Below you’ll find a slide show of galley pages, so you can get the full effect of reading the book. Click on the first one and you can scroll through the images. If you need or prefer text, scroll further down and you’ll find the chapters again in text.
Zero Repeat Forever
By G. S. Prendergast
“I have no faith in human perfectibility.”
―Edgar Allan Poe
There is a light floating above me. Nothing I recognize. I remember moving, so I try to move.
“Don’t move,” someone says, so I stop. “Do you know where you are?” I try to answer but find I can’t speak because there’s something in my mouth. I shake my head. I remember gestures and signs. Something about memorizing them and being tested on them. “Do you know who you are?” I search that part of my memory and find it a void. Not small, or undeveloped, but empty. Emptied. I shake my head again.
“Good,” the voice says. “Close your eyes.” I can’t remember ever choosing for myself, so I do as I’m told. The idea of obedience fills me, flowing through me like warm, viscous fluid. Obedience and anger, as though that’s all I’m made of.
“Eighth,” someone says. There’s another noise, like a hiss. “You’ll manage,” the first voice says. “He’ll learn from you.”
Behind my eyelids thoughts squirm around, jumbled and messy, out of order. I try to catch them, but they skitter into cracks and holes, like frightened animals.
“Try to relax,” the voice says. “It’s just residual neural impulses. It will go away.”
But what if I don’t want—
There’s a bright flash. And a noise like thunder. And everything shakes.
Her hands blur in front of my eyes.
What are your directives?
I only nod. I can’t answer. I’m holding my rifle with both hands.
The heel of her hand connects hard with my forehead, slamming me back against the metal wall behind me.
I nod. Nod. Nod.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Dart each one. Leave them where they fall. Understand?
I know this anyway. The directives are humming in my mind like a swollen river churning over rocks.
You must obey.
I am obedience. I am malice. I grip my rifle tightly, fingers and hands absorbing the weight of it, the feel of the trigger, the faint vibrations.
Then I am running behind her, my hand on her shoulder, clanging over steel and stone as we’re consumed by heat and fire and noise. At first all I hear are weapons. Our precise ones and their brutal, noisy ones. But under that is another sound.
Screaming. They are screaming. I put my hands over my ears.
What are you doing?
I nod. Yes.
Stupid defective low rank mud for brains.
She drags me, pulling my hands away from my ears. Ahead of us on the road, emerging from the flames and smoke, a human vehicle appears. I fumble for my rifle, but she has already fired; the dart punctures the glass and the face of the driver. There’s a screech as the car swerves toward us, and I’m leaping for it, pushing it away into a high wall as she stands there, undaunted, her rifle still raised.
Break it, she signs with one hand, marching toward me.
I turn and drive my fists through the window of the door. Inside, small humans scream.
Dart them, she says.
They scream and scream. I can’t move.
I step back as she raises her rifle. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
The screaming stops. She drags me away before I can take a breath.
Follow me! Her hands slash through the air. Obey me!
We run between two high buildings, emerging into chaos. Hundreds of humans with guns and shields fire at our lines. Bullets bounce off my back as she leads me into the fray. Behind the humans with shields others are pushing and running, trying to get into a building. Our line breaks, and we follow a group that plows right through the shields and guns. The armed humans fall around us. One of them gets its fingers around her arm, pulling her rifle down. I grab the human by the neck and fling it away, watching it tumble into a heap with others.
Good, she says.
Her praise enlivens me. As the humans pour in through the door of the building, I leap up and tear open a window. She clambers ahead of me, and I dive after her, landing among the screaming humans as they scatter, desperately scrambling for exits. Her rifle whines as she darts them, one by one. When she stops, there are a dozen humans motionless on the floor.
Good, I say, though I feel dizzy and hot. I’m burning. I sway on my feet, reaching for her.
Think cold, she says.
Yes. I do what she says and feel my body cool down and my head clear. Malice is cold. Obedience is cold. I am cold.
There’s a huge noise outside, one of their crude weapons. The force of the explosion blows the remaining windows inward. Instinctively, I pull her under me, curling my back over her as the glass tinkles down around us. She shoves me away, stepping over bodies, and turns back to the door the humans came in.
Outside is smoke and flames. Those of our soldiers who don’t lie in pieces among the darted humans stagger to their feet. A transport swoops down, hovering over the carnage. She pulls me away from the transport, back along the ruined road. Over our heads a human aircraft explodes, raining debris. She worms away from me before I can shield her and stands with her arms out, defiant, her face turned to the explosion in the sky as burning embers drift down around us like . . .
Over the roar of our transport and the screams of fleeing humans I hear something else, a kind of whistle. A flash of light shoots past us and cracks into the side of a human car, shattering the windows. She takes one step toward the car before I can stop her.
Then I’m falling. Shards of metal careen at me before I land. My arm twists up to block one, another smacks into my face. I hit the ground hard and sink.
Obedience. Anger. I’m swimming in it. My insides twist and churn and thoughts scurry out of the holes in my mind.
Snow . . .
A sunset . . . the smell of . . .
It’s just residual neural impulses. Pain stomps on them, killing them.
I blink away the blood in my eyes. She’s hanging over me, kneeling by my head.
I try. The air is too thick. I’m choking. My head is open and everything is escaping. And I’m on fire.
Cold. Think cold. Obey.
Are you damaged? I sign with one hand. The other hand is not working.
No. Breathe again.
I obey. Each breath is like a flaming knife. I turn my head to the side and let my thoughts drip out. I’m forgetting everything. I’ve forgotten how to hold on to thoughts. I put my good hand over the hole in my head to try . . .
Stop. Be still.
She touches my face. Her hand is warm and firm.
You will live, she signs. Keep breathing.
The agony of the next breath erases everything.
My eyes snap open in the dark. The battle is over. We are alone now in the building with the darted humans. Silver moonlight through the broken window outlines her as she moves.
You scared me, Eighth, she says. I thought you would die.
That makes me feel so happy that the pain becomes meaningless.
Our own stars betray us.
First, when they fall, we make wishes, then more wishes, until we realize it’s not a meteor storm. We watch fighter jets shoot across the sky, and missiles streak upward.
Pip and David, the camp directors, gather us into the main building and tell us what they learned before the phone line and Internet went down.
“Is this real?” Emily says, her voice high pitched and childlike. The lights flicker. Flicker and die. David goes out to crank up the generator. We all flinch as it roars to life and the lights burst brightly on the ceiling. David comes back saying something about rationing fuel. Topher wants to know how much there is, how long it will last, as though there is some answer that will make this more bearable.
His twin, Tucker curls around me, breathing in my ear as we watch the few horrifying news reports cached on Pip’s laptop. Cities on fire all over the world: Bogotá, Denver, Addis Ababa, Mexico City. Armies of death wielding shadows pouring out of multitudes of monstrous ships. Videos make it real.
We hold each other as Pip and David outline a plan. Those with weapons experience are armed with hunting rifles and put on sentry duty for the night. The rest of us will barricade ourselves in the girls’ cabin until dawn. The remainder of the plan can wait for daylight. We tiptoe in the dark, listening to the low rumbles in the distance.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
As long as I have Tucker, I tell myself, everything will be all right. The world has fallen apart around us before. We were suspended from school. Once we were handcuffed and driven off in separate police cars. We both faced my parents, and his parents. We survived that. We could survive anything. I thread my fingers into his, firm in my belief that we are an immutable force. No army of shadows will change that.
“Who are they?” someone says as we trail across the sports field, the stars still flashing and falling in the sky. “Terrorists?”
No one wants to say “aliens” that first night.
The next thing I see is white, then gray, then green. And as things take shape, my mind awakens in a field, walking behind her, my hand on her armored shoulder. Slowly, thoughts click into place, memories, like parts of a rifle recently cleaned and oiled. We have been out in the world for some time, away from the battle in the city. It’s as though I’ve only just noticed. I turn and look behind us. Some way back, three humans lie facedown, the long grass crushed under their bodies.
When she hisses at me, my feet move and I turn from the humans in the grass, turn from the brief sense of loss their lifeless shapes stir in me. I take a step with her, hand on her shoulder, and another step until we regain our rhythm, walking steadily away, as any feelings I had about the fallen humans peel away from me like dead skin over a healing scar. She shot them. I haven’t touched my rifle all day. She prefers it that way.
As we walk, I remember more and more. About myself. And about her. Sixth, I call her. She is above me in the ranks, and it shows.
Her aim is flawless, and her disappointment with mine is palpable. Let me shoot; you can manage any close contacts, she signed once, back when she could be bothered to give me instructions. “Close contacts” means fighting. I can fight. I know this. I’m strong; my strength surprises even me. I can tear heavy locks open with one hand, and once pushed a moving vehicle right off the road. I think I would be lethal in a hand-to-hand fight, but no one comes close enough. Even if they did, they seem so weak, these humans, so small and vulnerable; it scarcely seems fair. Even the ones with guns hardly wear any armor. I turn my eyes away now when she shoots them.
I suppose I could break one, if I had to. I did it once. She counts on me for that. I would kill to protect her, but I can’t see that sort of danger ever coming up again. She shoots; I follow or precede her, break down doors and smash fences, hunting out the last dregs of humanity. We are preparing. I don’t know what for, and I’m scared to ask.
I’m not supposed to ask. I’m not supposed to be scared.
Eighth is defective, she signs, frequently, using both hands to show me how broken I am. I would tell her that her disdain hurts my feelings, if I thought that was permitted. Instead, I swallow the disdain, as much as I can, and let it sink into the pool of oily obedience inside me. There it turns into an urge to break things.
Breaking things is permitted, even encouraged. I will break whatever is in her way. I want her to be happy with me.
I hope that piqued your interest! Zero Repeat Forever will be out August 29 in the US and Canada and September 7 in the UK, Australia and New Zealand with translations and audio soon after that. You can pre-order Zero Repeat Forever wherever books are sold. Here are some links.