served for dinner have never been so appealing. Lady looks from Davyd to me. Her eyes have that wide-eyed desperation I’ve seen more than once today. “You don’t want to go, do you?”

Davyd’s gray gaze joins his mother’s. As a Lifer I learned to lie young and well.

“It’s been a lovely day.”

The slight arch of Davyd’s eyebrow tells me he doesn’t believe a word, but
doesn’t need to.

Lady’s mouth spreads into a happy, hopeful grin. “So, you’ll stay?”

Chapter Six




Still trying to shake off the bleariness of sleep, I grope for the sneakers I bought at the market and drag them on. My credit stick is already in my new jeans’ inner pocket. When I shrug on my jacket with the weapon inside it, I’m wearing all of my worldly possessions.

I’m thankful there’s nothing to steal as I key the door closed, after seeing how easily the hot girl opened it. Following her is a no brainer. Answers can wait until morning and making contacts in this city might help me work out where to start looking, since the authorities don’t seem to be an option.

I jog down the hall and take the steps two at a time. I weave through the crowd in the gaming bar without seeing the girl. My heart drums a crazy beat as I hit the street.

She’s not here.

My chest constricts. But then, there, between two stalls, is a flash of shining purple hair. I make my way through the nighttime crowd, still wary of those wearing green robes. My stomach rumbles as I pass a vendor roasting something on a spit. I realize I have no idea how long I slept.

The square is well lit, although smog hangs outside the glow of the lamps. If anything, there are more people shopping now than this morning. Vendors call out cheerful greetings and families smile back. If I wasn’t so intent on catching up with the girl I would be tempted to sit at one of the big tables and sample some of the food.

I catch up to her on the other side of the market, near the alleyway I came out of this morning, and she throws me a smile over her shoulder without breaking stride.

“Decided to follow/join me?”

I fall into step beside her, still not sure I’m doing the right thing. With my memory gone, I can’t let any possible clue go unchecked. “Where are we going? Why the rush?”

“I can’t tell you and no one gets in after eleven.”

It’s later than I thought, but the sleep refreshed me. And being around this girl gets my blood pumping.

“You might as well tell me where it is. I’m going to know in a few minutes.” What I don’t say is that directions and locations aren’t going to mean anything to me anyway.

She smiles that teasing smile and keeps walking.

Leaving the market place signals new territory for me. As I walk, up and down hills, I make sure to keep my bearings so I can get back to my room later. There’s little light away from the bustling market and the wind blows icy through ruins and abandoned buildings. Faint moonlight shining between scattered clouds allows me to pick my way along the road. The sight of stars stops me for a second but I shake the wonder free. I must have seen stars a million times before.

It takes serious concentration to keep up with the girl and not sprain an ankle in any of the cracks or potholes, or slip down one of the hills.

“What’s your name?” I ask, happy I’m not sounding puffed despite the swift pace she’s set.


It suits her, short and no fuss, but cool. Very cool.

She halts at an intersection on the edge of a deep pothole. She unthreads something from the belt loops of her pants. I’ve never seen anything sexier. My mouth dries. She reveals a piece of black material. There’s a challenge in the tilt of her chin. “If you want to go any further you’ll have to wear this.”

“A belt?” I ask, to buy some time before having to decide whether I trust her. I don’t know who I am and I hardly know her. She could be leading me into a trap.

“Smart guy, aren’t ya, Blank? Around your eyes.”

She closes the distance between us with a graceful leap over the hole in the ground. I look way down to meet her challenging gaze. The green in her eyes is dark and glittering in the moonlight. Logic should send me back to my room, but only Megs seems to exist. Every step I take with her feels in my gut like it’s in the right direction. Toward answers.

She reaches up to blindfold me. Her fingers brush my skin as she places the black cloth over my eyes. I angle my head to see beneath the edge but she’s smarter than that. Unable to see anything now, I inhale her scent, fresh with a hint of apple like those I bought from the market. The belt’s warm from its close contact with her body.

She tugs at the material and it forces me to bend lower. The blindfold tightens around my head.

“Now what?” My voice comes out all throaty.

“Now I lead you.”

Her hand is small but strong in mine. I tread carefully alongside her, trying not to stumble. The last thing I want is to fall on my face in front of this girl. With my sight neutralized, my hearing takes over. Gravel crunches under our feet. A vehicle growls in the distance. Wind whines through nearby ruined buildings.

Whatever this city is, there aren’t many people around, at least away from the market. The busy stalls patrolled by the green robes seem to be a center for trade. Surrounding buildings are mostly rundown and abandoned.

I am certain I am not from around here.

The lack of familiarity could be a result of my memory loss, but my speech doesn’t carry the twang of every person I’ve heard since I woke in the garden. I’ve seen a range of skin colors here, but none the exact same caramel as mine. While I know about credit sticks and am able to name most things I see, it feels learnt somehow, like I haven’t experienced it firsthand before now. The answers are in my head, I’m sure of it, but when I try to access them I get nothing.

Earlier, being around Megs triggered my memory of another girl. Something else that draws me to her. She could be the key to getting myself back.

She stops me with a gentle pressure on my chest and my hand lifts to remove the blindfold. Megs catches my wrist and holds both my hands in one of hers. I sense her standing in front of me, close, and I tilt my head down toward her, like I would if I could see. Her hand grips mine tight. She’s stronger than she looks, but I’m confident I could shake free if I wanted. I don’t.

“You’re a trusting guy.” Her voice teases, challenges, hints at a darkness blacker than the one created by the blindfold. “For all you know I could have lured you here to—” Her fingernail presses into the sensitive skin beneath my ear and trails, in a slicing motion, across my throat.

Fine bumps spread out across my skin and I shiver. She feels it and laughs. Her breath is warm on my face. I notice a heavy beat and it isn’t my heart. Or hers.

And I can see. First Megs. Wide green eyes looking at me, her incredible mouth in a half smile. I swallow and drag my gaze away to check out the surroundings. We’re in another small alleyway, different to the one from this morning. Here it’s all redbrick walls and there’s no market buzzing at the end of the street, just darkness in either direction and a thumping I feel deep in my gut.

The clouds gathered overhead while we walked. They make the distant darkness seem impenetrable. I follow Megs through a rusted gate. Beyond is a large tin warehouse. The noise is clearer here. It’s some kind of music.

There’s a big guy at the door, his arms are folded and he’s got piercings in every available skin surface but that’s not what freezes me to the spot. The big guy is wearing a long green robe.


All my efforts to avoid them and I’m about to walk into some kind of green robe party.

Megs notices my hesitation. She grabs my hand. “Come on, Shamus won’t bite.”

I laugh. If only my worry was simply about the guy’s size. He’s watching me now and running would only draw more attention. Maybe a tussle with a kid in an alleyway isn’t big news to whoever the green robes are. Here would be the last place they’d expect me to come if they are looking out.

I lean over and fumble with my shoe. “Stone or something,” I say loud enough to carry to the guy by the door. As we approach, his three-ringed eyebrow lifts. “Bringing a stray?” he says to Megs.

She laughs. “Keane always says to bring any likely gamers. I reckon Blank here,” she jerks her head toward me, “has potential.”

Keane? That was the name of the leader the kid was reporting to. It’s all I can do not to heave the stew I had for lunch on the security guy’s rubber boots.

I hope the turmoil I feel inside isn’t playing out on my face. The security guy looks me up and down. This close I appreciate that I’m actually taller than him. Maybe he won’t snap me in half with one hand.

“Playing or watching?” he growls.

I look to Megs. Time for a guess. “Playing, same as her.”

She flashes me a grin. I suppress a wince when the guy swipes a ridiculous sum off my credit stick and snaps an orange bracelet around my wrist.

Inside, the music is painfully loud. It’s a sea of green, with people either wearing the robes or hanging them off the back of their seats. I’ve landed in a bigger mess than I thought. If I manage to get out of here, I’ll think twice before trusting my instinct. I want to blend, but I tower over everyone and people are looking at me.

“We don’t get too many strangers to the games,” Megs says. I more read her lips than hear her, but I nod to show I understand. The warehouse is bigger than I thought and it takes a few minutes to wind our way through the throbbing, sweaty mass of people to get to the bar.

There are games everywhere. It’s similar to the place where I’m staying, but more and bigger. “Why am I paying two grand for this?”

BOOK: Lifer
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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