On an island junkyard beneath a sky that glows with radiation, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.
Seventeen-year-old Eve isn’t looking for trouble—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she spent months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, she’s on the local gangster’s wanted list, and the only thing keeping her grandpa alive is the money she just lost to the bookies. Worst of all, she’s discovered she can somehow destroy machines with the power of her mind, and a bunch of puritanical fanatics are building a coffin her size because of it. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.
The problem is, Eve has had a worse day—one that lingers in her nightmares and the cybernetic implant where her memories used to be. Her discovery of a handsome android named Ezekiel—called a “Lifelike” because they resemble humans—will bring her world crashing down and make her question whether her entire life is a lie. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic sidekick Cricket in tow, Eve will trek across deserts of glass, battle unkillable bots, and infiltrate towering megacities to save the ones she loves… and learn the truth about the bloody secrets of her past.
From the coauthor of the New York Times bestselling Illuminae Files comes the first book in a new series that’s part Romeo and Juliet, part Terminator, and all adrenaline: LIFEL1K3, available May 29 from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The Three Laws of Robotics
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
YOUR BODY IS NOT YOUR OWN.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
YOUR MIND IS NOT YOUR OWN.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN.
A machine with no intelligence of its own, operating on preprogrammed lines.
A machine that requires a human operator to function.
A machine with its own onboard intelligence, capable of independent action.
Eve double-checked the power feed to her stun bat as they moved, creeping down the tank hulks with the sun scorching their backs. Both she and Lemon wore piecemeal plasteel armor under their ponchos, and Eve was soon dripping with sweat. But even the most low-rent scavver gangs had a few working pop-guns between them, and the protection was worth a little dehydration. Eve figured they’d be done before the sun got high enough to cook her brain inside her skull.
The quartet made their way across rusting hills and brittle plastic plains that would take a thousand years to degrade. Kaiser went first, moving through the ruins with long loping strides. Cricket rode on Eve’s shoulders. She could see a couple of nasty-looking ferals trailing them, but the threat of Kaiser kept the big cats at bay. Dust caked the sweat on her skin, and she licked her lips again. Tasted the sea breeze. Black and plastic. She wanted to spit but knew she shouldn’t waste the moisture.
They scrambled into a new valley, a telltale trail marking the flex-wing’s skid through the sea of scrap. The ship was crumpled like an old can against a pile of chemtanks, black fumes rising from the wreck. Eve sighed in disappointment, wondering if there’d be anything at all left to salvage.
“Never seen one of these before,” Cricket said, looking over the ruined ship. “Think it’s an old Icarus-class.”
Cricket raised one mismatched eyebrow. “What?”
“You know,” Eve shrugged. “Falling from the sky and all.” “Someone’s been glued to the virtch.” Lemon smiled. “Mad for the old myths, me.”
“No Corp logo, either,” Cricket frowned with his little metal brows.
“So where’s it from?” Lemon asked.
Cricket simply shrugged, wandered off to poke around.
The ship’s windshield was smashed. Blood on the glass. One propeller blade had sheared through the cockpit, and when Eve looked inside, she saw a human arm, severed at the shoulder and crumpled under the pilot’s seat. Wincing, she turned away, spitting the taste of bile from her mouth. Moisture loss be damned.
“Pilot’s for the recyc,” she muttered. “No rebuild for this cowboy.”
Lemon peered into the cockpit. “Where’s the rest of him?” “Clueless, me. You wanna help strip this thing, or you planning to just stand there looking pretty?” “. . . This a trick question?”
Eve sighed and got to work. Pushing the bloody limb aside with a grimace, she searched for anything that might be worth some scratch: powercells, processors, whatever. The comms rig looked like it might get up and walk again with some love, and she was in it up to her armpits when Cricket’s voice drifted over the plastic dunes.
“You ladies might want to come see this.”
“What’d you scope?”
“The rest of the pilot.”
Eve pulled herself from the flex-wing’s ruins, scowling at the new bloodstains on her cargos. She and Lemon stomped up a slope of rust and refuse, Kaiser prowling beside them. At the crest, Cricket pointed down to a pair of legs protruding from the tapeworm guts of an old sentry drone. Eve saw a bloodstained high-tech flight suit. No insignia.
She crunched down the scrap, knelt beside the remains. And peeling back a sheet of buckled metal, she found herself looking at the prettiest picture she’d ever seen.
It was the kind of face you’d see in an old 20C flick from the Holywood. The kind you could stare at until your eyelids got heavy and your insides turned to mush.
It was a boy. Nineteen, maybe twenty. Olive skin. Beautiful eyes, open to the sky, almost too blue. His skull was caved in above his left temple. Right arm torn clean from its socket. Eve felt at his throat but found no pulse. Looking for ID or a Corp-Card, she peeled open his flight suit, exposing a smooth chest, hills and valleys of muscle. And riveted into the flesh and bone between two perfect, prettyboy pecs was a rectangular slab of gleaming iron—a coin slot from some pre-Fall poker machine. The kind you popped money into, back when money was made of metal and people had enough of it to waste.
“. . . Well, that’s a new kind of strange, right there,” she murmured.
There was no scar tissue around the coin slot. No sign of infection. Eve glanced at the boy’s shredded shoulder, realizing there should’ve been more blood. Realizing the nub of bone protruding from his stump was laced with something . . . metallic.
“Can’t be . . .”
“What?” Lemon asked.
Eve didn’t reply, just stared at those lifeless irises of old-sky blue. Cricket slunk up behind her and whistled, which was a neat trick for a bot with no lips. And Eve leaned back on her haunches and wondered what she’d done in a past life to get so lucky.
Cricket modulated his voice to a whisper.
“It’s a lifelike,” he said.
“A what?” Lemon asked.
“A lifelike,” Eve repeated. “Artificial human. Android, they used to call ’em.”
“. . . This prettyboy is a robot?”
“Yeah,” Eve grinned. “Help me get it out, Lem.”
“Leave it alone,” Cricket warned.
Eve’s eyebrows hit her hairline. “Crick, are you smoked? Can you imagine how much scratch this thing is worth?”
“We got no business with tech that red,” the little bot growled.
“What’s the prob?” Lemon asked. “He looks armless to me.” Eve glanced at the severed shoulder. Up at her friend’s grin.
“You’re awful, Lemon.”
“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘incorrigible.’ ”
“Let’s just get out of here,” Cricket moaned.
Eve ignored him, planted her boot on a twisted stanchion and tugged at the body until it tore free. It weighed less than she’d expected, the skin smooth as glass beneath her fingertips. Eve unrolled her satchel, and Lemon helped stuff the body inside. They were zipping up the bag when Kaiser perked up his ears and tilted his head.
The blitzhund didn’t bark—the best guard dogs never do. But as he loped behind an outcropping of gas cylinders, Eve knew they might be in for some capital T.
“Trouble,” she said.
Lemon nodded, hefted her electric baseball bat. Eve slung the satchel over her back with a grunt, pulled out her own beat-stick. It was similar to Lemon’s: aluminum, fixed with a power unit and a fat wad of insulated tape around the handle. The bats were Grandpa’s design, and they could pump out around 500kV—enough to knock most peeps flat on their soft parts. As a clue to where she was likely to insert it if push came to shove, Lemon had nicknamed her bat Popstick. But in keeping with her love of mythology, Eve had painted her bat’s name down its haft in dayglow pink.
Grandpa had gotten paid with some basic self-defense software on a repair job last year, and he’d uploaded it onto Eve’s Memdrive so she’d be able to protect herself. She wasn’t too worried about the chances of a brawl, particularly with Kaiser around. But still, anything could happen this far out in the Scrap. . . .
“Best come on out!” Eve called. “Sneaking up on a body like that’s gonna end dusty.”
“Lil’ Evie, lil’ Evie,” called a singsong voice. “You a long way from Tire Valley, girl.”
Eve and Lemon turned toward the songbird, half a dozen shapes coalescing out of the haze. She didn’t even need to see the colors on their backs to recognize them.
“Long way from Fridge Street, too, Tye.”
Eve looked at the scavvers, each in turn. Their gear was a motley of duct-taped body armor and salvaged hubcaps. Most weren’t much older than her. A big fellow named Pooh was armed with a methane-powered chainsaw and a ragged teddy bear tied around his neck. The tall, thin one called Tye drew an old stub gun from his trench coat.
She’d bumped into the Fridge Street Crew a few times during her own runs, and they were usually smart enough for parlay. But just in case, Eve thumbed her bat’s ignition and the air filled with a crackling hum.
Rule Number Three in the Scrap:
Carry the biggest stick.
“We were here first, juves,” she said. “No need to tussle on this.”
“Don’t see no standard planted anywhere.” Tye turned his palms toward the gray sky and looked around. “Without colors on the dirt, you ain’t got official claim.”
Cricket stepped forward, held up spindly, rust-colored hands.
“We were just leaving, anyway. It’s all yours, gents.”
Tye spat in Cricket’s direction. “You talking to me, you little fug?”
Cricket frowned. “Don’t call me little.”
“Or what, Rusty?” the boy scoffed.
“Just leave him alone, Tye,” Eve said.
The boy’s teeth were the color of coffee stains. “‘Him’? Don’t you mean ‘it’? Damn, check this flesh, sticking up for the fugazi.” “Fugazi” was slang for “fake.” No one was quite sure of its origin anymore, but the word was a slur used to describe anything artificial—cybernetic implants, bots, synthetic food, you name it. Its short form, “fug,” was a common insult for logika, who were treated on the island as second-class citizens at best, and as simple property at worst.
Tye looked to his boys and waggled his eyebrows.
“These girls gone stir-crazy living out there alone with old Silas,” he grinned. “Prefer the company of metal to meat now. Maybe they haven’t met the right flavor.” The boy grabbed his crotch and shook it, and all his crew guffawed.
Lemon drummed her fingers on Popstick’s grip. “You shake that thing at us again, your sister’s going to bed disappointed tonight.”
The crew all howled with laughter, and Eve saw Tye bristle. He needed to save face now. Bless her heart, but Lemon’s mouth was going to get her into serious brown one day.
“Shut it, scrub.” Tye hefted his stub gun, aimed it in Lemon’s general direction.
“You really want to kick off over this?” Eve watched the crew fanning out around them. “We’re walking away. You can have the salvage.”
“And what’s that in your pack, lil’ Evie? Already scavved the best of it?”
“Smelling me some lies.” Tye aimed the gun at her face. “Show me the bag, deviate.”
Eve felt the blood drain from her face at the insult, her jaw clench tight.
“Oh yeah, I seen what you done in Dome las’ night,” Tye continued. “News was all over the feeds. Your grandpa might be the best mechanic this side of the Glass. And maybe he’s racked up some goodwill fixing busted water recycs for folks and whatnot. But you think anyone’ll cry if I ghost you right now? Some trash-breed abnorm?”
Lemon lifted Popstick with a growl. “Don’t call her that.” Tye sneered. “Pony up the salvage, lil’ Evie.”
Eve sighed to make a show of it. With a grunt, she slung her satchel off her shoulder, tossed it onto the ground between them. Lowering the gun, Tye dawdled over and knelt by the bag. Pawing through it, confusion hit him first, disbelief following, realization finally smacking him around the chops as he turned to his boys.
“True cert, juves, this is—”
Three steps and Eve’s boot connected with his face, smooshed his nose across his cheeks. The boy tumbled backward, stub gun sailing into the trash.
Eve stomped on Tye’s crotch to shut him up, lowering the business end of Excalibur to his head. Pooh arced up his chainsaw, but a low growl made him glance over his shoulder. Kaiser was crouched in the shadows, eyes glowing a furious red.
“Ain’t scared of your doggie, lil’ Evie,” Pooh scoffed. “Bot can’t hurt no human.”
“Only logika have to obey the Three Laws.” Eve smiled. “Kaiser’s a cyborg. Got an organic brain, see? Bigger one than you, maybe.”
Kaiser growled again, metal claws tearing the scrap. Staring at the knives in the blitzhund’s gums, the juve lowered his chainsaw, pawed the teddy bear at his throat.
“Folks gonna hear about this,” he told Eve. “Your name ain’t dirt since last night. I caught talk the Brotherhood’s already heading down to nail you up. Maybe the Fridge Street Crew throws them some love when they come knocking?”
“There’ll be plenty of love waiting,” Eve growled. “Believe it.”
“Eve, let’s go.” Cricket tugged on her boots.
“Crick’s right, let’s jet, Riotgrrl,” Lemon muttered.
Eve lifted Excalibur, swinging it in an arc at the assembled scavvers.
“Any of you scrubs follow us, I’ma get Queen of Englund on your asses, you hear?”
“Don’t need to follow you.” The bottom half of Tye’s face was slick, blood bubbling on his lips as he talked. “We know where you live, you abnorm freak.”
Eve lowered her bat to Tye’s cheek, live current crackling down the haft. “You ever call me an abnorm again, I’ma teach you what the baseball feels like.”
She looked around at the assembled scavs, flashing her razor-blade smile.
“The Chair will now take your questions.”
The threat hung in the air like smoke. Talking true, the same part of Eve that threw down with that eighty-tonner last night was hoping these juves would make a Thing of it. But one by one, she watched the crew deflate.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. . . .”
Eve hefted her satchel back onto her shoulder. Heart hammering in her chest despite the bluster. And with a sharp whistle for Kaiser and a nod for Lemon, she turned and motored, fast as her oversized boots would stomp her.
Excerpted from LIFEL1K3, copyright © 2018 by Jay Kristoff.