Firstlife
I've been told history is written by survivors. But I know that isn't always true. My name is Tenley Lockwood, and very soon, I'll be dead. This is my story--but the end is only the beginning.

Tenley "Ten" Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl...who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she'll live--after she dies.

There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she's drawn to isn't home to the boy she's falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision...

Books by Gena Showalter

available from Harlequin TEEN

The Everlife Novels

FIRSTLIFE

The White Rabbit Chronicles

(in reading order)

ALICE IN ZOMBIELAND

THROUGH THE ZOMBIE GLASS

THE QUEEN OF ZOMBIE HEARTS

A MAD ZOMBIE PARTY

The Intertwined Novels

(in reading order)

INTERTWINED

UNRAVELED

TWISTED

FIRSTLIFE

Gena Showalter

www.harlequinbooks.com.au

Dedication

To God and His dear Son, for inspiration (Luke 10:2, Mark 3:24) and boundless love (John 3:16).

To Pennye Edwards, for being one of the great loves of my life.

To Wendy Higgins, for the beta read and awesome feedback.

To Katie McGarry, for the perfect email at the perfect time.

To Roxanne St. Claire, my sister, my friend, my love, for the encouragement and support.

To Jill Monroe, the bestest best friend a girl could have, for just about everything. You make life better. (PS: I hid your name in the middle to ensure you'd have to search for it because I'm the nerdiest best friend, hahaha.) To Kresley Cole, P.C. and Kristin Cast and Sarah Maas, for being the most fun people on the planet.

To Mike and Vicki Tolbert, Shane Tolbert, Shonna Hurt and Michelle Quine, for putting up with me. God really blessed you when He gifted you with me. Fine. He blessed me when He gifted me with you.

To Max, Riley and Victoria, for being you. I love you, always and forever.

To Deirde Knight, my agent, for believing in this series as strongly as I do.

To Lauren Smulski, for the read and amazing feedback.

To Natashya Wilson, my editor, for seeing a diamond in the lump of coal I originally sent you. Your guidance has been invaluable, and your love for the book/series a true treasure. You helped me in so many ways I'd need to write a new book just to list them all. You've always worked hard for me and always offered the most amazing suggestions, but this time, you surpassed yourself. Thank you!

Contents

Quote

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

A Chat with Gena Showalter: Q & A

Questions for Discussion

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

--CHARLES DICKENS, A TALE OF TWO CITIES

TROIKA

From: A_P_5/23.43.2

To: L_N_3/19.1.1

Subject: Tenley Lockwood Duuude. A heads-up would have been nice. Can you say whack shack?

If you failed to read my dossier, Nanne, I'm happy to bring you up to date on the highlights. I'm a well-trained and vastly decorated Laborer. Victory might as well be my middle name. What I'm not: a babysitter. Watching Tenley Lockwood is a waste of my many talents.

Oh, AND DID I FORGET TO MENTION SHE'S IN A WHACK SHACK??

With all due respect, I'd rather fish out my internal organs with a coat hanger than stay here. I'm officially requesting a transfer.

Light Brings Sight!

Archer Prince

TROIKA

From: L_N_3/19.1.1

To: A_P_5/23.43.2

Subject: Officially Denied Mr. Prince,

I'm not your duuude. I'm your superior. You will only ever address me by my proper rank: General. Or the always appropriate sir.

You were selected for this mission for two very important reasons. You are young and (obviously) immature. Offense intended. Our older Laborers had trouble relating to Miss Lockwood, but you should fit right in.

On that note, continue "babysitting" Miss Lockwood, or I'll fish out your organs for you.

Also, I expect daily reports. I'm not overstating when I say convincing her to make covenant with our realm is essential.

Light Brings Sight!

General Levi Nanne

TROIKA

From: A_P_5/23.43.2

To: L_N_3/19.1.1

Subject: You Suck (& I'm WAY Mature) Dear Sir,

Laborer is below your pay grade, but aren't you one of those "older" gents who failed with the girl? Just checking. (And prepping you for the time I succeed and rub it in your face.) Anyway. I'm a good little robot, sir, so of course I'll do as you asked. Sir. Here's the thing, though, sir. If I have to watch/listen from the outside a minute more, I'm going to bleach my corneas and stab a pencil through my ears.

I want my Shell, and I want to go INSIDE the whack shack. Sir.

Also, here's the first report as demanded. I mean so sweetly requested. Sir. During the institution's version of creative writing class, your precious had to write a poem to express her feelings about life. I'm including a copy for your perusal. I defy you NOT to jump off a bridge after reading it. Sir.

The grave is the end And I will never accept that I have been set free from the chains that bind me.

I know

"Death has lost its victory"

Is a lie, because there is no greater truth than this: "Life is hopeless"

Gotta say, I don't think Darkside McDowner is a great fit for Troika. I know, I know. We love the unlovable. We champion the weak. I don't need a lecture. Just tell me what makes her so "essential."

Your humble servant,

Archer

TROIKA

From: L_N_3/19.1.1

To: A_P_5/23.43.2

Subject: Poem, Among Other Things

I didn't fail with her, puppy, I cleared the way for you. There's a difference. Want to succeed? Learn it.

Expect a Shell at 0800. Just don't expect yours. I've selected one from GenPop. And before you reply with your typical flare--General Population? Are you kidding me (dramatic pause for effect), sir?--save your fingers the trouble of typing. I'm not sending what you want. I'm sending what you need. You may thank me later.

Also, in regards to the poem. Miss Lockwood understands there are two sides to every story. Why don't you? Do yourself a favor and read the poem again. This time, start at the bottom and work your way up.

And, Mr. Prince, the fact that I have to tell you what's so special about this girl means I need to schedule you for an emergency jackhammer to the brain. Do yourself a favor and pay attention to the pearls I'm about to throw. Light. Conduit. Loss...darkness.

Oh, and here's a good one: Moron. Again, offense intended.

TROIKA

From: A_P_5/23.43.2

To: L_N_3/19.1.1

Subject: Four Things

1) Sir Dude. I don't want to point out your obvious lack of intelligence, but Tenley Lockwood can't be a Conduit. Given your advanced age, you've clearly forgotten Conduits are raised by Troikan parents. They are the most loyal among us, from beginning to end.

2) And okay, okay. I read the poem from bottom to top, so I get your "two sides" theory. That doesn't mean the poem is any good. It doesn't rhyme.

3) The Shell arrived, and I honestly I think hate you. I'm pure male aggression, and you expect me to pass for a chick? As if anyone will be dumb enough to believe such a farce.

4) Myriad sent Killian. I've seen him skulking around in the shadows, watching the girl. Permission to slaughter?

TROIKA

From: L_N_3/19.1.1

To: A_P_5/23.43.2

Subject: Permission Gr... Denied! (Admit it. Your little-girl heart skipped a beat.) You know our laws as well as I do. And what is at the heart of our second-most-important decree? Personal vendettas must be set aside for the good of the people. You are one of our people.

Do your job. Nothing else matters.

MYRIAD

From: K_F_5/23.53.6

To: P_B_4/65.1.18

Subject: My New Assignment

Hot and crazy, just the way I like 'em. Consider Tenley Lockwood bagged and tagged.

Might Equals Right!

Killian Flynn

MYRIAD

From: P_B_4/65.1.18

To: K_F_5/23.53.6

Subject: Show Some Respect!

You will speak of the girl with deference, or you won't speak of her at all.

I'm already close to pulling you from this assignment, Mr. Flynn. In fact, I have no idea why I allowed the Generals to convince me you can do what no one else has managed to do. You're too young, and your methods for success have always been inappropriate. But not this time! Persuade the girl to make covenant with us, but keep your pants zipped while you do it. And do not fail. We need her.

Might Equals Right!

Madame Pearl Bennett

MYRIAD

From: K_F_5/23.53.6

To: P_B_4/65.1.18

Subject: Fail? Not in This Lifetime

You've never cared about my methods before, only the end result. What's changed? What's so important about this girl? If you've got inside info, do me a solid and share with the rest of the class.

And just so you know, we don't need anyone. We've never been stronger, and we outnumber the Troikans two to one. Also, this girl is basically an "it." When she dies, she'll just be one more cog in our wheel. But don't you worry your pretty little head. I'll sign her--my way. I always do.

In other news, Troika sent Archer. I'm going to cut off his limbs and beat him to Second-death with them.

MYRIAD

From: P_B_4/65.1.18

To: K_F_5/23.53.6

Subject: NO!

Control your temper until you've signed the girl. Afterward, I'll use my highest pair of heels to pin Archer down, and you can flay his skin to wear as a coat, if that's what you desire. Have I made myself clear? Do not engage. Not yet!

And the girl is so much more than an "it" and a "cog." Everyone is! But this girl...one day, she'll be your boss. She'll be both our bosses. If I were you, I'd be careful how I treated her.

MYRIAD

From: K_F_5/23.53.6

To: P_B_4/65.1.18

Subject: Sorry, but You're NOT Me What you are? Too cute. Imagine me wincing in embarrassment for you as I say: I don't actually care about your permission. Consider my last message an FYI.

And you know better than most I treat my bosses the same way I treat everyone else. If you don't like it, Madame, you can absolutely reassign me. I have nothing to lose. I'm guessing you have plenty.

MYRIAD

From: P_B_4/65.1.18

To: K_F_5/23.53.6

Subject: Nothing to Lose?

How about something to gain? Sign the girl, and I'll give you what you've always wanted. Your mother's name and where to find her.

I've been told history is written by survivors,

but I know that isn't always true.

My name is Tenley Lockwood and very soon, I'll be dead.

This is my story--but my end is only the beginning.

chapter one

"You are better off Unsigned than a slave to Troikan law."

--Myriad

I've been locked inside the Prynne Asylum--where happiness comes to die--for three hundred and seventy-eight days. (Or nine thousand and seventy-two hours.) I know the exact time frame, not because I watched the sun rise and set in the sky, but because I mark my walls in blood every time the lights in the good-girls-gone-bad wing of the facility turn on.

There are no windows in the building. At least, none that I've found. And I've never been allowed outside. None of the inmates have. To be honest, I don't even know what country we're in, or if we're buried far underground. Before being flown, driven, shipped or dropped here, we were heavily sedated. Wherever we are, though, it's bone-deep cold beyond the walls. Every day, hour, second, our air is heated.

I've heard friends and enemies alike ask the staff for details, but the response has always been the same. Answers have to be earned.

No, thanks. For me, the price--cooperation--is simply too high.

With a wince, I rise from bed and make my way to the far corner of my cell. Every step is agony. My back hates me, but the muscles are too sore to go on strike. Last night I was caned just because.

I stop in front of my pride and joy. My calendar. A new day means a new mark.

I have no chalk, no pen or marker, so I drive the tip of an index finger over a jagged stone protruding from the floor, slicing through the flesh and drawing a well of blood.

I hate the sting, but if I'm honest, I'll love the scar it leaves behind. My scars give me something to count.

Counting is my passion, and numerology my favorite addiction. Maybe because every breath we take is another tick on our clock, putting us one step closer to death...and a new beginning. Maybe because my name is Tenley--Ten to my friends.

Ten, a representation of completion.

We have ten fingers and ten toes. Ten is the standard beginning for any countdown.

I was born on the tenth day of the tenth month at 10:10 a.m. And, okay. All right. Maybe I'm obsessed with numbers because they always tell a story and unlike people, they never lie.

Here's my story in a nutshell:

Seventeen--the number of years I've existed. In my case, lived is too strong a word.

One--the number of boys I've dated.

Two--the number of friends I've made and lost since my incarceration.

Two--the number of lives I'll live. The number of lives we'll all live.

Our Firstlife, then our Everlife.

Two--the number of choices I have for my eternal future.

(1) Do as my parents command or (2) suffer.

I've chosen to suffer.

I use the blood to create another mark on the stones. Satisfied, I head to the "bathroom." There are no doors to provide even a modicum of privacy, just a small, open shower stall next to a toilet. For our safety, we're told. For the amusement of others, I suspect. All cells are monitored 24/7, which means at any given time during any given day, staff members are allowed and even encouraged to watch live camera feed.

Dr. Vans, the head of the asylum, likes to taunt us. I see and know everything.

A good portion of teachers scold us. Time waster!

Orderlies belittle us. Put on a little weight, haven't we?

Most of the guards leer at us. They hail from all over the world, and though their language varies, their sentiment is always the same. You are begging for it and one day I'll give it.

Just some of the many perks offered chez Prynne.

Not everyone is horrible, I admit. A small handful even strive to keep the others from going too far. But it's no secret every staff member is paid to make us hate our stay, to make us want to leave more than anything. Because, the more we want to leave, the more likely we are to do whatever our parents sent us here to do.

My friend Marlowe dared to pawn her mother's jewelry to buy groceries, and she needed help with her "kleptomania." My friend Clay, a drug addict, needed to get clean.

The institution failed them both. A few months ago, Marlowe killed herself, and Clay... I don't know what happened to him. He planned an escape, and I haven't heard from him since.

I miss them both. Every. Single. Day.

I begged Clay not to risk a breakout. I tried to leave once, and I had help. My boyfriend, James, a guard high on the totem, arranged for cameras to be shut down, certain doors to be unlocked and other guards to sleep on the job. Still I proved unsuccessful.

For his efforts, James was shot in the head. While I watched.

Hot tears well in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks as I slowly strip out of my jumpsuit. Every motion comes with another blast of agony. When finally I'm naked, I step under a tepid spray of water. Modesty has long since been beaten out of me--literally!--but I wash as fast as I can. We're given a small ration of water a day. If we run out, we run out. Too bad, so sad. Something we're never given? Razors. I keep my legs and underarms smooth with threads I've pulled from old uniforms. I already feel like an animal; there's no reason to resemble one, too.

Not that a well-groomed appearance matters. While we're allowed to socialize with the opposite sex during mealtimes, I'd r