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By Ryan Graudin
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A heart-stopping adventure that defies time and space–New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu calls it “an incredibly intricate, brilliantly paced, masterfully written journey.”
Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time traveler from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in ancient Rome, Far’s very existence defies the laws of nature. All he’s ever wanted was to explore history for himself, but after failing his entrance exam into the government program, Far will have to settle for a position on the black market-captaining a time-traveling crew to steal valuables from the past.
During a routine heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl named Eliot who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Eliot has secrets-big ones-that will affect Far’s life from beginning to end. Armed with the knowledge that history is not as steady as it seems, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to set things right before the clock runs out.
ACCESS LEVEL: RESTRICTED [PLATINUM BLACK]
RECORDS OF DECEMBER 31, 95 AD, ARE NOT AVAILABLE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC.
PLEASE REFER TO ARCHIVE 12-A11B FOR ORIGINAL DATASTREAM.
RECORDER EMPRA MCCARTHY SAT IN THE bleachers of the Amphitheatrum Flavium, her pregnant belly round as a globe under her indigo stola. The Colosseum—not that it was called that, not yet—was a frenzy of life around her. Nearly fifty thousand souls had come to watch the day's bloodbath, filling the seats with earth-toned togas, popping salted peas and chunks of bread into their mouths, screaming last-minute bets and Latin slang as the gladiators marched through the Porta Sanavivaria into the arena below. Morning air was already salty-ripe with sweat and blood, scents so thick the crowd seemed drunk with it. They retched and roared and called for more. Blood! Blood! Blood!
Two gladiators lined up in front of the imperial box, bowing to Emperor Domitian and handing over their weapons for inspection. Both stood as men prepared to die.
And for what?
Blood! Blood! Blood!
Empra tried to take note of everything—it was her job, after all, the reason she was here, in a time not her own. She tried to ignore the constant ache of her lower back, the throb of her ankles, the flaming, wet misery of her heart.
Usually, when Empra sat in the thick of living history, she thought of her great-grandfather: Bertram McCarthy, professor of history at Oxford. A man whose life was a tidy sum of tweed jackets and pipes and paperbound books. He worshipped the past with a strange fervor. It was, he liked to tell her, the weight all mankind was born to bear. The roots we did not choose, but chose us.
Bertram McCarthy had terrible timing. Born four centuries too late, dying two years too early. Two years before time travel was firmly within humanity's grasp. Empra often thought about what it would be like to travel back to Oxford's mote-strung halls, to show her great-grandfather the CTM Ab Aeterno and take him for a ride through time. But there were rules upon rules regarding this sort of thing. Time travelers were to be unobtrusive observers. Interacting with people from the past was dangerous business, best kept at a minimum. Lest the course of history be altered.
Not, her swollen belly reminded her, that she'd been so diligent in all the rules.
Thus, Bertram McCarthy was stranded in his own timeline: dusty life and quiet death. But the love of history he'd planted in his great-granddaughter rooted well. Empra hungered for the past: a world unwired. Without personalized adverts constantly streaming through her corneal implants or meal blocks that tasted suspiciously the same no matter what kind of food she ordered.
That was why she'd worked her tail off to become a licensed time traveler by age eighteen, why she'd joined the Corps of Central Time Travelers on a yearlong survey expedition to ancient Rome. Traveling, seeing, recording. Blue skies, green plants, real food. These were the things Empra lived for. Also, love… which she hadn't known she was looking for until it found her. Until he found her.
Love. Which brought her back here. To this round belly. To this bloodthirsty arena. To the gladiator who stood at the center of it all. Empra wondered if Gaius searched for her among the crowd that roared for his death. She'd already said good-bye, already told him they could never be together. Every moment of their last encounter had felt like plucking out her own heart, string by sanguine string. Empra knew she'd never forget the shadows hooding his already shadowed features, his promise to live for her and the baby, his Why? so broken and desperate that for just a sliver of a moment Empra considered telling Gaius the truth.
Star-crossed didn't even begin to describe their romance. She loved him to the core, but there could be no future between them, even if he lived. This was because he'd already died. On a day thousands of years before Empra twinkled in her own parents' eyes.
She had a feeling that day was going to be today, though Empra couldn't know for sure. She'd scoured the Historian databases with keywords like Gaius and gladiatorial games and 95 AD, but the results were sparse, informationless wastelands. Gaps of knowledge waiting to be filled with her own datastream.
The facts weren't hard to add up: Gaius was a good fighter. She'd seen him train as a retiarius at the gladiator school, snaring opponents in his net to be trapped at the mercy of his trident. But the gladiator Gaius was pitted against today was one of the empire's best. A secutor with a brutish blade and fifteen victories under his belt.
Empra hated watching the violence, but more than this, she hated not knowing. Did Gaius die today, his blood just one more reason for the crowd to cheer? Or did he survive this fight? Gaius was a man long buried. His ending did not matter in the scheme of things, but Empra knew if she didn't watch this battle, did not see his past future ended or extended, it would haunt her.
This was why, after nine months and one day of pregnancy, Empra sat in Rome's barbaric heart instead of coddled up in some Central hospital, plugged into an entertainment system to distract her from the oncoming woes of childbirth.
"You're pushing it," Burg, her ship's Historian, had warned her the night before. "The Corps isn't going to like that you've stayed so long."
"Just one more day." This could have been a plea except for the way Empra had said it. With the same determined gravitas that had secured her this post in the first place. "That's all we need to finish out the survey year. Besides, tomorrow's fight… it's important."
She'd never told anyone about Gaius. Simply speaking to him—sitting down for that first off-the-record interview to learn more about gladiatorial life—had been a massive breach in protocol. What followed was unforgivable, and if word of it slipped out, Empra's Corps license would be revoked forever. She'd be as stuck as her great-grandfather Bertram.
"Watching men hack each other to bits for fun is not what I would consider good maternal preparation." Burg frowned. "You can't have the baby here, Empra."
The baby's paternity had been a point of contention among the three male crew members of the CTM Ab Aeterno, each of whom regarded the others with raised eyebrows and unvoiced suspicions. As long as they didn't suspect the truth…
"It's not like we can't come back," he'd gone on softly. Too softly for her liking.
Maybe she'd get a chance to return after all this, but Empra wasn't willing to bet on it.
She could feel the baby kicking, even now, tiny heels thumping against her gut as the gladiators took their positions, weapons gripped with lusty fists. Gaius was the fighter on the right, standing under the box of Vestal Virgins. Had Empra's eyesight been limited by biology, she would've been too far away to see his face. Her Recorder equipment magnified the details. Gaius's proud falcon nose turned into the ring, dark-as-earth eyes calculating his opponent. His calf muscles rippled against his sandal straps, ready to spring.
Empra's heart swelled: sick, sicker, sickest.
And then it burst.
She thought it strange that she felt it leaking, wet and warm against her stola, until Burg's voice buzzed into her comm implant. "McCarthy! Your vitals are spiking! Are you going into labor?"
Below, the fight had started. First blood had already been drawn—not Gaius's, but the secutor's. The crowd went feral at the sight.
"McCarthy! Answer me!" Burg shouted louder this time.
"I think my—my water just broke," she whispered into her hand, and stood on shaky legs.
There was a louder roar. Empra didn't want to look, but she had to. This time it was the secutor's blade that had landed a blow. There was a bright smear on Gaius's left arm, mixing with the fibers of his net.
"Get your hashing tail back here this instant!" Empra could just imagine Burg sitting at the Ab Aeterno's Historian console, rubbing his bristly silver crew cut with an agitated palm. "Don't make me come get you, McCarthy. You don't want to see me in a toga."
"I'm coming, I'm coming." She didn't want to leave, but Burg was right. She couldn't have the baby here. The event would attract too much attention.
Time was not on her side today.
Most of the crowd was too riveted by the fight to pay attention to the pregnant woman stumbling down the bleacher steps. Two more blows had been struck by the time Empra reached the exiting arch. Her back was to the arena, but she could tell by the round after bloody round of cheers.
One last look. She could risk that, couldn't she?
And there was Gaius, her Gaius, still fighting. His trident seemed a part of him. It was a terrible, wretched scene, but somehow he was beautiful in it.
Already dead, she reminded herself. It doesn't matter if it's a second from now or decades.
This didn't make it any easier to turn away. Neither did the fact that the red-notched secutor had managed to slice away Gaius's net and was backing him slowly, surely, into a corner.
"McCarthy, Doc says your stats are off the charts. Kid's coming fast. You need me to come get you?" Burg's question was low and steady in her ear.
There was nowhere for Gaius to run. His back was to the wall, dark curls splayed. The point of his enemy's blade drew closer, closer.
Empra changed her mind. She couldn't watch this.
No one should have to watch this.
"No, I—I'm coming." She turned her back and stumbled away. Blinded by the pain of a white-hot contraction. Deafened by the roar of a gore-glutted crowd.
The CTM Ab Aeterno's engine purred as Burgstrom Hammond waited by the hatch. According to the infirmary monitors, Empra's contractions were crowding closer together, and judging by the cries that burst through Burg's comm, they hurt like nothing he'd ever felt before.
"C'mon, McCarthy! Keep going. You're almost here!" Burg wasn't sure if he was telling the truth—the visual on his Historian screen was blurry with Empra's tears and the field where their time machine was parked looked like every field surrounding it. His fist was white on the latch, five seconds from running to the Appian Way in his coveralls.
There was no need. Empra beat him to the punch, crumpling into Burg when he opened the door. Her tears dampened his chest as he carried her to the ship's infirmary. Doc already had his sleeves rolled up, med-patches fanned out in his hand like a card deck. One was enough to fool pain receptors for an average wound, but Burg counted ten. After Empra's next scream—a sound that cleaved everything around it—he wondered if even ten would be enough. They hadn't planned for Empra to have her baby on the Ab Aeterno.
"We need to get her back to Central, stat!" Doc's yell carried into the console room, where the CTM's Engineer was doing last-minute landing calculations. "Nicholas, get us out of here!"
The ship lurched in response, engines propelling it into the aching winter sky. Again, Empra screamed—new life's pain made all the louder by their comm connection. Burg pressed a hand to his ear, surprised not to find blood trickling out.
"Deep breaths! Hold tight. Just a few more minutes and we'll get you to a proper hospital." Doc applied med-patches to Empra's arms as fast as he could, adhesive peels flurrying across the floor. They didn't seem to help. Burg's eardrum threatened to rupture as he made for the console room—an uphill incline to the ship's bow—where Nicholas was hunched over the controls.
"Hades's clangers!" Sky glared at Burg through the vistaport, its blue too bright for the future. "What are we still doing here?"
"Gotta get the right elevation or things could get a mite toasty." The Engineer wasn't wrong. Central—the crew's home city, seat of the Central World Republic—sat on this exact spot some twenty-two and a half centuries in the future. If the Ab Aeterno didn't climb high enough, its jump through time could send them careening into hovercraft traffic. "Trust me, I'm as ready to say good-bye to this year as the rest of you."
Nicholas's voice cracked with a strain they all felt—364 days spent inside a 65-square-meter CTM, watching Empra come and go and grow from the belly out. Back issues of holo- paper zines and two hours a day on the walkabout machine could only do so much to ward off cabin fever. In fact, the sight of Rome spread below was one of the best Burg had seen the whole hashing year. From this elevation, the capital was a model maker's dream—hills crowned with temples, Colosseum the size of a coin. The Ab Aeterno leveled above it, letting only a second pass before the city—and the time that held it— vanished. They'd peeled out of 95 AD, into the Grid. Darkness pressed against the vistaport, endless and eager.
The screams from the infirmary grew louder. Burg wanted to tell the Engineer to hurry up, but there was no point. The Grid was a timeless place. Clocks stopped and what you thought was a second could be an hour, a week, a year, a decade. He stared through the vistaport instead, willing the world's capital to reappear in its twenty-fourth-century iteration. Rome had changed a good deal in the last two millennia: from dusty republic city to Caput Mundi to selfie-stick-wielding tourist destination to Novum Caput Mundi. The heart of the ancient world had risen to new, all-powerful heights. Its cityscape even resembled a crown. Zone 1—the Colosseum, the Vatican, countless basilicas and fountains and piazzas—sat at the center, the buildings of Old Rome protected by the Global Historic Preservation Act of 2237 AD. Modernity hemmed it in on all sides. Zone 2's jutting skyline was bejeweled with neon adverts, hovercraft traffic dotting the slices of intervening sky. The centerpiece of Central was— without question—the tiered New Forum skyscraper designed by the famed architect Biruk Tekle. All 168 floors of the building were sheathed in gold glass. Six hundred senators worked inside these gilded walls, representing half as many global districts, headed by a dual consulate.
Earth's capital was the seed of a million migraines, with its smog and tangled lights, but there was a pause every day when it transformed. Locals like Burg knew this as the "Flaming Hour," when the setting sun caught pollution particles at just the right angle to spread orange bright into every corner of the evening. The city became fire itself, unmatched by anything in history. One world, one light. It was Rome ascended, forged from peace instead of war.
None of this materialized from the black. Nicholas stayed hunched over his screens, taking strings of numbers and crunching them into the precise result that would land the Ab Aeterno when they wanted: April 18, 2354 AD, 12:01 PM. One minute after their departure one year ago.
Burg sat down at his own station to disconnect Empra's feed from his comm, but there was no need. Her shrieks had gone silent, a rougher, wordless cry taking their place.
Nicholas looked up at the sound, cheeks ashen. "Is that—"
It was. Newborn lungs drunk on their first swig of air. The cries kept on and the Engineer made the eight-pointed sign of a cross over his chest. Burg felt his own color draining while he looked toward the infirmary, then back to the dizzying dark of the Grid. As a time traveler, he was used to bending the laws of nature, sometimes all the way backward.
But this… a child born outside of time…
Such an event didn't just distort the laws of nature.
It broke them.
Burg switched off the datastream and ran to the infirmary. It was a sight: Doc tending to Empra on the floor. Her stola had gone purple with bloodstains, and she could not stop crying as she rocked her child with med-patch-covered arms. The infant was already squirming, as if he was ready to fight something. His head bloomed full of dark curls.
Though Burg was a large tree trunk of a man—built for bar brawls and bouncer jobs—he was also very intuitive. He'd noted that Empra's datastream lingered a bit too long on the gladiator with those same dark curls. He'd noticed how, at night, always hours before she returned to the Ab Aeterno, she would switch off the recording devices and mute her mic. He'd watched love like stars shine through her eyes—the kind of love she never shared with him. Or Doc. Or Nicholas. Or her ex- fiancé, Marin.
The Historian was watchful enough to pick out these things, smart enough to piece them together. Like all registered members of the Corps, Burg had memorized the Corps of Central Time Travelers' Code of Conduct to the extent that he could recite it in reverse. When it came to this child's father, Empra had gone well outside her jurisdiction, and if the Central authorities caught wind of her actions, there would be consequences. Ruthless ones, applied to mother and son alike.
Burg looked down at the baby—so breakably small in Empra's arms—and swore he'd never tell. When the infant's clear eyes latched onto his, the Historian went a step further, doing some calculations in his head. In order for Empra's secret to stay a secret, there had to be bribery involved. Burg knew if he could get the right amount of credits to the right lab techs, then the child's DNA tests could be fudged. Senators did this all the time to cover up unwanted paternity claims.
But the senators' pockets were far deeper than Burg's. He didn't time travel for the money. No one did. Most of the Corps' cash flow went to the mechanical side of things: fuel rods, CTM maintenance, server space to host the datastreams Recorders were collecting from all across time.
How many credits would it take to bribe the lab techs? A thousand? Five thousand? Maybe even more, to hide a misstep as large as this…
"Would you like to hold him?" Empra asked.
Burg nodded. How could he say no? The baby squirmed as he was transferred, curls tickling the inside of the Historian's elbow. It was then that the bearish man decided to hash it all. What were numbers to a life? Whatever price it would take to keep this child alive… he'd pay it. There wasn't much that could be done to cover up the birth outside of time. He just had to have faith that that anomaly would sort itself out.
Burg cradled the boy who should not have been—close as a heart—waiting through the timeless time-between-times for them to land.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
— WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY "INVICTUS"
THE BOY WHO SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN
MAY 5, 2371
"STATE YOUR NAME." THE MED-DROID'S AUTOMATED voice was cut clean, every syllable filed down to replicate a Central accent. Why machines needed accents, Far didn't know. Maybe the programmers added this touch of humanity to put the med-droid's patients at ease. The tactic had failed, though the robot couldn't be faulted for Far's discomfort. Sitting tail-naked on an examination tabletop wasn't exactly Relaxation 101. The stainless steel surface was a few degrees shy of frosty, nipping places on his body where cold had no business going.
"Farway Gaius McCarthy," he answered.
The med-droid recorded the reply, shifted into the next query. "State your date of birth."
Far sighed. They asked this question. Every. Single. Time. And every single time he answered, the med-droid's computers would whir through the census databases, find nothing, and state in its elegant accent: "Answer invalid. Restate your date of birth."
This routine was old hat. He'd done it scores, if not hundreds, of times, for all the scores, if not hundreds, of Simulator exams he'd taken at the Academy. The anticheating measures—a full stripping and thorough identity scan before every Sim session—seemed extreme, but as Far's instructors had taught him, time travel demanded flawless precision. Cheating now could lead to world-ending catastrophes later. Maybe. Time's immutability was something much debated by the Corps, who were too afraid to test their theories in case they ended up changing the future they lived in—butterfly wingbeats and whatnot. Thus, perfection was their MO.
Traveling the Grid—exploring the past in real time—was all Far dreamed of. He'd been raised on a steady diet of serialized datastreams and Burg's expedition stories: outrunning velociraptors, witnessing Vesuvius's rage against the night sky, surveying the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But watching pixels flicker through screens and listening to an old man's recounted adventures wasn't enough to sate Far's hunger. Even the Sims' state-of-the-art sensory replications, with their sounds and smells and hologram people imbued with enough artificial intelligence to mimic an interactive scene from history, weren't enough.
He wanted to meet history face-to-face. He wanted to be the blood in its veins, as it was in his. Far was a McCarthy—son of one of the most beloved Recorders of her generation. Everywhere he went, Empra's name followed. Older Academy instructors always did a double take when they came across Far in their class rosters. You're Empra's boy, they'd say, along with some version of: She was a bright girl, one of my best students. It's such a shame about what happened to the Ab Aeterno….
His mother's legacy and loss were always there, pushing Far to be the best, always the best. And he was. Today he'd pass his final exam with flying colors, like he always did, and receive his license. Today his Sim score would earn him a coveted space on the crew of a Central Time Machine. Tomorrow he'd be exploring many yesterdays ago, documenting momentous events for scholars, scientists, and entertainment moguls alike.
But first—first!—he had to get past this pragmatic med-droid. "State your date of birth."
"Can we just skip this part?" Far shifted on the table, a vain attempt to keep his unmentionables from going numb.
"Answer invalid. Restate your date of birth."
"April eighteenth, 2354 AD." Far tried the date that made him seventeen and a smidge. It wasn't his true birthday, but that didn't stop his cousin Imogen from buying him gelato and sticking sparklers in it every year. He'd tried to make 4/18/54 official, but no clerical worker could be persuaded to fill the blank gap on his birth certificate. Far's birth outside of time had to stay on the public record, for historical purposes. Med-droid malfunctions be hashed.
Speaking of: "Answer invalid. Restate your date of birth."
Far attempted the date he used whenever he was trying to impress a girl. The date that made him 2,276, minus a smidge. "December thirty-first, 95 AD."
"I know, for Crux sake! I don't have a hashing birthday!" Far knew it was useless to get mad—he was the glitch, not the med-droid's programming—but sometimes it just felt good to yell. "I was born on the Ab Aeterno!"
Praise for Invictus:
* "Snarky banter, a clever setup, and a diverse and well-drawn cast elevate this rollicking, bombshell-laden adventure...Graudin's intricate worldbuilding brings the distant past and far future to vivid life. Readers who like their science fiction shot through with humor will be enthralled."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
* "The story is well paced, and...deals with issues of trust, romance, and duty. This would be an excellent addition to most high school collections."—VOYA (starred review)
* "Invictus is a creative, mesmerizing adventure... From start to finish, it will captivate readers with unique characters, intriguing concepts, and an adorable red panda. It would be a great disservice to this generation of action-packed cinema to dismiss this novel without attempting to bring it to the big screen... Invictus is a ride that no young adult reader should miss."—VOYA Teen Reviewer (starred review)
"This is high adventure with a literary bent, and it's held together by a lovable, ragtag crew-turned-family that wouldn't be out of place in Firefly. A well-researched, thoroughly enjoyable romp through the ages."—Booklist
"Swoonworthy sci-fi: that's something that doesn't come along every day."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Graudin depicts the futuristic, high-tech world (2371 C.E.) and the fulsome and frenzied historical settings with equal richness...A madcap, vivid time-travel tale with a strong ensemble, both indebted and cheekily alluding to Doctor Who and Firefly."—Kirkus Reviews
"Gladiators, historians, engineers, smugglers, relics, suspense, love, and time travel merge in a story that will enthrall readers."—SLC
"The characters are all well developed and compelling...its satisfying ending hits all the right notes. An appealing sci-fi romp."—SLJ
"Graudin weaves the past and future seamlessly together into an epic canvas spanning generations. An incredibly intricate, brilliantly paced, masterfully written journey."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites
"I've loved all of Ryan Graudin's books, but I love this one the most. Time-traveling thieves skipping through history! Mind-bending in the best way."—Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Strange the Dreamer
"If the crew from Firefly somehow wound up as teenagers on the TARDIS and had to solve a Fringe-type mystery before time literally disappeared, you'd have something like Invictus."—Beth Revis, New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe series and A World Without You
"A nonstop thrill ride from start to finish--I raced through Invictus at top speed! With this book, Ryan Graudin proves she can conquer any genre she turns her hand to. Fun, cheeky, high-stakes, and totally immersive, this story is wildly imaginative and brilliantly original. Jump on board without hesitation: You'll love Invictus."—Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author of the Illuminae Files
"Invictus gripped my heart. Graudin's achingly beautiful prose and thoughtful exploration of time, history, and identity create a stunning story. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, and yet I wanted to savor each decadent sentence. Readers be warned, you'll want to stop time to live in this tale."—Roshani Chokshi, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Star-Touched Queen
- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2017
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers