The Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliationby Steve Stanton
?Zakariah Davis and his wife Mia are among those infected with an alien virus that vastly prolongs life, and their blood has become a black-market staple due to its rejuvenating effects. Their teenage son Rix does not carry the Eternal virus, and Zakariah is consumed by the search for an “activated sample” with which to inoculate him. Zakariah’s
?Zakariah Davis and his wife Mia are among those infected with an alien virus that vastly prolongs life, and their blood has become a black-market staple due to its rejuvenating effects. Their teenage son Rix does not carry the Eternal virus, and Zakariah is consumed by the search for an “activated sample” with which to inoculate him. Zakariah’s brain has been surgically wired for direct connection to the global computer system where economic activity is conducted by avatars in virtual cyberspace. He gets busted and burned for trying to transport Canadian grain without a permit, and escapes as a fugitive, separated from his family and friends. He is trapped by a power-group known as the Eternal Research Institute, and travels offplanet through a commercial wormhole along with his new business partner and surgical cyber-twin, Helena Sharp, who is seeking the Source of the virus for her own purposes. In the Cromeus colonies, on the other side of time and space, Zakariah will risk everything to give his son Eternal life.
"ECW’s first sf title revitalizes the cyber-fiction genre with its vivid prose and believable characters. Verdict: Stylistically streamlined, this vibrant series opener should appeal to fans of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson." Library Journal
"Reconciliation, the first book of the trilogy, can be read on two levels, the literal and the metaphorical. Literally, the book is an exciting read. Metaphorically, it is a subtle invitation to the reader to consider the place of spirit within the cosmos and within themselves." On Spec Magazine
"On the road much travelled of neo-cyberpunk, The Bloodlight Chronicles manages to tell a suspenseful and lean story not about glazing-eyes tech gone crazy but about gifted, yet human-sized characters we care about, with some welcome twists on beloved already classics." Élisabeth Vonarburg, award-winning SF author
"This tale should appeal to science fiction readers, especially those who enjoy the virtual worlds and considering where computers and the internet may eventually lead us. Well-written, this volume resolves enough of its plot issues to satisfy, while leaving the door wide open to continue the adventure. Recommended." Canadian Review of Materials
"The characters are unique and extremely well rounded." Night Owl Sci Fi
"Stanton is an excellent writer of science fiction. Highly recommended." Bookgateway.com
Read an Excerpt
The Bloodlight Chronicles
By Steve Stanton
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2012 Steve Stanton
All rights reserved.
Zakariah Davis surveyed the V-net booth from across a darkened, deserted boulevard. The night was calm, but he felt a prickly unease like a static charge on the nape of his neck, a promise of adrenaline and strange neurotransmitters. A waft of air carried a faint odour of exhaust and mouldering refuse as a pregnant moon waxing gibbous laid a gossamer sheen on the suburban cityscape. The streetlights were long dead victims of power entropy, but the V-net terminal was still fully functional, an early public booth without the usual armaments, about a dozen years old school. A field technician had tested the electronics down to Sublevel Zero the previous day.
In a compulsive ritual of invocation, Zakariah caressed his scalp where the network cable entered his skull just above and behind his left ear, a permanently hairless semicircle on the side of his cranium. He combed his fingers through a wavy tangle of hair atop his head and set his teeth with determination, psyching himself up like an athlete before a big game. He'd been a field runner his entire adult life since receiving the Eternal virus at twenty-one, his only vacations spent underground when he was too hot to surface on the net, squirrelled away with his young wife and baby boy in dark basement apartments in downtown free-zones. He reached up to the V-net plug dangling from his left earlobe and tapped out a simple binary code with a pointed fingernail. The correct time flashed briefly in the upper right-hand corner of his field of vision. He had three more minutes until rendezvous.
Camouflaged in the dark green coveralls of a metro rep, Zakariah hurried across the street and keyed open the V-net booth with his new set of retinal prints. He surveyed the photoelectrics and deadbolts in search of tampering, then set up his doorstop and mirrors with care. Safe inside, he buckled himself into the launch seat and laid his wrist on the biometric monitor. His eyes strayed ritually over the ceiling in search of nerve gas ducts or any other modifications as he unclipped his plug and inserted it into the V-net console beside his head. A two-way flatscreen in front of him came to life with a menu of possible realities, but Zakariah was already diving to Main Street.
The City glowed with alien phosphorescence. The impossible architecture, unbounded by gravity, paid only passing homage to realtime mechanical conventions of depth and distance or light and shadow. Buildings that seemed about to topple never did. Pathways that seemed ready to disappear in the distance instead branched up into labyrinthine candelabras. Rooftop spires rose in spindly curlicues that sparked with energy like lightning rods. Pop-up billboards flashed the daily fads of fashion. Zakariah flew far above the twisted metropolis like a wary bird of prey as he rode the virtual data-stream down. He tasted burning semiconductors—a keen electric choke in his throat that reminded him of home. Home again. Sound rose up in a blended hum of babbled incoherence and dissonant music from the digital underground, a chaos of raw communication.
Zakariah quickly located his target, a private conduit just inside the City perimeter, and glided to street level with slow precision. He was not interested in making a lot of ripples on Main Street. He preferred to remain unnoticed, a ghost without shadow, a cypher without substance. He landed to a full stop with clean grace and nary a vibration. He scanned the datastream without making eye contact with any pedestrian or sensory node. No trackers, no greysuits. He strode purposely to the conduit, stepped inside, and willed himself down-level.
The fall to Sublevel Zero was much slower, experientially. He had time to peruse the steady string of advertisements scrolling on the walls, time to role play once again his scheduled meeting. His new avatar had made a flawlessly discreet entry to the net. His tech team had provided a stable linkup, his presence solid and virtually free of feedback interference. He held his hand up in front of his face and could see only vague outlines through it. Biomagnetic resonance detectors produced an exact duplicate in V-space, eliminating the need for webcams and bulky bandwidth, but Zakariah used illegal enhancements to disguise his avatar to suit the occasion. He was imaging an electric blue jumpsuit, a workman's outfit that wouldn't stand out in a crowd.
Sublevel Zero swarmed with bodies—pimps and tourists mostly, and hawkers pushing unlicensed nanotronic accessories. Zakariah brushed quickly past the colourful street chatter, being careful not to touch anyone or anything. Some of the escorts had dirty transparent holograms that betrayed cheap systems and promised nothing but trouble. A bad routine from one of them could fester in a system for weeks and ruin the best of implants. "Enhancement, turbo fantasy," one of them whispered, her face pockmarked with feedback. She reached out a ghostlike hand, offering a free tester in passing, but Zakariah ducked away from her shadow.
Probably a greysuit undercover, Zakariah thought to himself with gathering paranoia. Half the users Sublevel were on Main Street payroll, quietly stockpiling data for correlation and causality reports. His survival code did not allow for extraneous interests—no strings, no dancing, no delay to destiny. Zakariah found his appointed terminal and keyed in a private code known by only two users.
"You're fashionably late," said a large man sitting on a clear plastic floater as Zakariah entered the room.
"I don't like waiting in line," Zakariah answered with a social smile.
"I'm a busy man," he said. He shifted in his chair, his thighs bulky with fat. He wore an ill-fitting brown business jacket with matching pants, a poor attempt at legitimacy.
"I'm sure the markup is worth your while."
The broker still refused to smile, his face grainy with repressed emotion. He imaged a flat credit board in front of him and read, "Nine piggyback transports of fresh grain, Grade A Canadian wheat."
"Any trouble at the border?"
The man looked askance, artfully taken aback. "Really, Mr. Nelson. We run a professional outfit."
"I meant with the Eternal watch in such high gear these days."
A shiver of interference ran through the broker from top to bottom, and Zakariah knew instinctively that his new avatar was about to be sacrificed. He suppressed a surge of panic and kept his own signal clear as crystal by utilizing mnemonic techniques gained from decades of experience.
"Grain is on the list," the man said evenly, searching Zakariah's image with critical care.
Zakariah stood stolid for inspection, already planning his escape.
"We wondered what you had in mind," the broker continued, "for so much grain."
"We're making bread," Zakariah said as he imaged his debit voucher. "This is Sublevel Zero, after all."
"Of course." The large man smiled finally and offered his palm up, fingers pointed skyward.
Zakariah hesitated. "I expect at least sixty minutes."
Another shiver of interference passed through the avatar before him. So, not even sixty minutes. Zakariah wondered if they could possibly be on a greysuit monitor in realtime.
"Those damn Eternals have got the whole net in an uproar," the man whined. "Not that I blame them for living," he added hastily with obvious discomfort. "It's just getting so hard to do business these days."
"Do you expect me to make nine transports disappear in less than sixty minutes?"
"They're only twenty miles from the interstate," the man whispered, his face tight with panic.
"We had a specific agreement."
"We've still got it. Can't you see I'm giving you everything I have? Damn, it's your own hide you've got to worry about." The broker's image began to break up, his face a mask of tension, his overhead palm glistening with sweat, with promise.
Zakariah felt his body hum with energy as he raised sparking fingers to seal the deal. As their hands met, electronic assets were instantly transferred through a series of bank accounts in several countries, a tax-free cryptographic trail that was virtually indecipherable, a white market. Zakariah recoiled like a launching missile and quickly vaulted out of the room. A few hundred miles south of the Canadian border, nine green lights flashed on the dashboards of nine transport cabs, and nine nervous drivers gunned black smoke up dirty stacks.
Back on Sublevel Zero, Zakariah noted greysuits in both corners of his field of vision. He grabbed the nearest avatar and forcefully mixed energies to disguise himself. He ran down the street diving and rolling through every hawker on the boulevard in an orgy of digital intimacy. Fleeting tastes of mind-probe experiments and dysfunctional sexuality assaulted him as he spread his signal over a hundred parameters, traceable and yet untraceable, everywhere and yet nowhere at all, in a desperate gambit for freedom. A handful of weaker avatars got snagged in his resonance field and trailed behind him like rag dolls, squawking and complaining about their civil rights, as he tumbled into a public zoomtube and punched in a panic abort.
A rocketlike feeling of momentum thrust him upward, inward, burning his brain with fire. A coarse vibration pulsed through him, a black energy of demon overclocking. He felt that he would surely die, as time slowed, stopped, twisted, and stabbed a knife in his forehead.
Zakariah peered through red fog at an angry V-net flatscreen. A blinking message, "DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE. HELP IS ON THE WAY," glared at him in three official languages. His smoking V-net plug had melted into the console beside his head. He reached into a pocket of his coveralls, pulled out a pair of red pliers, and clipped his cable clean behind his left ear.
Part of his brain seemed to shut down, his experience suddenly shallow, one dimensional. He struggled against a feeling of infinite loss as he pushed open a vaultlike door with deadbolts stuck eight inches out into the air. He carefully collected the doorstop and mirrors that had saved him from lockdown, quickly scanned the crime scene for evidence, and hurried away into the suburban evening, a burned runner again, a fugitive. Without a V-net plug he would eventually die of information drought, an addict without a fix. He was cut off from society, from his family, from all public and private systems of commerce. He was wired with the mark of the Beast and could not live long without that sustaining neurotransmission. An ambulance siren sounded in the distance, a keen wail like an animal in heat. Suburbia was a bad place to hide in a manhunt. Zakariah glanced up at the grey skyline, quickly got his bearings, and headed downtown.
Mia Davis stood with clenched fists at her side as she presented herself before the leader of her small Eternal community. She felt grubby and haggard, having thrown on black jeans and a blue belted tunic in haste. Buzzed out of a deep sleep by a terse and formal text message on her handheld, she'd skipped her morning workout routine, and her body felt dulled with a numbing fatigue as a result. She had guessed the worst and was blocking the possibility from her mind.
"Your husband's been burned again, Mia," Pastor Ed told her. "We think he got away unscathed, but there's no way to be certain at the moment. I'm sorry."
Mia glared at him. Pastor Ed sat behind a simulated woodgrain desk that seemed too small for his bulky frame. His shiny grey hair rolled like ocean waves above his perspiring brow. His small nose and square jaw gave his face a blockish appearance, grim and unmovable. Behind him, a single line of hardcover books stood on a shelf against a background of unfinished gypsum board. The community had just relocated after an infiltration and kidnapping, and the good pastor had little time for painting or decorating.
Mia closed her eyes in frustration. How can this be happening? She had seen Zak just a few hours ago. She carved her bristly hair with the tips of her fingers, her long nails scratching harshly along her scalp, trying to blunt her inner pain with tactile discomfort.
"It was his first run with this new wetware," she said finally, and levelled her gaze. "He should have been squeaky clean."
The harsh office light seemed sterile; the air smelled stale. Pastor Ed sighed but appeared comfortable in his role, a quiet man behind a desk, a man with responsibility on his shoulders and hard years etched on his forehead. "I know. Something went wrong. We're checking our sources. Did he say anything to you?"
Her eyes tightened with anger. "You think I'd burn my own husband, the father of my child?"
"Of course not, Mia. Try to calm down."
"Zak's run should have been routine. Any eight-bit hacker could have pulled it off without a hitch."
"We're just gathering information at this point, for damage control." Pastor Ed spread his arms in a plea for composure.
"Zak never talks, not even to me. He never flinches under pressure. That's why he's the best."
"He'll be okay, Mia. We both know it in our hearts."
"He's not okay, Ed. He's injured and isolated on the street."
"We're working on it."
Mia turned away. "God," she said, not entirely in vain. She began pacing the tiny room, back and forth from wall to wall, spinning on her toes, feeling her chi building to a crescendo. "How long will he be exiled?"
"We think ninety days will be enough to lose all tracers. We can't risk the community for one man."
"He could be dead by then."
"Mia, we've been through this before. I know it's not an easy life. I've tried talking to Zak myself."
She waved his words away with a backhand swipe of her arm. "Sure," she spat. "What was it this time? More chips and trinkets for the brain wizards? We're no better than the world if we've got to have the same hardware."
"Bread, Mia. Just food, that's all."
Mia blew out a tantric sigh of resignation. A simple public service. Was that too much to ask? "Did it get through?"
"All of it. People are rejoicing in the camps tonight." A smile flickered briefly on the pastor's face and faded to granite. "Some people."
"I'd better go tell Rix before he hears it on the street."
"It won't be on the street, Mia. We're keeping this tightly wrapped."
"I understand. I'll be discreet."
"As soon as Zak gets to a safe enclave, we'll drop a wetware team to rewire him. Try not to worry. He's the best there is."
"Can you be straight with me in my time of trouble, Pastor?"
Pastor Ed rubbed his chin warily. "I can try."
"Has he been fitted with a mindwipe circuit?"
Pastor Ed dropped his hand to his lap and sat back in his chair, his face grim. "What do you know about mindwipe?"
Mia shrugged shoulders now aching from lack of exercise. She spread innocent palms. "The schematics were smuggled out of a government lab a few years ago," she said. "Any attempt at brain infiltration sets off a permanent memory erasure program. It's for our protection."
"I really couldn't say, Mia."
"I thought not. Will he remember me, Pastor?" She bit her lip until it hurt. She would not cry in front of this bureaucrat.
Pastor Ed sighed. "He may remember some things, memories with strong emotive content particularly. Love never dies, Mia."
"Am I allowed to go after him?"
"He may need me."
"It really wouldn't be feasible. You don't have the experience for field operations. Any Eternal is at risk outside the compound."
"C'mon Ed, I'm a tai chi master with kick-box training. I can subdue a grown man without breaking a sweat. You can't expect me to sit around like a war bride making bandages. There must be something I can do. Rix is almost an adult now. I could drop out for awhile."
Pastor Ed picked up a pencil and tapped it on his desk a few times. The sound seemed amplified in the sterile little cubicle, a judge's gavel in a dusty courtroom. "I'll look into it," he said.
Rix scanned his flatscreen lazily, online but unplugged, just hanging out with his friends. Ostensibly, he was toying with today's homework module, but he found it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork before breakfast. A text message scrolled across the lower portion of his screen. It looked like a hostile pop-up that should have been blocked automatically. He pointed at it with a finger diode and tapped delete in his palm. It scrolled by again.
Your community has been compromised. Take evasive action.
Rix stared at it thoughtfully. This looked like fun. He highlighted the message and tapped the mike on his pinkie finger.
"Are you the doom and gloom girl?" he asked, translated to text only, no video.
What makes you think I'm a girl?
Excerpted from The Bloodlight Chronicles by Steve Stanton. Copyright © 2012 Steve Stanton. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Steve Stanton is a writer who currently serves as the vice president of SF Canada, the nation's bilingual organization of science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. His short fiction has been published in 12 countries, including translations into Hebrew, Greek, Italian, and Romanian. He lives in Washago, Ontario.
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