The clock activates so suddenly in my mind, my head involuntarily jerks a bit to the side. The fog vanishes, dissipated in an instant as though it never was. Memories come slotting into place, their edges sharp enough to leave furrows, and suddenly I know. I know exactly who I am.
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was named for a prisoner of war. She lived in the Tiersten Internment Colony for two years, and when they negotiated the return of the prisoners, I was given her memories and sent back in her place.
And I am a genetically engineered human bomb.
Lia Johansen was created for only one purpose: to slip onto the strategically placed New Sol Space Station and explode.
But her mission goes to hell when her clock malfunctions, freezing her countdown with just two minutes to go. With no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no identity besides a name stolen from a dead POW, Lia has no idea what to do next. Her life gets even more complicated when she meets Michael Sorenson, the real Lia’s childhood best friend.
Drawn to Michael and his family against her better judgment, Lia starts learning what it means to live and love, and to be human. It is only when her countdown clock begins sporadically losing time that she realizes even duds can still blow up.
If she wants any chance at a future, she must find a way to unlock the secrets of her past and stop her clock. But as Lia digs into her origins, she begins to suspect there’s far more to her mission and to this war, than meets the eye. With the fate of not just a space station but an entire empire hanging in the balance, Lia races to find the truth before her time—literally—runs out.
About the Author
Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since. She lives in Wisconsin. Nova is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
MY NAME IS LIA JOHANSEN, and I was a prisoner of war. Taken when Aurora Colony fell, I lived in an internment camp for two years along with ten thousand other civilian colonists. My parents died in front of me from starvation and sickness. And I wept for them.
Or did I?
The memories are fuzzy most days; disjointed and piecemeal, they skitter out from under my grasp, leaving my mind empty-handed and blank. Today it is all I can do to remember my own name, to keep repeating my story over and over again in my head, the way they taught me to.
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was a prisoner of war . . .
Standing at the viewport on the forward deck of the Xenia Anneli, I watch as the New Sol Space Station slowly draws into view. It’s even bigger than I imagined, with two concentric rings connected by spokes to an inner hub shaped like a top. The station spins like a top, too, its lights flashing by like strings of holiday lights in blue and yellow and red. It’s magnificent.
Magnificent . . . and frightening.
I reach out and lightly touch the viewport, slowly tracing my index finger along the curve of the upper ring, over the top of the hub. They tell me this place is my freedom. My first step to starting a new life now that a ceasefire has been reached with the Tellurian Alliance and us prisoners released. But how do I start a new life when I can barely remember my old one?
A loud whooshing sound catches me off guard, and I yank my hand back from the viewport in alarm before realizing it’s just one of the ship’s thrusters guiding us toward the gap between the rings. I glance around, slightly embarrassed by my reaction, though I have reason to be nervous. A door control malfunctioned just a week into the journey and gave me a nasty electric shock. I wasn’t badly harmed—a burn on the end of my finger was the extent of my external injuries—but the jolt was enough to make me momentarily black out. Though I came to within seconds, I spent the next day and a half feeling dizzy and out of sorts. It’s an experience I’d rather not repeat.
I step back to the viewport again, taking care not to touch anything this time. We are passing between the rings now, and I can see the docking ports straight ahead, positioned in the middle of the hub. The ship begins to turn, moving to align itself with the station’s docking bay, and I find myself staring between the rings, at that long spill of ebony space painted with stars.
It’s a view I’ve been staring at for three weeks now, ever since the transport left Tiersten Internment Colony. While the other ex-prisoners quickly grew tired of it, preferring to talk about what life would be like when we reached the station and were repatriated back into the Celestial Expanse, I’ve remained here at the viewport, watching. Though usually it’s the aft deck I stand on, looking back as though there is something on Tiersten I can’t let go of, no matter how much I may try. Not that I can remember what that might be.
The ship judders as we lock into place against the station, and the passengers’ excited chatter only increases, never mind the captain’s piped-in voice exhorting us to stay calm and quiet until the officers come to de-board us. I can’t blame them; many of these captives lived in the camp for far longer than I. They have families to find, homes to return to. Not that New Sol is home for most of them. It is only a way station, a stepping stone into the Celestial Expanse. From here, they will all board transports to every corner of the expanse, every colony and planet not lost in the war. Everyone but me, that is.
For me, New Sol is the last stop.
I blink, uncertain where the thought came from. A memory tickles at the back of my mind, and I scrabble for it, instinctively sensing its importance . . .
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was a prisoner of war.
The memory is gone, slipped through my mental fingers, and I shake my head. Perhaps New Sol will be my last stop, perhaps not. With Aurora gone and my parents dead, I suppose I will go wherever they tell me to go.
“Attention! Attention, please!”
I swivel my head to the entranceway, craning to see between the two middle-aged ladies behind me. An officer in the crisp black-and-golds of the fleet is giving instructions for our debarkation, and everyone starts forming up into a ragged queue to the door. I fall in line behind the two ladies, my legs aching from an eternity of standing in one place until finally the back of the line begins to move. Following the others through the corridors and into the ship’s docking bay, I hesitate as I look through the security scanners and into the station beyond. With a glance back into the transport, I frown. I have the nagging feeling I was supposed to do something. An officer urges me forward, and I shrug. Whatever it was, it’s too late now. I step through the docking ring and take my first breath as a free citizen of the Celestial Expanse.
Matte gray walls, metal floor tiling, soft white light. These are the only things I have time to take in before the jostling of the prisoners behind me presses me forward and down the corridor. I glance around to either side as I walk, letting the crowd in front lead me as much as the smiling officers standing at intervals along the passageway. There’s little to see in this monotonous hallway, though I do notice two strips of flat blue lights sunk into the floor on either side of the passage, running down the hall as far as I can see. Emergency lights, I wonder, or do they have another purpose?
At the end of the hall, they wave us into what looks like a large cargo bay. They managed to empty or relocate most of the contents before we arrived, and the remaining barrels, bins, and crates have been pushed up against the walls to accommodate us. Despite this, it’s still a tight squeeze, long lines of people queued up behind makeshift checkpoints manned by a handful of officers. Many have already sat down on the floor to wait, while others pace in place, the space inadequate to do anything more.
As I join the back of a line to wait, I check out a large screen posted by the other bay entrance. A name and picture flash on the screen. The name and picture of a former prisoner, I realize, its purpose suddenly becoming clear when I catch sight of the crowd waiting behind a tapeline on the other side of the door. I understand now. The screen isn’t for us; it’s for them. For the stationers who have come to see if their loved ones are part of the lucky few that have been returned. I marvel at how long some of them must have stood there, will stand there, waiting anxiously for that one special name to appear. I picture my face and name on the screen.
No family, no relatives; no one will be waiting to claim her.
To pass the time, I listen to the conversations around me. A few feet to my left, a father is telling his children about his family’s old house back on Devora Colony. They look so young, I’m sure they don’t remember it, even if they have seen it. Ahead of me, the two middle-aged ladies hold hands, unspeaking though they occasionally exchange looks brimming with equal parts hope and disbelief. Perhaps they are listening to the grandmother not far behind us as she sings an old Earth lullaby to the little one on her lap.
Everyone seems to have someone, even if only a friend they made after months, even years of captivity. Everyone except me. After two years on Tiersten, it seems like I should know at least a few of them, but if I do, I don’t remember. Of course, there were thousands of prisoners in my camp alone, so I could hardly have known them all. I kept to myself on the transport, turning away from any who spoke to me. No sense getting attached to people I don’t remember anyway, and will just lose in the end.
The line inches forward, and I with it. My attention drifts to a pair of soldiers standing along the wall not far from my new position. They appear relaxed as they scan the crowd, but their hands rest on their hips, within easy reach of their weapons. I strain my ears to catch their conversation.
“. . . know anyone from the Tiersten Colony?” the first is asking.
The other shakes her head as her gaze takes another pass through the crowd. “Not me. You?”
“My cousin knew someone,” the first soldier replies. “Old sweetheart who moved to Aurora just a few years ago.”
“Talk about bad timing.”
“No kidding. She thinks she’s going to start a new life after her divorce, only to end up interned on a prison planet for two years. Assuming she survived the initial invasion, that is. I keep looking for her, but I haven’t seen her yet. Of course, this is only a small percentage of the prisoners on Tiersten. What are the chances she’d be one of the lucky five hundred?”
The female snorts. “I’m just surprised the Tellurians are letting any prisoners go at all, not with the future of New Earth still up in the air.”
“They’re probably hoping a few released prisoners will soften us up, make us more open to bargaining. What was it they called it? A goodwill gesture?”
“Goodwill? That’ll be the day! One hundred milicreds says the ceasefire doesn’t last more than a four-square.”
“You’re on,” the first soldier agrees. “I give it six weeks at least. So did you catch the game two nights ago?”
“No, missed it. Why? Was it good?”
“You’d better believe it. By the end of the first quarter . . .”
The line moves up and the soldiers move down, their conversation lost to my ears. I’ve been waiting for two hours now, and I’m starting to understand the pacers, so restless that even pivoting in place is better than simply waiting.
To distract myself, I peer around to the head of the line. I’m close enough now to see the officer in charge of my checkpoint. A young man with sandy hair, the insignia on his uniform marks him a lieutenant. And not just a lieutenant, but a member of the Celestial PsyCorp.
I instinctively stumble back a step, narrowly missing the elderly man behind me. My heart speeds up, though I’m not sure why. I’m old enough to know that all the stories about PsyCorp being the boogeyman are just that—stories. Everyone knows that most psychics need direct contact to pick anything up, and even a brief touch won’t garner them much more than a sense of your emotions and intentions, and maybe a stray surface thought. Besides, it’s not as if I haven’t seen a psychic before. I saw one just three weeks ago while boarding the transport off Tiersten. Still, my uneasiness only continues to grow the longer I stare at him, and all I know is that I want to avoid him at all costs.
I’ll just switch lines, I decide, slipping out of place and moving toward the next queue. It will mean more waiting, but then, it’s not like I have anywhere to go.
Except the officer at the next checkpoint bears the same patterned half-star on her tunic, as does the one at every other checkpoint in the bay. Is that why there are so few checkpoints for so many people? Because they’re only using psychics to process the refugees? But why?
The elderly man is kind enough to let me back into line, no doubt assuming I stepped out to use the hygiene facilities at the other end of the bay. Wiping my sweaty hands on my jumpsuit, I reluctantly slide back into my original place. Minute by minute, the line pulls me inexorably forward, closer and closer to the checkpoint just ahead. I’m finding it hard to breathe now. The psychics, the soldiers, the crowds, the walls. This place suddenly feels like a trap, as much of a prison as the one I just left. By the time I reach the front of the line, I’m starting to feel lightheaded, like my head will detach from my body and float away any minute.
I look down, mouth too dry to speak. He wears no weapon, and yet every nerve in my body is screaming that this man is dangerous.
“Miss? Your name?” the officer asks again, fingers hovering impatiently over his tip-pad.
I clear my throat and finally manage to force out the words. “Lia. Lia Johansen.”
“Okay, Lia. I need you to lift your head, lean forward, and open your eyes wide.”
He’s holding a retinal scanner in his hand, a short metal tube about the size of a stylus with a circular scanner on top. Retinal scans are standard practice, a fast and painless way of ascertaining identity, but for some reason the device only heightens my anxiety, as though it is a weapon rather than a tool. I should do as he says, but somehow I can’t seem to make myself move.
Cool fingers nudge my chin up. A spark of light bursts in my head and I jerk back, twisting my head away from the touch with a gasp. Fear shoots through me, cold and icy down my back, and even through the din of the bay I can hear my breaths grow ragged and short. I struggle to find the reason, to pinpoint the danger, but a fog rolls over me, pressing down through the cracks in my mind, shrouding my thoughts, smothering my memories, forcing every rational notion into oblivion. My mind goes blank, and for a moment I am gone, lost and adrift without a name, without a memory, without anything to call myself. I scrabble frantically in the fog, searching for something, anything, to anchor myself to . . .
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was a prisoner of war.
And I am back.
My heart slows, and finally I turn my gaze back to the officer.
Excerpted from "Nova"
Copyright © 2016 Margaret Fortune.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The premise of "Nova" is an unexpected one: a teenage girl is "a genetically engineered human bomb", but the real reason for her existence is the true story of the book. Margaret Fortune's writing almost held me hostage because I had to know what would happen to Lia on her path of self discovery, all during the midst of her coping with being a dud. Lia's relationship with Michael and Teal are essential for Lia creating a new path for herself while coping with her past (whatever it really happens to be). Her relationship with Shar provides true insight into human behavior of "fight or flight" and shockingly gives Lia strength in accomplishing her destiny (while also providing some comic relief). The book turned into a fast read but the implications of Lia's entire destiny will affect the entire human race making the reader consider whether they would be willing to do the same were they confronted with such circumstances. My opinion is solely my own, but I do want to thank Goodreads, Berkley Publishing Group, and Margaret Fortune for a copy of such an amazing book. Had I not received this copy, I never would have read such an awesome book, but I will certainly be reading its sequel and anything else Margaret Fortune writes! I highly encourage you read it, whether or not you like SciFi because this book is really a Fantasy book set in space.
A very good read! The story really picked up in the second half of the book. The plot twist makes me hopeful for a sequel!