Welcome to Forever Finds Romance Lurking Between False Memories and Artificial Realities
Last year, io9 featured A Fractured Infinity, the debut novel from Nathan Tavares. The sci-fi fantasy author has a new release coming later this year, and it’s another mind-bending tale with a queer romance at its center. Read on for an excerpt from Welcome to Forever, as well as the full cover reveal.
Here’s a synopsis of Welcome to Forever to get you started:
Fox is a memory editor—one of the best—gifted with the skill to create real life in the digital world. When he wakes up in Field of Reeds Centre for Memory Reconstruction with no idea how he got there, the therapists tell him he was a victim in a terrorist bombing by Khadija Banks, the pioneer of memory editing technology turned revolutionary. A bombing which shredded the memory archives of all its victims, including his husband Gabe.
Thrust into reconstructions of his memories exploded from the fragments that survived the blast, Fox tries to rebuild his life, his marriage and himself. But he quickly realizes his world is changing, unreliable, and echoing around itself over and over.
As he unearths endless cycles of meeting Gabe, falling in love and breaking up, Fox digs deep into his past, his time in the refugee nation of Aaru, and the exact nature of his relationship with Khadija. Because, in a world tearing itself apart to forget all its sadness, saving the man he loves might be the key to saving us all.
Here’s the full cover, created by Julia Lloyd:
And here’s the excerpt!
Chapter Two – Flashes
I don’t remember loving Gabe, but I remember losing him, of course. Snippets of memories come at me in flashes like someone sliding shards of glass into my head. I wake up in the middle of the night in sweaty, twisted sheets. Flo says it’s because trauma really digs into the memorystream and hangs on tight.
I remember standing by a window of an apartment that must’ve been mine, looking out at a city. The closest buildings crowded like a row of teeth, connected by metal catwalks, with twinkling lights on fire escapes. Narrow streets that gave way to a wide open city square of pink granite ringed by squat, glass buildings and stone towers. A long rectangular pool in the middle of the square reflected the night sky, ending at a wide stairway that led to a white pyramid with a base as big as a city block. The pyramid rose a few hundred feet higher than the surrounding buildings, like a diamond against the night, capped by a digital screen. Blue lights trickled down the pyramid edges.
Some joking pros-and-cons list we made before moving into this place floated to me. Pro: three blocks from all the action of the city square. Con: when you walk to the kitchen in your underwear for a glass of water at midnight, your office is staring at you.
Flash. Everything white.
The pyramid exploded. Weird, I had time to think, before the rolling white cloud, the roundhouse from a pissed off god launched me off my feet. Before I woke up on the floor, covered in broken glass, a high whine blasting through my head.
Red and blue flashes in the streets. Sirens and screams.
Skittering over broken glass. My phone flashing in my hands. Calling him, again and again, no answer. Just the eeeeeeee in my ears, drowning everything out. Blood in my eyes. Blood in my mouth.
Running through the streets and the crush of bodies, none of us knowing where we’re running. To the smoking crater that was once the city square, or away from it?
Grabbing the shoulders of the people I slam into. All of us caked with dirt and blood, wild-eyed. Have you seen him? Have you seen him?
A news crawl on the screen in a gray waiting room. Not sure how I got there. Where there is. Memory virus. Neuro-terrorists. One anchor talks while the other beside her cries quietly. Something about how the weapon exploited the wireless memory backup transmissions from customer nodes to NIL/E servers, using the company’s own technology against them. Customers’ memory backups destroyed, even within the secure NIL/E servers, files replaced with some kind of scrambled code. And more as this story develops. The anchors don’t say final-death—because even in the decades since rez tech, those words are a sleep paralysis demon on your chest at night, licking your fear—but what else is it if your memory backup is scorched? Instead, they sniffle. Hug your loved ones tight, and…
Flash. I’m in a training room and the person at the front is telling us something we all already know, that our parents told us when they had our nodes installed when we were kids.
The wireless memory transmissions are painless. Your memories are relayed to our servers every twelve hours, where they will be kept safe in case of critical damage to your vessel and/or node.
I’m running in the street again, dodging rubble. Cars on fire. Blurs that I can’t look at, because I know if I stop and look I’ll see an arm. A leg. I hear voices in my head that aren’t mine. Or maybe it’s the leaked security comms line the news plays over and over again, later. Who knows. Time and memories leak all into each other.
—halt all transmissions until we can stabilize. Are you seeing this? Isolate the memorystreams of everyone at the square. Put them in quarantine. Priority one is keeping our servers safe. Those fuckers. Those fuckers think they can get us. We invented this tech. This is our codedamned house—
My hearing is cranked up way too high in this sad, gray room. The overhead lights buzz like a jet engine. Someone is screaming. Edit to add: I’m that someone, screaming. A folding chair is in my hands and I throw it at one of the sad gray walls. Because they promised. Because they fucking promised that none of us would ever die. That none of us would have to say goodbye. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Gabe, and our separation was temporary—temporary until we could cool off—and now they’re telling me he’s gone.
I know the woman with the tired face and the steady eyes doesn’t deserve this, but neither do I. So she gets the screams and the tears and the begging.
And the don’t you know who the fuck I am? I don’t know if I’m asking this or telling her.
Someone behind me jabs something sharp in my neck.
In one of the folding chairs again in the sad gray room. Night, this time. The tired woman is speaking but her words don’t match the movement of her lips. She’s being nicer than I deserve, than she has time for, with all of the others in the waiting room outside.
We can offer you an envesseled approximation of your loved one while you wait for memory cleansing. Approximation. A husband skimmed from your memories—traits, habits, behavior—cobbled together. More you than him. Temporary. Hopefully. Though this virus is craftier than we first thought.
Or we can delete him. Your choice.
Excerpt from Welcome to Forever by Nathan Tavares reprinted by permission of Titan Books.
Welcome to Forever by Nathan Tavares will be released November 7; you can pre-order a copy here.
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