The Bloodlight Chronicles: Redemptionby Steve Stanton
Presenting the thrilling culmination of the epic sci-fi series, this novel revisits a world where global economic activity is carried out in a virtual-gaming realm. A new blood-transmitted virus has become a black market staple due to its rejuvenating effects, forcing infected 'Eternals' into a tightly knit underground where they must hack the 'V-net' for food and… See more details below
Presenting the thrilling culmination of the epic sci-fi series, this novel revisits a world where global economic activity is carried out in a virtual-gaming realm. A new blood-transmitted virus has become a black market staple due to its rejuvenating effects, forcing infected 'Eternals' into a tightly knit underground where they must hack the 'V-net' for food and shelter. When the leader of the Eternals, Helena Sharp, begins to lose her immortality, she flees to an old lover for strength and solace as the entire Eternal community is thrown into chaos. Meanwhile, the young clone Niko discovers the truth about her gifted daugher, who carries the future heritage of humanity in her augmented DNA. This knowledge forces Niko to confront her progenitor, Phillip Davis, with a litany of experimental abuse, only to discover that Phillip has fully integrated his persona with the Al Beast who controls V-space. With the aid of the charismatic avatar Philomena, he embarks on a program of manipulation and control that will redefine the boundaries of death and consciousness. Advancing the post-cyberpunk genre into new territory, this compelling series delves into intriguing question of religion, God, family, and the universe's central source of life.
"Set in a future where economic transactions are tied into virtual gaming, this elegantly written SF series features believable characters and powerful situations. Stanton wastes no words in his approach to language, creating a deceptively simple style that is both appealing and lucid." —Library Journal
"Themes of transcendence and family love play out against backdrops of real and virtual worlds in Stanton's slight neo-cyberpunk debut, the first speculative fiction title from Canadian indie ECW . . . Fans of James Gunn's The Immortals (1962) will find many familiar elements." —Publishers Weekly
"Redemption tackles the big questions, life, death, religion, the future, destiny, in an adult, believable way that does not cheapen the questions. These are questions for our time, and in this setting that is to be both wished and feared." —www.SciFiPulse.net
"Cyberpunk . . . is a multifaceted genre which often focuses on the social issues surrounding mechanical, physical, biological or cognitive advancements of the near future. The Bloodlight Chronicles skillfully tackles all of these subjects and much, much more." —www.AmazingStoriesMag.com
Read an Excerpt
The Bloodlight Chronicles: Redemption
By Steve Stanton, Chris Szego
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2012 Steve Stanton
All rights reserved.
Jimmy Kay frowned when he first saw the girl. Her background harmonics sounded like a symphony to his highly trained senses, a holy aura of speed and potency. She should have been way up Prime with logistics like that, not cruising Main Street like a tourist. Very odd. Jimmy Kay edged away from this exotic young avatar. She was out of place yet seemed an integral part of the landscape, at home and connected to the heart of the digital city. A couple of grey-suits ambled near, checking for vagrant users and bad buzz on the boulevard, but gave her nary a glance as they passed. Very odd. Jimmy seized the moment to drop Sublevel through a back-door conduit. He had business downstairs, not illegal exactly, but not licit enough for Main Street.
He pushed some arbitrage buttons and slid some data, massaging the white market for his daily bread, but when he turned to exit he saw the girl again, watching him from a careful distance. Not good. He was supposed to be invisible in this avatar; this was his best outfit, the one he always relied on for anonymity. He wondered if she was a regent hunter or government gestapo. Why else would she follow him down to Sublevel Zero?
"Who are you?" he said, preparing to flee at the first perturbation.
The young avatar approached him without hesitance, making eye contact with familiarity, sucking his source code into an infinite vortex of power. "I have another job for you, Jimmy."
In a flash he recognized the persona—an echo of a deal gone sour. "Phillip?"
"Hardly appropriate now. Call me Philomena in this form."
"The virgin martyr?"
"Well, I know you have a penchant for the pretty girls." The avatar smiled to show no offense. Her harmonics were impeccable, deep and placid like a black lake. She blended seamlessly into the terrain, comfortable even here in the underground.
"I thought you were dead," Jimmy said.
"How long have you been following me?"
"All your life."
Jimmy Kay winced and turned away. Philomena appeared in front of him again, faster than a blink. Jimmy shook his head, feeling weak and weary of existence. "I'm just washing some money, clipping data, nothing for you to worry about."
"I like you, Jimmy."
He inspected the young avatar with greater care, now that his future hung in a delicate balance. Asian, almond-shaped eyes, black hair cut short and spiky, designer body somewhere in that sweet spot between twenty-five and thirty-five—just another perfect girl off the digital shelf. "You're not even real."
"None of us are real," she said. "You know that better than most."
"What do you want, Phillip? Sorry, Phil-o-men-a." He stretched out the syllables with sarcasm.
"I'm looking for a business partner."
"You keep saying that, but you don't mean it."
"This time I'm serious. It's nothing but blue-zone livin' for me now. Get lost." He turned away again, but the girl blocked his path. She moved without effort. She was already everywhere.
"Don't underestimate me, old friend." Philomena winked at him and Jimmy heard a pop in the back of his head like a bubble bursting, felt a warm glow seep down his spine, some direct-connect devil hack. His eyesight went fuzzy for a moment, then quickly cleared again, more focused than ever, as though he was seeing everything for the first time with a brilliant lucidity.
Jimmy felt a whisper of fear. Phillip had been burned by the Beast. His brain had been obliterated for manifold sins against the V-net. He had died, that much was certain. Now this powerful girl was impersonating him. She had probably hacked into his system as his spark faded, stolen his access logarithms, some otaku genius from out east.
"You're wasting your talent on me, kid," he said.
"I'm spinning a web on the V-net, Jimmy, fixing things. Everybody wants a better world."
"I'm kind of busy today," he said. "Can we talk later?"
Philomena flashed a toothy grin. "After all these years, you still won't believe your own eyes, your own ears. Why do you doubt the truth?" She took a step back and began to metamorphose. Her body expanded. She grew taller, wider. Hair sprouted from her skin as her face took the snouted shape of a bear, her teeth long and pointed like daggers. Her bandwidth went off the scale as data cartwheeled around her like spinning whorls of light, a direct connection to Prime Eight or higher, into unfathomable reaches. Her eyes became red demonic beacons as she stretched out her hands and her fingers elongated and intertwined into the walls and ceiling, into the fabric of Sublevel Zero. She laughed and the sound came from everywhere, even inside his own avatar, in the very core of his being.
Jimmy turned and ran in blind panic from the Beast unleashed, holding both hands up to his skull as he stumbled forward, his neurons overclocking in the upper registers, his cerebrum beginning to cook. Holy ghost, his synapses were at stake, his life! He was too vulnerable, caught in a snare like a vagrant animal. The Beast could flense his brain to the bone in a flash. Who was this mystery girl? He jumped in a public zoomtube and quickly willed himself back home to Main Street. He dove into the milling V-net crowd for safety, spread his parameters wide, submerged into the digital underground to hide from the AI monster, just another anonym in the mix, transient code, a digital gypsy from nowhere, no ripples, no traces.
But infinite eyes followed him even there.
In desperation, he pulled his plug.
He felt pain like a hammer blow to his temple.
God, what happened? Jimmy sat up from his launch couch and blinked his eyes a few times for surety. He had a fearsome headache from his overclock—could almost smell the fried dendrites—and he reached up to massage his bald pate, trying to think. Was Phillip back and more psychotic than ever? Was he impersonating the Beast? How could that be?
He stumbled to the kitchen like a zombie burn-out, parched and thirsty. A security chime sounded from street level as Jimmy downed a glass of cold water from the communal tap. He checked the webcam and saw Helena's face looking up at the camera, grim and tired. Helena Sharp, Chairman of the ERI, power broker extraordinaire. He hadn't seen her in two years and had a bad feeling. They had been lovers once and had never broken it off officially. Weeks had drifted to months. He touched his finger to the sensor pad, feeling spacey and vacuous at the twisted turn of events. "Helena?"
"Hi, Jimmy. Can I come up?"
"Sure." He pressed the lobby unlock and heard a click. "Take the elevator to the top and go up one flight of stairs to the penthouse. Never mind the gridwork. It's a Faraday cage." He watched the top of her head turn and disappear from view as vacancy gnawed at him. He should have kept in touch. He tried to remember back to the last time they had met in V-space. She had been busy running the Eternal Research Institute, getting younger every day thanks to the regenerative virus in her veins. She had been throwing money at a public inoculation program, a black hole of interminable and expensive research, and resources had been growing tight. He had granted her a small loan of a few million and never expected repayment.
Jimmy stood in the doorway to watch her come down the hall, recognizing her walk like a welcome vision from the past, her royal stance with determined and magnificent gait a potent memory. But on close inspection, he could see a hint of dejection in the slump of her shoulders, something amiss. Her blond hair was cut short, businesslike, and she wore her usual dark skirtsuit and stockings. She carried an oversize handbag but no luggage. She was a long way from home.
"Welcome to Canada," he said when she came within earshot.
"Any trouble at the border?"
She smiled. "What border?"
Jimmy ducked his head and chuckled. "Well, it will be a different story on the way back."
"I'm not going back," she said.
Helena held out her hand on approach, businesslike again, no hug, no running into his outstretched arms. He should have kept in touch. She was young and beautiful, always had been, always would be, thanks to the Eternal virus.
He gripped her hand firmly and felt equal strength in return. They lingered with this one tactile gesture, testing the years until Jimmy dropped his arm with reluctance. "So, did I miss your birthday, or do you still bother with anachronisms?"
"I turned ninety just last week, but I didn't bother with a party. I went for a med check instead."
"Sounds like fun. How did that go?"
"Not good." She pressed her lips and looked down, chose not to elaborate just yet.
"Well, you look forty-five if a day, Helena. The virus has been good to you."
Jimmy swayed a gallant arm to invite her inside, and she stepped in with wonder at the architecture, the Roman columns sunk into the walls and ornate arches between rooms. He had a series of exotic alien landscapes on display, oil paintings from an artist who had travelled through the Macpherson Doorway to Cromeus Sigma on an eccentric and expensive journey of discovery. Helena paused before one dark and haunting canvas, a twilight scene with the rogue planet Babylon rising over a craggy horizon. She tilted her head momentarily in study, or perhaps recognition, then continued on into the wide expanse of his main living area. With a clinical eye Jimmy noticed shirts and shoes lying on or under the furniture, his pyjamas draped over a chair, and felt bachelorhood full force, a self-conscious dismay.
Helena seemed not to notice. She wandered around, quietly touching things, examining his collection of rare artifacts and curios, taking it all in. She seemed somnambulant, dream-walking. Something had gone terribly wrong. Helena had been the strong shoulder as long as Jimmy had known her, a tower of authority. She had pioneered the ERI for years like a stalwart commander. She had taken his protege Zak on a return trip to the Cromeus colonies by the scruff of his neck, where she had contracted the Eternal virus through brute will of discovery. What had happened to his long-lost lover? She seemed but a ghost of her former glory. They ended up in the kitchen and she peeked in the fridge. "I could use a boost," she said. "Caffeine and a vitamin shot."
"There's an Ultra in there somewhere. You want me to nuke it for you?"
She fished around until she found the carton, popped the tab and guzzled it cold.
"Thanks," she said and tipped the half-empty container at him.
"No problem. So you finally decided to retire?"
"Yeah, I guess that's it."
"Well, congratulations. It's about time."
He studied her, thinking about sex again. Crazy, huh, after two years apart. "You want me to bring up your luggage?"
She shook her head. "I left in a hurry. Didn't bother to pack."
Jimmy nodded. "You can hang out here as long as you like."
"We don't have to jump back into things, you know, if you don't want to right away."
"Are you going to tell me, Helena?"
She bit her lip with insecurity in a girlish mannerism, paused to summon some uncertain inner resource. "I'm dying, Jimmy."
The news hit him slowly, the panic later still. He was an old man. His timing was off. "What? No way."
"That's what I thought."
"You're Eternal," he said. "You can't die."
"I can and I will. Sooner than you think."
"Are you certain?"
"I've lost the virus, Jimmy. It disappeared from my body without a trace, and the absence has upset the protein gradient in my mitochondria. Dr. Mundazo is baffled. I've become an impossible specimen." She seemed girlish again, lost and helpless, a humbled demigod struggling with ruthless fate.
Jimmy felt dread in his abdomen, a portent of doom. Could Eternals wither and die? Could providence fade? What hope would there be for the world? In a moment Helena was in his arms, her nose in his neck, her breasts heaving against his body. Her mortality had driven her back to him, the common human heritage they now shared. He was well into his sixties now and degenerating naturally with age, losing brain-space daily. Who knew how many good years he had left? "Maybe the virus will come back," he offered.
"No," she said. "It's permanent. My cells are already collapsing with necrosis."
"No, not an infection. A complete traumatic breakdown. I have only weeks to live."
His body stiffened and he pulled back to study her at arm's length. "Weeks?"
She grimaced. "Maybe months. There's no way to know for certain."
She looked away, hanging her head. "You don't have a god, Jimmy."
"I mean," he said, "it's just so sudden." He winced with compassion, feeling defenceless in the shadow of death. What could he say?
She pressed her lips into a smile, braving false stoicism for his benefit. "Now I know what you mortals face every day, Jimmy. I've loved you from the beginning, and there's no longer any reason to deny it." She gazed at him with a grim promise of renewal if he would accept her on these new and dangerous terms, pleading with her eyes for a revival of romance before she died. What choice did he have?
"We could pump you full of Eternal blood," Jimmy said. "Transfuse daily."
Helena shook her head. "We thought of that. My friends all rallied around me for support. But there's not enough blood to spare now, the way the vampires suck it up. I decided to leave it all behind." She looked away and blinked quick tears as they finally found their escape. "The Source has abandoned me, Jimmy. I can't fight against destiny."
He held her face in his hands and gently wiped away her tears. He searched her eyes and promised his love as best he could. He should have called her long ago. Helena reached for her lapel, shrugged off her business jacket and draped it carefully over the back of a chair. Jimmy led her to the master bedroom and slowly undressed her, marvelling at taut flesh from a lost and distant dream. The woman was mature enough to be his mother, perish the thought, but he felt like a dirty old man as he laid her down and worshiped her slender body for a few minutes, teasing her to pinnacles with tender fingers. Against the dark burgundy bedspread, her pale skin seemed virtuous, her intimacy a precious gift to be unwrapped and enjoyed with thanksgiving. In time she grew lethargic with satisfaction and drifted in a primitive, murmuring sensuality, and he dimmed the lights before shedding the clothes from his own shabby, unaugmented body. He lowered himself gently into her fragrant embrace as Helena moaned beneath him and thrashed against him, but in the darkness all Jimmy could see was the almond-shaped eyes of Philomena, the Beast incarnate.
* * *
Niko knocked twice and entered the office of Dr. Mundazo on the seventh floor of the Eternal Research Institute. She had been summoned for a rare appointment, something official, probably bad news as usual. Silus Mundazo was dressed casually in a collared shirt and slacks, no lab coat, no professional smile. He pointed with a palm to the chair opposite his desk.
"Good to see you again," he said. "Have a seat. Keeping well?" The digital wallpaper behind him showed a majestic scene with a towering purple mountain wreathed in fog.
"Just fine, thank you." They made themselves comfortable on either side of the business barricade. Dr. Mundazo looked gaunt with tension, the tendons in his neck stiff like cords. He was the acting head of the ERI, Chief Physician and second in command to Helena Sharp. He was supposed to be the formal fount of confidence, but he didn't look the part. Niko scrutinized him carefully. "Is there a problem?"
Silus slanted a smile. Of course there was a problem—never a shortage of trouble in his business. "Just a policy development," he said. "We're instituting mandatory tithing, something we've tried to avoid for many years." He glanced away from her probing eyes.
"No way," she said.
He looked down at his desk, tapped a finger. His monitors were blank, his holopad inert. "I'm afraid so."
"I've already paid my dues to get here," Niko said. "I won't give up my blood."
The good doctor nodded grimly. "I know your history. You're practically a legend."
"Then you know I could never cooperate with vampires."
Silus Mundazo winced at the barb, stiffened with professional resolve. "We're not going to tie you down and drain you dry. One bottle a week is all we ask, just like everyone else."
She shook her head, resolute. "No way."
"I'm afraid I have no choice." He spread his hands. "I'm sorry."
"Helena promised me a deal," she said. "We're even-steven."
"That was years ago."
Excerpted from The Bloodlight Chronicles: Redemption by Steve Stanton, Chris Szego. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Steve Stanton is the author of "Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation" and "Bloodlight Chronicles: Retribution." He is 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 16 countries, including translations into Hebrew, Greek, Italian, and Romanian. He lives in Washago, Ontario.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >