Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from For All Time, Shanna Miles’ debut novel about two teens who relive their tragic love story over and over until they uncover what they must do to change their fate. For All Time publishes September 28th with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Tamar is a musician, a warrior, a survivor. Fayard? He’s a pioneer, a hustler, a hopeless romantic.
Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world build itself up from nothing only to tear itself down again in civil war. They’ve even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: their love and their fight to be together. One love story after another. Their only concern is they never get to see how their story ends. Until now.
When they finally discover what it will take to break the cycle, will they be able to make the sacrifice?
Alpha 9, Lunar Base, 2260
There are galaxies behind my eyes and there is music in my ears, a slow melody that makes me sad and comforted at the same time. It doesn’t want me to wake up, but I fight it. I’m trying to say my name, but it keeps coming out slurred. Spit dribbles down my chin, and after some more coughing fits and expelled phlegm I’m beginning to regain sensation in my lips. A few minutes after that, my tongue comes back on board, and I’m able to answer the baseline questions that’ll get me out of processing, into a bio-controlled uniform, and to the cafeteria for a real meal.
The voice is disembodied, so I’m not sure if it’s attached to a real person or a program. The intake room is featureless, just an aluminum box with a door where they shove all the newly arrived cryopods. In the more rural colonies they don’t even shove you in a room; they just set the pods out in a field, crack the seals open, and wait.
“Private Fayard Leanthony Azikiwe.”
Well, that proves it’s a real person.
“Vital signs are in the normal range. Look directly ahead of you: the eastern wall is a monitor and will display a series of images. Please tell me the name of each image you see displayed.”
“Oui. Yes. I mean, okay.”
“I see here that you’re a polyglot. Which division have you been assigned to?”
“Counterintelligence,” I reply, and feel a pang in my right temple. I reach up and feel an electrode attached to my head and then feel one on my chest; I didn’t notice either in my post-cryo fog. They’re collecting more than vital signs. I take a deep breath and focus.
“Your intake will take slightly longer, in that case. Your first image is ready… now.”
“Earth, cloud, cinq—I mean… the number five. Bowl, spoon, hovercraft, filtration tank, mountain.” The images speed up and slow down, changing in size to test my visual acuity and in complexity to assess my memory. I’ve gone through about ten slides when the voice pauses.
“Could you repeat what you just said?”
I kind of zoned out, so it takes me a second to remember. “Um, shoe. I think.”
“No, you said cat.”
“Private Azikiwe, cat is the next image, not the last. Have you been given prior knowledge of the intake assessment?”
Silence. I have made a miscalculation, but I can’t see how. I’ve never seen the test, and there’s no way to know what is on the tests anyway. They’re random. I would have to be able to see through walls to cheat. My temperature is rising. I know they can see this in the vital signs, but this isn’t a normal tangent for intake. They don’t need any reason to dig into my background. I take a few deep breaths—in for four counts, out for eight. My heartbeat slows. I’m turned inward when they finally come back.
“Private Azikiwe, did you dream while you were under?”
“Yes. My dreams are always quite vivid when I’m in cryo.” “Can you tell me what they were about?”
“They’re nonsense. I’m always myself, but I’m on different colonies. A ship’s docking station? A lake? Possibly Earth. I can never hold on to the particular details when I wake up. There is a girl.”
“I can’t remember.”
“What does she look like?”
“Beautiful, with, uh… I know that she’s got, um… I can’t really remember right now.” It’s always like this. I wake up with a warm feeling akin to being hugged by someone you love, and then nothing. Every detail evaporates as my awareness of myself settles into my current reality.
Silence again. They’re watching my vitals, I’m sure of it, trying to see if there is a lie stripped bare in the binary, but there isn’t. Not this time. Eventually, they come back on.
“All right, private. Let’s do this again.”
The first days out of cryo are the worst. Your muscles are stiff, your brain is mud, and the only thing you want to do is eat. Couple that with your body’s need to acclimate to whatever new atmosphere you’ve just landed in and you’ve got a recipe for unchecked emotion. We’re military, so planet-hopping is part of the deal. Some people laugh, like my bunkmate, Ralphie. He giggles, even in his sleep. Even when he’s awake he’s always smiling. Predawn five-mile run? Smiling. Midnight gray-water duty? Smiling. Rapid-fire jab to the solar plexus? Big grin.
“That’s the aggression I want to see, 675! 459, stop smiling and recover,” Captain Baqri bellows from the observation booth. 459 doesn’t take the advice, and the other soldier gives him an impressive beating, despite their small size.
459, otherwise known as Ralphie, limps off the mat, helmet still secured but a slight bit foggy on the inside.
“A beast,” he croaks.
I nod and help him get his gloves off so I can attach an anesthetic patch. No one’s allowed to go to the infirmary before all the matches are done. Captain’s rules. You have to be near death before you’re allowed to be carried out. It’s only happened once, and I think that was because the poor fool was moaning so loudly no one could concentrate. He was transferred. Of course, we didn’t realize who it was until the next day and he was gone. The numbers aim to keep things anonymous; the gear is full-body, and helmets are tinted. But after a few matches you can figure it out, especially if you’re on the same team.
The room we’re practicing in is quite small, but the virtual-reality overlay makes it look like we’re all in an arena. The observation booth is probably twenty meters away, but the illusion has it situated a few kilometers above us, with the captain and other members of the instructional staff looking down on us like gods. A single spotlight shines from the ceiling on the dueling pairs of students below. The rest of us wait patiently on the sidelines for our numbers to be called at random. You could fight twice in a row or not at all. It just depends on the luck of the draw. I assume it’s to build stamina in the uncertainty of war, but in the moment it just feels cruel and unnecessary. I’m bored. I can fight, but I prefer more effective strategies for disarming my opponent. Besides, most of these other kids have been raised on military outposts with food rations and artificial sunlight. I was raised on an ally colony, separate and used to its own ideas, like freedom of religion and sustainable farming. As a result, I’m taller than nearly everyone else, and a few stone heavier.
“Aren’t you gonna take one of those for yourself?” Ralphie asks as he leans back on the bench. His mouth has started to relax, and his vital stats, visible on the leaderboard hovering next to the observation window, are beginning to level out.
“Not yet. They slow you down.”
“You’ve already fought twice today. They can’t call you again.” Ralphie coughs, still a bit out of breath.
Captain Baqri’s voice booms out over the intercom. “Next up, 675 and…”
“What’s with the repeats?” Ralphie asks.
“Azikiwe,” I hear in my helmet. “You’re up.”
“Fucking hell,” I hear one of the kids in our group say as they encouragingly slap me on the back. But I decide to be like Ralphie and smile even though I’m angry.
“Final match, 675 and 712. Four minutes. No breaks. Hand to hand. No gloves.”
A collective groan erupts among the bystanders. Hand-to-hand matches are grueling. This is an endurance test as much as anything else. 675 is small, much smaller than me, but judging from the previous matches, and judging from their earlier match with Ralphie, they’re fast and strategic, waiting for just the right opportunity to strike somewhere debilitating. I’m pulling off my gloves and reconfiguring my helmet to something lighter. It still covers my chin, but it’s mostly flexfilm. Great for temperature control, not so great for protection from broken bones. After detaching key pieces of the helmet and stripping down to just shorts and my full-body flexfilm, I bound into the arena and stop cold.
675 is a girl.
Excerpted from For All Time, copyright © 2021 by Shanna Miles.