We are delighted to share an excerpt from the second novel in Tade Thompson’s highly acclaimed Wormwood trilogy science fiction series, The Rosewater Insurrection.
About the Book
The second volume in a vibrant and compellingly told trilogy by one of science fiction’s most engaging new voices – perfect for fans of N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.
The year is 2067. The city of Rosewater is chaotic, vibrant and full of life – some of it extra-terrestrial.
The charismatic mayor, Jack Jacques, has declared Rosewater a free state, independent to Nigeria. But the city’s alien dome is dying. Government forces await its demise, ready to destroy Rosewater’s independence before it has even begun.
And in the city’s quiet suburbs, a woman wakes with no memory of who she is – with memories belonging to something much older and much more alien.
Chapter One Rosewater, 2067 Alyssa
I write this for you, so that you can understand the futility of your position.
I have already seen the future of my endeavour, and I com- plete my mission at the expense of your survival. I win.
Were you to see me right now I would look like a spider, although I have many, many more limbs. Hundreds. Think of a spider with hundreds of hundreds of limbs, maybe thou- sands, maybe more than that. My limbs are potentially infinite in number. Each one touches a single cell. If you are alive and reading this, I am touching your cells.
At the time I am writing this I have no name. In truth, I am not alive in the sense that you are, but that will become clearer to you as we go along. Nor do I write this in the usual sense, but as on-off combinations of neuronal transmission. In the future I will take many names. Because my vision of the future tells me names help humans contain that which they do not understand, I will give you a name to call me.
I am a harvester program, and my task is to gather. First, to gather my own cells together, and link them. I know, I know, if I have cells, I must be alive. No. My cells were built by intel- ligent entities unknown to you. When I have gathered enough cells to myself, I will, like a spider, build my web. I do it while I wait. What I’m waiting for is truly alive, alive in your sense, but may never arrive. I must wait until I die.
I cannot die for a long time. It would take millions of your years. The probability is that you will die before I do. Unlike you, I am built well.
I start from a few cells, lone survivors of the scattering. Two cells stick together, one dominant, one passive, one designated head and the other, leg. The leg stretches out like a filament, finds more, joins them to the head. When I reach the critical mass of five billion cells, I become self-aware.
I think; I am.
I begin to write this for you.
You are not here yet. The atmosphere is full of sulphur and while some things, some alive things, churn under the vast waters, my cells don’t work well in that medium. I still try, but there is no significant intelligence to connect with.
Time passes, another impregnated meteor arrives with more cells, but not enough. What you call the Cambrian Explosion keeps me busy. You crawl out of the sea and on to land. I test, but you are not ready. When a rock burns through the atmos- phere and kills the giants, I am wounded, but I am resilient. I grow back, I test the furry little animals that dominate the macro-biosphere afterwards. They are not ready. They walk on four, then two limbs. They brachiate and form communities in trees and on land. They use tools. Getting closer, now. The use of tools changes things, and the specialised folds of the brain push nature into greater and greater complexity. The hand, the thumb, forces itself into opposition against the palm. Humans of a sort are born. I begin.
Connect to the nerve endings on the skin, use them to access the central nervous system, extract information, col- late, transmit home in the upper atmosphere. I do this while Homo sapiens acquire language. On instructions from Home, my creators tell me to begin replacing human cells with our manufactured cells. This is not without complication. A certain percentage of you acquire the ability to access the information network, to see what I can see, into thoughts and sometimes into the future. You call them sensitives. This will not do, so I kill the one per cent who develop this ability, again, slowly so as not to be noticed.
Do not think this is the first time.
Organisms have swallowed other organisms in the history of your planet. Your existence is evidence of that. You are only here because one bacterium swallowed another. What you call a “human” is a walking culture medium for bacteria. There are more bacteria cells than human in the body.
So don’t resist, don’t panic. There will be no pain, and we will ease you into it. You squander your humanity anyway, spreading your seed carelessly, scattershot DNA projection, waste. You will be the same, essentially. You will look the same, and who knows? You may even retain some awareness. You just won’t be in the driver’s seat.
Become me. Then, become us.
Alyssa wakes up knowing her name, but not much else. As soon as she opens her eyes her heart skips and runs fast, her breath coming in short, rapid bursts. She sits up in full panic. There is a dream fading from her memory, wispy images that tease, sounds and concepts on which she can find no purchase, words full of meaning, now lost.
She clasps the rumpled bedclothes to herself, and she squeals as they pull back. There is a man on the bed, facing away from her, in pyjama bottoms. She backs away until she slides off her side of the bed and lands on the carpeted floor. Nothing is familiar.
She is in a bedroom, single window just above the bed with dawn filtering through the curtains, reading chair in the far corner, opposite the door, bedside tables on both sides with reading lamps and a pile of paperbacks on her side, a magazine on his, framed photos on each wall, en suite bathroom with door ajar, a set of built-in wardrobes opposite the window, one door open with a gown hanging off it. There is a blue sock on the carpet along with mismatched slippers. The room is not neat, but not messy. It is lived in, occupied, but not famil- iar and Alyssa presses herself into the space beside the bed, into the wall.
Where am I?
The man breathes and snorts from time to time. The blanket rises and falls as if it too is alive. The man’s back is downy with blond hair. Alyssa knows her memory is not gone because she knows the word “memory”.
“Memory,” she says, just to hear the word, yet even her own voice is unfamiliar.
She feels the hardness and coolness of the wall against her back, the fibres of the carpet, the human smell of the room, which is the remnants of perfume, cologne, sneaky farts, the body fluids of sex and the staleness of shoes. She knows what these things are. She looks at her arms and legs. Wedding ring, engagement ring. No cuts or bruises. No rope burns. Nails need doing. She hikes her night gown, examines her belly, chest. No problems she can see. She does not feel woozy as if she were drunk. In fact, her head feels remarkably clear, except for the fact that she only knows her own name.
She stands and edges around the bed, on tiptoe, eyes glued to the sleeping figure on the bed. He does not wake. His face comes into view as she moves. It is not unpleasant, and she waits for something in her to jump in recognition and for everything to be all right, but nothing does and nothing is. She spies the wedding ring on his left hand. Is this her husband? She looks at the framed photos.
The one closest to the window is of her and the sleeping man. She sees her own face reflected in the glass, and this superimposed on the photograph. Her face is not familiar, but the reflection and the woman in the photograph are the same. Both Alyssa and the man are laughing in the photo. He has his profile to the camera and his mouth is in her hair, which is plentiful. She runs a hand over her scalp and finds shorter hair. They are outside somewhere, it is sunny, and in the background there are snow-tipped mountains. She has no memory of this.
The second is even more alarming. There is a – “Mum!” – child.
This is, somehow, the most frightening part of the situation for Alyssa. She hears thumps outside, feet coming towards the door. A child, entitled, cocksure that its needs will be met by parents, except Alyssa doesn’t even know the child’s name or how much it weighed or even the sex. She does not feel like a mother. She rubs her temples, trying to kick-start her brain.
What is this?
She rushes into the bathroom and closes the door just as she hears the child burst into the room.
It is definitely a girl. Ten? Eleven? A teenager? “I’m not feeling well,” Alyssa says.
In desperation she runs the tap and splashes cold water on her face. She stares at the mirror. Glowing numerals show the temperature of her skin, the room and the hot water in the tap, as well as the humidity. The reflection is clearly her own face and body, but Alyssa is only able to acknowledge this as a fact. There is no real recognition.
“But you have to take me to Nicole’s place. I’ll be late.” “Alyssa.” A male voice, croaky, from the man on the bed, her husband.
“I’m not feeling well,” says Alyssa again. “But—” says the child.
“I’ll take you, Pat,” says the man. “Go put the kettle on.”
Alyssa holds her breath and hears the child, Pat, thunder downstairs. The bedclothes rustle and he comes to the door.
“I’m not feeling well.” They seem to be the only words she knows.
“Yes, you said that. Can I come in?” “No!”
“All right, all right. I’ll take Pat to the birthday party. You want me to get anything from the shops?”
“You’re full of words today, aren’t you?” He yawns and the sounds indicate he wanders off.
Pat. Pat. My daughter is Pat. Patricia? Patience? Maybe the girl is his daughter and not hers. She hears laughter from down- stairs, a sound of infinite normality that crushes her heart.
Alyssa smacks herself on the side of the head, and her reflec- tion does the same. Has she had a stroke? Is she ill? She opens the medicine cabinet. Painkillers, tampons, vitamins, oral contra- ceptives made out to Alyssa Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe.
“Sutcliffe,” she says. “Alyssa Sutcliffe.” It does not ring a bell.
One asthma inhaler, a tube of rheumatism gel, an antifungal cream, but nothing else that might suggest long-term illness. How can she remember what all this shit is for, but not her own name, family or life memories? She sweeps all the top row of pills to the floor and sits on the lid of the toilet. She hears a distant door slam and the start of an engine. The house descends into silence.
Alyssa looks out of the window. There is morning sun and a driveway. A maroon car recedes down the street, which is lined with palm trees. The houses are nigh-identical two-storey family homes. Why does Pat have a birthday party first thing in the morning?
She rummages, searches drawers, under the bed, a lockable box which is unlocked. Her left wrist vibrates gently. She is not alarmed by this because she knows it is a phone, knows that it is not a true vibration, but an electrical stimulation of vibration receptors, and that it means she has an email or text. How does she remember all this, but still not recall any of the basics? The text glows from the flexible hypoallergenic polymer under her forearm skin.
Get some rest. I’ll be home soon. X.
He could have signed his actual name, thinks Alyssa. The contacts list identifies him as Mista Lover-Lover.
She explores the house. She goes through her daughter’s bedroom, sees the poster on the wall for Ryot, a girl band who apparently go topless in some concerts, not showing the nipple, but just the curve of their breasts. The poster starts playing once the sensors pick up Alyssa’s RFID chip, and the music is a kind of neo-punk. Alyssa remembers what punk is.
“Stop,” she says, and the poster freezes back to the ori- ginal position.
In the living room the news starts playing when she enters the room, a holofield above the centre table. Internecine war- fare among desalination flotillas off the shores o, 201f Lagos coming to an end. A brief clip of an interview with Rosewater’s first superstar writer, Walter Tanmola. Is this an interview or a roast? You may say the author is dead, but then I ask you, why am I here? Why even ask me about my work in the first place? Descent of the jet stream due to global warming raises the pos- sibility of regular snow storms in sub-Saharan regions. New insect COBs to be rolled out in the next few weeks. Nollywood star Crisp Okoye shoots himself in the head in an attempted suicide. All too familiar but alien at the same time.
Her forearm informs her of the temperature and the probability of rain later in the day. It tells her the time is oh-nine-fifty-nine hours, and scrolls through a number of breakfast options based on the available food in the house. Her skin glows with the date and the number of waiting messages. The announcer reminds viewers that there will be a documentary on Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, focusing on conspiracies around his death. Hannah Jacques, wife of the mayor, pleads for reanimates to be treated with dignity in a sponsored message.
Alyssa does not go outside. She does not wish to bump into neighbours or get lost. She is already lost.
She sits on the sofa and hears the click of air conditioning adjusting to keep her comfortable.
She sees other pictures of her husband and now knows from unopened letters that his name is Mark Sutcliffe. Mark, Alyssa and Pat Sutcliffe. One happy family.
She is still sitting there when Mark returns. He is really quite tall, which is easier to notice now that he is upright. Six-three, six-four at least.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, brows knitted with concern. “I need to see a doctor,” says Alyssa.
About the Author
Tade Thompson is the author of Rosewater, a John W. Campbell Award finalist and Best Novel winner for the inaugural 2017 NOMMO Awards for African speculative fiction. His novella The Murders of Molly Southbourne has recently been optioned for screen adaptation. He also writes short stories, notably ‘The Apologists’ which was nominated for a British Science Fiction Association award. Born in London to Yoruba parents, he lives and works on the south coast of England where he battles an addiction to books.