Read Lifer Online

Authors: Beck Nicholas

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

Lifer (9 page)

BOOK: Lifer
7.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

A scan of the display shows a radar screen with the obstacles and the other ships. I was so busy being impressed with getting off the ground I flew straight into a rock. It hurt. This might be a game but there’s nothing virtual about it.

I force myself to concentrate. When I use the enhanced focus from the drink, time slows. When I think a little less, I find the mechanism for controlling the ship is intuitive. Before long I have the ship dancing under my control.

The display flashes. The ship shudders. Game on.

Chapter Seven




Stay? Here with Lady? With Davyd? The neutral brown walls of the small hallway close in around me. I imagine a terrified expression on my face in the distorted reflection on the shiny floor.

I feel like the flowers on the table I liked so much earlier. Forced into a narrow-necked vase with no hope of stretching out or escaping. My stomach flips.

“She can’t.” Davyd is the first to find words for the situation. He’s strong and sure as always.

Relief gives me breathing room again. Of course I can’t. I’m a Lifer. I live and sleep two levels below the Fishie quarters. My mother’s there, and Kaih, and my other friends. It’s where I belong.

That’s why you spent so much time with Samuai? Because you belong to the Lifer world?

“I don’t belong here,” I say aloud, ignoring my traitorous thoughts, but no one’s listening to me.

Lady folds her arms, glares at Davyd. “What if I need help during the night?”

“Mother, I’ll be here.”

“I want Asher to stay.” Her voice rises on a petulant note.

The tight band around my chest returns. I’ve only been here for a day but already I sense that this woman rarely fails to get what she wants. For some reason she wants me. I don’t dare ask why but it adds to the questions clamoring in my head.

“We’ll get someone else,” Davyd suggests.

“No.” Her lip juts out. “Only Asher.”

The Fishies aren’t even looking my way, so intent are they on deciding what should be done with me. I know I’m a servant, but their arrogance makes my teeth grind together.

The faint sound must draw Davyd’s attention. He moves to stand next to me. “She’s a person, not a plaything. You can’t expect her to wait outside your bedroom door in case you want her on a whim.”

It’s too smooth, too practiced and too different to everything he’s ever said. I don’t buy it for a second. But my jaw relaxes a fraction and a different kind of warmth spreads through me. And this is much more dangerous than my temper.

“She’s a person, you say?” Lady asks.

Davyd jerks his head in the affirmative.

“Then you’ll have no problem with me asking her.” The full focus of Lady’s madness descends on me. “What do you want, my dear?”

This is my moment. While I don’t really have a choice, I could sway the decision. If I speak up now about Lifer roles and side with Davyd, I sense he’ll convince his mother of the folly of her idea. If I don’t, I have to stay.

Here, I have access to Fishie secrets that might help my mother and the Lifer rebellion my little brother believed in so fiercely. Here, I have hope of solving the mystery surrounding Samuai and Zed’s deaths.

But the other servant never returned

So be it. My arms wrap around my waist and the hidden tank top, so intimate against my skin. There is no going back.

I ignore the united front Davyd is trying to present by standing at my side and take a step toward Lady. “If you need me, I want to be here.”

The smile she shoots her son is triumphant. “See?”

He exhales a huff of frustration. “Where’s she going to sleep? She can’t be on call all night.”

I know the answer even as Lady says the words. “Samuai’s room.”

“Lovely,” I say, before Davyd offers another argument.

The evening passes in a blur. A blur of Lady’s chatter and Davyd’s glares. I don’t taste the food I retrieved from the serving drawer for everyone. All I can think about is the night ahead. Alone in Samuai’s room.

I’ll be fine. I have to be.

When Lady retires for the evening, we part in the hallway. “The bed is made up fresh.”

I’m not her guest; I am her servant. “I will be alert for your call.”

“Sleep well, Asher.”

When she closes her door, two down from the yellow one, I linger in the hallway. This is what I wanted, a chance to explore Samuai’s room, but now that I’m here I find a million different reasons why I should wait out in the hallway alone.

“Scared are you?”

My head jerks around. Davyd leans against the wall behind me. “Sneaky, aren’t you?”

“Watch your tone.”

“Or what?” Lady wants me here and if I’ve learned nothing else today I know that within these quarters Davyd’s not master. I’m weary, desperately weary, of the games and the undercurrents. An argument with Davyd holds a weird kind of appeal. At least I know he thinks I’m scum.

He straightens, all rippling, angry muscle, and closes the distance between us. “I don’t want you here.”

“Really?” I refuse to take a step back.

“I have better things to do than babysit a Lifer.”

I recall Lady’s earlier taunts. “Like following Maston around?”

He bristles, his gray eyes narrow. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, little girl.”

Little? Mere months separate our birthdays and I’m not far from looking him in the eye. It’s a diversion I’m supposed to snap at. He’s pissed. The bunched muscles in his shoulders, the hard line of his jaw, the barely sheathed anger. “It seems I’ve hit a sore spot,” I muse aloud. “The boy wants to grow up to be an astronaut.”

The irony. He might have all the luxuries a Lifer could dream of but he’s just as trapped by his birth as I am. I don’t stop the giggle from escaping. It’s hilarious.

Upsetting Davyd won’t help my cause but I can’t stop. Today’s been all about biting my tongue and thinking before I speak and all fake. This is real. Now, with my heart pounding hard, I’m alive in a way I haven’t been since Samuai died.

He moves closer. His hands hit the wall behind my head and despite my desire to stand my ground, I’ve edged back so that I’m pressed against the wall.

But he doesn’t touch me. Davyd’s all about control.

“I never saw what kept my brother so interested in the forbidden romance thing. You’re pretty enough, but it’s not like you were putting out.” His gray gaze sweeps a lazy path over my body, lingering on the swell of my chest and fixing on my mouth. “If you even have the right equipment. Our women at least dress like women.”

I should be afraid. I’ve always thought Davyd was just this side of human, and having spent time with his mother I know there’s crazy in his blood. But there’s something in his eyes beyond anger. An echo of the hateful warmth in my body.

“Samuai loved me.”

Davyd laughs and the dangerous moment passes. “Then why isn’t he here?”

That’s what I need to find out. I stay silent. Defiant. He drops his hands and waves toward the yellow door. “Sweet dreams.”

I slip inside without looking back at Davyd although I’m aware he hasn’t moved.

“I’ll be right next door if you need me.” His taunt follows as I close the door.

My legs shake and my pulse hasn’t quite settled down. I breathe his scent, like I imagine a forest would have smelled before the Upheaval. I slump against the door and replay the conversation with Davyd in my mind. It seemed so momentous but it was nothing. He’s nothing.

As my body calms down I allow myself to look around the room, to drink in the images of the boy I loved. I whisper again the words I said to his brother.

“Samuai loved me.”

Samuai smiles back at me from a hundred different moments of his life. His brown eyes are warm as always but I can’t quite meet them. My body reacted to Davyd out there in the hallway. How could I have let myself feel anything for someone else when my love has only been dead for days?

It won’t happen again. I’ll solve the mystery surrounding Zed and Samuai and make my mother proud. It’ll be enough to make me feel alive again. I close my eyes and see my brother’s face. Zed was so young and full of life. Too young to fight Samuai, even in practice. I open my eyes to the pictures of the person I trusted with my brother’s life.

“What were you doing with Zed that night?” I whisper to the faces on the wall.

There’s no answer from the images and the weariness of the day catches up. I slip between Samuai’s crisp white sheets and lay my head on his soft pillow. I sleep.





A woman’s voice. Mother? I fight my way to consciousness from a dream where Zed and I were children again, playing hide-and-seek. I couldn’t find him. I never found him.

“Asher,” the voice whispers. Not Mother, but familiar.

A weight settles on the side of the bed. Samuai’s bed. My eyes fly open. It’s Lady.

My hands grip the blanket as I make sense of what she’s doing here in the middle of the night. She’s wearing a thin, silky cream gown that hugs every plump curve. She holds a wax blob with a flame dancing on the end, spilling soft light. I’ve only seen such a thing on the Earth recordings. My brain searches for the word. A candle.

“Do you need me for something?”

When Lady looks at me over the flickering candlelight, it’s like a veil’s lifted from her eyes. The clearness of her gaze takes my breath away.

“I miss him. Every day. And the pain of it—” Her voice breaks and it takes a moment for her to regain control. “You see what it’s done to me. A mother should not have to out-live her son.”

She’s right. Neither she, nor my mother, deserves what’s happened. I’m reminded of the tears and mourning after the Upheaval that we learn about in our history sessions. I know from the recordings that unfriendly alien explorers caused worldwide earthquakes and tsunamis. The threat led to the surviving rulers sending out a colony ship with us on board. Whole cities and states were buried, flooded. Islands disappeared. Everywhere people died, and the pain brought a planet to its knees. “I’m sorry.”

She takes my hand gently, motheringly. “You know what it’s like to mourn him, don’t you?”

Unable to choose the right words, I nod.

My silent agreement’s enough for Lady. “He spoke of you.”

“Really?” All my secret hopes and dreams for our future are exposed in that one word. If he spoke of me to his mother, then maybe I wasn’t the only one dreaming.

“Not often enough to make his father suspicious, but I knew from the way he said your name you had something special.”

I want to open up to her but the madness of the day lingers. Just because she seems so normal now, it doesn’t mean she won’t use my words against me later. With one word she has the power to add years to my sentence.

So I say nothing, although I ache to be loud and proud of my love for Samuai.

She nods. Maybe my thoughts have played out across my face.

“You don’t need to say anything. I know how difficult forbidden love can be.” Her voice drops, filled with the pain of regret. “Believe me I know. Of course it never would have lasted. My son was meant for bigger things than a dalliance with a servant.”

My jaw locks. “Why am I here?”

Lady looks at me with Samuai’s eyes. “My husband informed me of my son’s death. He said it was a terrible accident in the training rooms.” Her gaze fixes on one of the pictures above my head and locks there.

I keep the strength of my interest from showing on my face. I don’t want to do anything to disturb her tale.

She sighs. “And your brother was killed too. Ironic that Elex’s and my boy should pass together.”

Why? Why is it ironic?
The questions I’m not asking crowd my brain, and I squeeze my eyes closed to keep them in.

“I was heartbroken. Unbelieving my baby could be gone. I begged to see his body so I could hold him one last time,” she continues. “But my husband refused. I was told he’d already been cremated because the injuries were so horrific.” She pins me with her gaze and there’s an intensity about her that’s all Davyd. “There wasn’t time.”

“What do you mean?” The question slips out and I bite my tongue. So much for letting her speak.

Please let me not have messed this up

My interruption doesn’t seem to have bothered Lady. She places the candle on the bedside table and clasps her hands together in her lap. “There wasn’t enough time between the accident and the cremation sequence. It takes at least an hour to complete the protocols. I don’t know why my husband lied, but I’m sure there’s something he’s hiding about how Samuai died.” Her hands cup my face. “I want you to find out what really happened.”

This woman has access to the whole ship. How will I succeed where she’s failed?

“Where are the time logs kept?”

Her hands drop to her sides. “The Control Room. You’ll have to go there.”

Go to the home of the Remote Device that can end any of us in an instant? It’s suicide. And the only place on the ship where you can see the stars.

“Why me?” I ask softly in case it makes her turn.

Her smile trembles and a tear falls. “You’re the only one who cared for Samuai as much as me.”

“What about—” I hesitate to say his name; like it will betray the strange affect he’s had on me. “Davyd?” I manage.

She shakes her head. “No.” Her face is hard. “He’s too much his father’s son.”

I don’t understand, but with Lady so odd I don’t dare question further. I shove aside doubts and fears.

“I’ll do it.” It’s easy to promise when it’s the same goal that keeps me going.

She stands and looks down at me, the imperious Lady. “Do whatever it takes.”

I lie awake for hours after she pads across the room, exits and clicks the yellow door closed behind her.

Getting inside the Control Room could mean so much to the rebellion. Ship legend says that there’s a second Remote Device like the one the Nauts used to switch off my father. Maston carries one; locating the other would alone be worth the risk of getting there.

Excitement mixes with fear and I shift in the far too-comfortable bed. Lady’s visit leaves me with more questions than answers.

BOOK: Lifer
7.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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