But Eve turned from the serpent
and did not eat of the fruit.
And for her obedience,
she was allowed to reach out her hand,
take from the tree of life and eat,
and live forever.
Evereach Origins, Second EditionChapter One
I never could watch anyone die.
Tricycle wheels flipped through the air. Brakes shrieked and metal crunched. The kid’s trike rattled all the way across the road and hit my foot. I froze at the curb in front of my house, school bag sliding off my shoulder, vision filled with the spinning wheels. I told myself to walk away, pretend I hadn’t heard the smash or seen the boy go under the vehicle. I should shrug it off, like I was supposed to.
I should ignore the impulse to help.
I bounded around the broken bike and sprinted to the car in the middle of the road. A little arm extended from underneath the front fender, palm up, motionless. Biting my lip, I sank to my heels, wishing his fingers would twitch, fighting the tears that welled behind my eyes.
The silence was heavy after the squeal and crash. I hovered, not sure if I should pull him out. I hated my brother for leaving me behind. If Josh had driven me to dance class like he was supposed to, I wouldn’t be here now, staring at first death and not knowing what to do. I’d be going about my day like normal. No, I reminded myself. Today was not an ordinary day. Today was Implosion.
The driver emerged from the car with annoyance on her face. I flinched as she slammed the car door. Another woman ran from a nearby house, screaming into a phone. She raced to the driver and gave her a shove. “That’s my son! I’m calling the Hazard Police. You’d better be insured!”
The driver threw up her hands and backed off, slumping against the side of her car, clicking her fingernails together, and tapping her heels against the pavement.
I knelt down to the boy as his mother continued to yell into the phone. She paced up and down the road, her voice shrill. “How long will it take to get a recovery dome here? What—you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m already late for work.”
Wisps of his blond hair touched the side of the wheel like yellow cotton candy, all floating and soft. I wondered if his soul floated there too, inches above the hot road, waiting to get back to his body. I was glad I couldn’t see the rest of his head.
Before I touched him, something zipped past my shoulder.
The drone circled up and back, swinging close to my ear. Shaped like a metal cross no bigger than my hand, it skimmed the air in front of the car. Beneath the hum of its four miniature rotor blades came the chatter of shutters. It was taking shots of the damage: the boy’s hand, the wheel, a piece of tricycle jammed under there with him. Assessing the situation and relaying the information twenty miles west to the nearest Hazard Police station.
The information drone flitted from spot to spot, whirring around the car straight toward the driver, hovering and clicking, transmitting her image back to the police. The kid’s mother was next, before the drone flew to me. A pinprick of light struck my eyes, and I stopped still, waiting for it to take the shot and move on, but the clicking stopped.
I frowned as the mechanical chattering died. Instead of taking my picture, the drone floated, paused for the first time. I stared back at it, waiting, a feeling of unease spreading through my chest.
Someone grabbed my arm.
My elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hubert, wrenched me to my feet, a pair of pruning shears wavering in her other hand. The camera clicked behind me—just once—and I imagined the blur of my body captured in the image. Before I drew breath, Mrs. Hubert’s strong grip propelled me several feet from the car. Her long braid—a sign of her age—slapped against her thigh as she strode away from the accident, taking me with her.
“Come away, Ava. You don’t need to get caught up in that.” She flicked her head in the direction of the scowling driver who looked like she wanted to strangle someone. I guessed she didn’t have insurance, after all.
“But, he’s still under there … ” I threw a confused look at the boy’s mother. She still hadn’t checked him.
“Everyone deals with first death differently. You need to get used to it, if you want to get through Implosion tonight.”
Implosion. When I get to see the color of my own blood.
She tugged on my arm again. “Besides, the Hazard Police will be here soon. They’ll take care of him.”
Behind us, the info drone returned to the crash as Mrs. Hubert urged me further away from the accident. I picked up my bag and tried to forget about the child. I guessed it would be at least half an hour before he regenerated and was fully conscious again—faster if the Hazards brought a recovery dome.
Mrs. Hubert opened her gate and went back to pruning her rose bushes like nothing had happened. The shears snapped. Petals floated to newly mulched earth, bright red on brown. “Go on. There’s nothing more to do here.”
I forced myself to focus. If I didn’t hurry, I’d miss dance class completely.
It took me twenty minutes to rush to the dance studio downtown, which made me ten minutes late. Dance was part of my schooling and counted as the first two classes of my day. Luckily, the studio was located just a few blocks up from the school. As I puffed toward the café below the studio, I slowed for a moment to breathe in the normality of people drinking coffee, the crackle of open newspapers, and the soft jumble of conversation. No more broken bike and tiny hand.
Approaching the corner of the building, I gave Lucy, the owner of the café, a quick wave. She’d offered me a waitressing job over summer holidays, which was perfect because I could head upstairs to dance practice after my shift. She returned the wave with a bright smile. With her olive skin and dark brown hair, Lucy had the kind of complexion that hinted at what some people called an ‘unfortunate’ Seversandian heritage. Not that my own features were far off: brown hair, brown eyes, and skin that was a shade darker than pale. A very long time ago, there was free movement between our country, Evereach, and the country across the sea, Seversand, but not anymore.
I took the stairs two at a time, raced past the poster I normally drooled over—an ad for the Conservatorium, the most prestigious dance academy in all of Evereach—and launched myself through the door.
Inside the studio, students were moving away from the warm-up bar into the center of the room. Ms. White towered at the head of the dance floor, her reflection tall and straight in the mirror behind her. “Hurry up, class! Selections for the Conservatorium are only six months away and I won’t accept dawdling because summer’s here.”
I ran to put my bag down, searching the group for my best friend, Hannah. I caught sight of her pale blond head among the other students, shining like the first ray of sunlight that morning. She threw me a questioning look as Ms. White pointed me to the warm up bar. I rushed through my stretches and positioned myself at the back of the room, focusing on the new routine, until Hannah maneuvered her way over to me.
“Where were you?”
“There was a car accident. One of my neighbor’s kids got hit.”
Her eyes glazed over. The boy’s death wouldn’t matter to her. It shouldn’t matter to me.
“And Josh hates me, but what’s new.” I leaped, twisting my body mid-air and landing on my feet, to spring upward again.
Hannah dipped away, and when she moved back, she edged closer so we could talk. “Are you ready for Implosion tonight? My Mom was all mushy about it this morning, it was embarrassing.”
I forced a laugh. “Yeah, my parents not so much.” Mom had taken me shopping for a new dress in all black so it didn’t show the blood. Black wasn’t compulsory and Josh had told me that some kids at his Implosion ceremony the previous year wore white, but those were mostly the religious kids, and they framed their Implosion clothes afterward to remind themselves about faith. I only had Josh’s word for it, since only adult members of the family were allowed to attend the ceremony and it wasn’t televised. Other than the dress shopping, my parents hadn’t talked about Implosion much, like it wasn’t important that I was becoming an adult.
After tonight, I’d be allowed to grow my hair past my shoulders—but only about half an inch, since the length of our hair had to match our age. And I’d be allowed to drink. And move out of home, except only the really fast healers did that since they were offered paid Hazard training while they completed their last year of school. I figured I’d be stuck at home for the next year, but Josh was heading to college after summer holidays.
“So, what about Josh? He’s going to the Terminal tonight? I heard it’s going to be a massive fight.”
My stomach clenched and I missed the move Ms. White was demonstrating. Josh had begged to go to his graduation party, but our parents insisted he come to Implosion with me. “Dad said no.”
“But all the graduates are going. It’s the last time they’ll get to kill each other.” The lightness was gone from her voice. “He has to be there.”
I shrugged, but the nonchalant gesture was a lie. How could I tell her that the very idea of the Terminal made me sick? That my heart hurt every time I remembered the little boy under the car. That the thought of Implosion—of being killed—made me shudder so hard I couldn’t breathe. Hannah hadn’t died before either, but I knew she didn’t feel the same way.
I said none of those things as Ms. White’s voice drowned out my thoughts, beating out a warning with a finger pointed firmly in my direction. “Concentrate, Miss Holland. Or I’ll have to send you to school without your Extra-Curricular Pass.”
Hannah flicked me a quick, apologetic glance and I ducked my head and willed my body to obey the music, to turn when it should and leap when it should. Finally, I lost myself in rhythm and movement and the quiet that always fell over me when I danced.
When we arrived at school, it was morning break and students crowded the halls. I pushed on the doors just in time for someone to release a wash of red flyers advertising the Terminal.
A familiar giggle told me that Sarah Watson posed against the nearby wall. Her nail scissors glinted as she tilted her bleeding ear, showing off how her blood didn’t even drip before her skin healed.
I rolled my eyes and turned away before the inevitable face sucking with her latest conquest, but I was surprised when it was Michael Bradley. He had Sarah hanging off his arm like she was an extension of his elbow.
“Remember when we said we’d never be some guy’s accessory?” Hannah grabbed my hand with her eyebrows way up in her hair. “That’s the one guy I’d make an exception for. Do you know he’s never lost a fight at the Terminal?”
Josh didn’t say how fast Michael healed at Implosion the previous year, but I’d heard he turned down Hazard training. I guessed, if my Dad were part owner of the Terminal, I wouldn’t bother with a job either.
Sarah caught my eye before I could pretend to look somewhere else. “Hey, Ava,” she said, looking me up and down from my regulation-length short ponytail to my leggings. “Been to dance class? Seems like a waste of time to me.”
She turned away before I could reply, but Michael gave me a nod, a strangely serious acknowledgement of my presence, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I frowned at him as Hannah pulled me along. “Pfft. She’s just jealous. Besides, did you know she’s a third child?”
“Truly?” When I turned twelve, Mom had given me ‘the talk.’ At the end of it, she’d told me that our bodies were only designed to have one child, maybe two, and that was a good thing given how long people lived. Otherwise the world would be overpopulated.
Hannah drew me into the swarm of students. “Did you see how fast she heals? She’s probably a Basher.”
I glanced back at Sarah and Michael as they disappeared into the milling students. Members of the Basher gang were always fast healers. There were images of them on the news, always slightly blurry and concealed in full camouflage gear, and I’d heard stories about them, whispers of espionage and subterfuge, talk of theft and threats, hatred of slow healers, but they were always far away, somewhere else. They went to extremes to keep their identities secret and nobody knew who their leader was, but their message appeared in graffiti sprawled on the corners of billboards or across the sides of buildings: Bury the weak.
“Do you think it’s true what they say about the Basher cells underground?”
“That they bury slow healers alive.” She screwed up her face in disgust. “The police seem to take it seriously, but I don’t know. Sounds like a scary story.”
“I don’t understand why they hate people who don’t heal fast.” I struggled to say the words ‘slow healer.’ It was insulting to label someone that way.
Hannah shrugged. “I heard they think slow healers make us look weak, vulnerable; everything we use Implosion to prove we aren’t.” She smiled and bumped my shoulder, trying to lighten the mood. “Hey, if I turn out to be a slow healer tonight, you’ve got my back, right?”
I attempted a smile as she pulled me down the hallway. Heading to class, I checked the steady stream of students for my brother. School was finishing early in honor of Implosion—I had only two classes left—and I didn’t trust him to wait to give me a lift home.
As soon as the final bell rang, I raided my locker, hugged Hannah, and raced out to the parking lot.
Josh was already opening the driver side door as I ran up. “Hey.”
He didn’t answer, settling behind the wheel with his hair blending into the cracked black leather seat. He pointed at me and then to the passenger seat.
I raced around to the side and dropped into the seat, just as his best friend, Aaron Reid, appeared, his red hair tousled and full of gel. He drummed his fists on the hood of the car and shouted at Josh through the windscreen. “See you at the Terminal, buddy!”
He signaled to Josh, put a finger to the underside of his chin, and pretended to pull the trigger. Josh mocked a slit throat in return. A ghost of a smile crept onto my brother’s face as he revved the engine and slammed the car into reverse. Josh drove faster than the speed limit, but I picked my battles.
I chose my words carefully. “Aaron seems to think you’re going to the Terminal tonight.”
His jaw flexed and there were murky stains under his eyes that made him look hollow. “So what if I am?”
I took a deep breath. It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to go to the Terminal—as much as I couldn’t stand the idea of people killing each other with swords or guns or drones, or whatever new thrill the Terminal came up with. I didn’t want him to miss his graduation party either. But he’d been through Implosion before. He knew what was coming.
“Josh, it’s my Implosion. You’re my brother. I need … ”
I don’t want to be alone when I die.
I swallowed the words I couldn’t say. I’d be surrounded by hundreds of kids. My parents would be there. But, somehow, the thought of my brother standing beside me gave me courage. Even if I regenerated straight away. Even if there was a chance I was a fast healer, I didn’t want to lose myself to that moment of darkness. That moment of death.
The words tumbled out of my mouth. “I need you to be there.”
He didn’t look at me, his expression hooded and unreadable, as his hands tightened on the wheel. He was quiet for so long that exasperation bubbled up inside me.
“How can playing at the Terminal be more important than my first death?”
“Because I’d rather kill than watch you be killed.” He glared at me as we stopped at an intersection, a deep darkness behind his eyes.
I struggled to understand. “Implosion’s important … ”
“You’re a freak, Ava. It’s a stupid ceremony that lets people sleep at night. Seversand isn’t coming to kill us. Because we can’t die. Nobody can.”
He tapped his temple and pressed his finger there, his eyes boring holes into me. “The only war we fight is the one in here.”
I struggled against the burn of tears behind my eyes. At school, we’d learned about the old world war that began when Seversand attacked Evereach and was fought over control of Evereach’s rich soil and water supplies. It lasted a hundred years while both countries raced to create a nuclear bomb. In the end, when Seversand dropped the bomb on Dell city—the city where I now lived—it didn’t kill anybody. After that, they drew up an international treaty: as long as each country’s children regenerated at Implosion each year, no country would try to conquer another again. There was no point in wasting resources on a war that couldn’t be won.
But it wasn’t the past that bothered me. It was the look in my brother’s eyes. I’d practically said aloud that I was scared to die and now he knew my deepest fear.
I didn’t understand why I felt this way, why death bothered me so much.
Why am I like this?
It was a question I’d asked myself a thousand times and I still didn’t have any answers. All I knew for sure was that I was alone. Alone and different. I couldn’t stand to see the pity in Josh’s expression. I slumped in the seat for the rest of the trip, until we pulled into the driveway.
Josh was out of the car before I had time to gather my things. I dragged myself toward the front door as the local neighborhood-watch drone coasted by the house. There was a happy shout behind me and the little boy pedaled past on a shiny, new tricycle, his fine hair puffed up and wafting as he picked up speed. His mom gave me a wave. I tried to smile as I headed inside, down the corridor, past the connecting door to the garage, and around the corner to the bottom of the stairs.
Mom was sitting at the computer, visible through the open door opposite the stairwell. She jumped out of her seat as soon as she saw me. “Ava?”
I was already part way up the stairs. “Yeah?”
“Get ready, sweetie. We’ll have a bite to eat and then we’ll go.”
I dragged myself to the landing halfway up, pausing as the air screen in Mom’s study blared after me, the excitement in the female newsreader’s voice palpable.
“Sixteen-year-olds all around Evereach are preparing for Implosion tonight. At exactly 6:00 p.m. in each time zone, young people of every nation have proven their ability to regenerate, including teens in Seversand.” A hint of derision crept into the newsreader’s voice as she mentioned Seversand, but she continued without pause. “In other news, Starsgard has refused to extradite the computer hacker known as Arachne … ”
Starsgard. It was the only country that didn’t take part in the world war or Implosion and its borders were heavily-protected. On a map, the three countries reminded me of a set of lungs. Evereach and Seversand formed the lungs on either side, a wide sea between them, but they were joined at the top by a backbone of impassable mountains. Starsgard was those mountains.
The newsreader’s voice faded as I made it to the top of the stairs, turned left, and headed to my room, passing Josh’s closed door on the way. Farther down the hall was the upstairs lounge. I wanted to run through it to the deck beyond, push the sliding doors open, and gulp fresh air. Instead, I turned into my room where I found the black dress, pressed and clean, lying on my bed next to a pair of dark stockings. Shiny black heels waited on the floor.
Next door, Mrs. Hubert’s lights weren’t on. Normally, her flickering television turned my bedroom into a disco, a kaleidoscope of moving lights. I peered out to see that her blinds were drawn and shuttered, and at the side of her house the garbage can was overturned, spilling white plastic bags across the side path. I frowned as I headed to the bathroom across the hall to wash up.
Too soon, I was dressed and ready and Mom was calling. “Ava? Josh? Time to go.”
Dad met me at the bottom of the stairs, dressed in a new black suit and Mom in a dress similar to mine. Dad held out his hands for me.
I didn’t know what to say, so I blurted. “I don’t feel like eating.”
“That’s okay, honey, let’s just go. There’s been a change of venue, so we have further to travel.”
I followed Mom and Dad to the car and seconds later Josh thumped down the stairs behind us. Climbing into the car, I tried not to crush my dress, smoothing it out in my lap.
Dad spoke to the navigation system and the serene female voice confirmed: The Terminal. I started, glanced at Josh, and he smirked back at me.
As the car passed the darkness shrouding our neighbor’s house, I said, “Mrs. Hubert’s place is dark tonight. Is she out?”
In the front seat, Mom tilted toward me. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mrs. Hubert had her final death today.”
I stared at the window, frowning at my own reflection, as Mom said, “We mustn’t be sad. She had a wonderful life. I’m sure all her descendents will come to the wake.”
“She just didn’t seem that old. I mean, her hair was longer than anybody’s, but … ” I remembered her braid slapping her thigh. Halfway down the back meant fifty years old. To the waist was one hundred. To the top of the thigh was two hundred and after that people stopped measuring as long as it stayed long.
Dad said, “There isn’t always warning. Our bodies just stop regenerating. She must have been at least 350 years old.”
Mom gave me a calming smile as the car continued out onto the main street. “I’m sure we’ll be invited to the wake. Come on now, it’s time to enjoy the evening.”
Thirty minutes later, the entertainment precinct glowed ahead. Movie theaters, malls, and restaurants surrounded the massive Terminal skyscraper like ants swarming around a dirt mound. Once there, we pulled into a multi-level parking lot and followed the complicated neon signs to the entrance. The glass walkway opened into what looked like a living room, lined with plush leather couches and fine wooden coffee tables. A security camera drone floated in each corner of the room and on the opposite side, a big mahogany door advertised the entrance, with a touch screen in the middle.
There was a short line, with other people dressed like us, all in black. Mom tapped in a code and tugged me through with Dad and Josh close behind. Moving across a walkway, we entered an enormous, dimly-lit room, with people already milling about—500 kids and their parents—all of the sixteen-year-olds in Dell city. The room was flat across the floor, but the sides curved up and over like a dome around us.
Surveillance drones hummed across the ceiling, recording what was happening for the eyes only of each country’s highest authorities: Presidents, Prime Ministers, and monarchs. Somewhere in the heart of Evereach, President Scott would be watching, flanked by the Head of the Hazards and the High Justice. The Seversandian President would be watching too. I’d seen pictures of her, standing at the head of an army amassed across shimmering sand dunes, her dark brown hair tied into a high ponytail and a row of jewels strung across her cheek from a ring in the side of her nose.
To one side of the room, a group of kids stood praying, heads bowed, all wearing identical white cloaks that made them stand out like glow-in-the-dark figurines. I wished I could see the world the way they did—that our fate was decided by a woman in a garden who told a serpent to get lost and was rewarded for her faith with eternal life. Implosion for the faith community was a part of remembering and giving thanks. But the drones hummed and the room was like a crypt and it was impossible to think about new beginnings when the whole world waited for us to die.
“Hey, buddy!” Josh’s friend, Aaron, appeared out of nowhere, fist thumping with my brother.
Dad looked surprised. “Aaron, I didn’t know you had a sibling here tonight.”
Aaron pointed over his shoulder and I noticed for the first time the Hazard officers standing at intervals around the room. They were covered from neck to foot in fitted green uniform, designed to allow them to move fast. Each wore a pair of drone-control visors, so transparent I could barely see them from that distance.
The man Aaron pointed to had the same color red hair as Aaron and a drone hovering at his shoulder. “My brother’s with the Hazards, so I got to help set up.”
As Aaron spoke, his brother’s drone drifted toward us, and mom wasn’t the only one pointing at it. “That’s new.”
Smooth and sleek, the drone was striped gold and black and was bigger than any I’d seen before. Silver protrusions dotted its underbelly, tranquilizer darts masquerading as decorative studs. Its movements were calm, wafting close to the ceiling.
Aaron’s response was indifferent. “It’s a wasp.”
I’d heard about them on the news. They were Weapons to Apprehend Suspect Persons—the latest police response to the Bashers. This one was the same black and gold as the other wasps, but it had narrow stripes all around its body, and I realized that each wasp was decorated differently.
Aaron winked at me. “I’ll be taking off now.” He shook my father’s hand. “Have a good evening, Mr. Holland. Mrs. Holland.” A quick glance at Josh and Aaron was gone.
My skin prickled as Mom and Dad gave me a gentle push forward. Other kids were separating from their families and moving into the center of the room. Somehow, I ended up close to the front as we formed rows in rough arrow shapes across the floor. I hadn’t even had the chance to look for Hannah. What was already dim lighting darkened so I could barely see.
I looked back for my family, frowning as Josh slid away from my parents, carefully angling his way toward the back of the room. He was taking his chance to leave and part of me sank to the floor. He could have stayed just this once.
The lights went off and the sudden silence crashed over me.
I flinched as sound boomed around the curved walls, an explosion in the air. A giant, orange mushroom billowed up around us: an air screen of projected images engulfing us in pictures of an inferno, as though we’d been dropped into the heart of a fireball. I gasped as the shape of the first exploding nuclear bomb splashed color across the height of the walls, swelling around us, a reminder to the world’s authorities that it was our city on which the bomb had fallen hundreds of years ago.
The image of a woman appeared in front of me, kneeling inside the flames, her body cracking and roiling, separating and pulling together, trembling as she resisted the force of the explosion around her. I shuddered at the realization that I was looking at real footage of the day the bomb exploded.
The woman opened her eyes as words etched the air around us.
We are Evereach. We are invincible.
She struggled to her feet, her voice a whisper that may as well have been a shout. “We aren’t dead. You didn’t hurt us.” Her braid swished around her body, flicking into the air under a force that I could only imagine, lit up by flame and heat.
She reached to the ground and for the first time I noticed there was someone at her feet: a teenage girl, her eyes big and dark, fissions forming across her skin and healing all at once like her body was a jigsaw puzzle fighting to stay whole.
The woman’s voice rose. She threw back her head and shouted into the air, shouting at Seversand and all the countries allied with it. “Look at us! Our children are alive. You cannot hurt us!”
She grit her teeth against flame and heat. There was an echo of her words as others appeared, others who’d fallen. They clambered to their feet and joined in her shout against the wind and fire, the dust of exploded buildings, shards of glass and wood whirling around them.
The people of Evereach roared. “Our children do not die.”
Suddenly, my parents were beside me, each of them holding one of my wrists. I tried to pull away from them, and they shot me alarmed looks. Nobody else was trying to run. Nobody else was afraid.
They each held a knife in one hand, gripped one of my wrists in the other, pulling me close. I tried to wrench myself away from them, but the image of the woman and her daughter ghosted through me, leaving me cold and frozen. Above us, the drones swarmed, buzzing like a thousand insects, capturing the flash of steel, exposed skin, determined eyes.
When I died, I’d find out whether my soul floated or whether it left me or whether there was no such thing as a soul at all. I tried to take deep breaths, tried to stop shaking. We were strong, and we had to show the world that we could never be broken.
The woman’s voice whispered into the silent dark. “You will never defeat us, for our children do not die.”
Blades bit my wrists.