The Dark Net

The Dark Net

by Benjamin Percy


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“Thrilling . . . one of the best Stephen King novels not written by the master himself. . . . The setup promises furious action, and Percy delivers, like [Richard] Matheson, like King. . . An awfully impressive literary performance.”—New York Times Book Review

“[An] imaginative, spooky, swiftly paced tale threaded through with dark humor.”—Dean Koontz
“Percy’s blend of cyberpunk-style SF and occult horror is a perfect combo for summer chills.”—Library Journal

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web, some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies and music, or traffic in drugs and stolen goods. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew:

Twelve-year-old Hannah -- who has been fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness-- wonders why she sees shadows surrounding some people.

Lela, a technophobic journalist, has stumbled upon a story nobody wants her to uncover.

Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist who suffers from personal and literal demons, has an arsenal of weapons stored in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs.

And Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes himself a soldier of the Internet, part of a cyber army akin to Anonymous.

They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains.

Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544750333
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,205,636
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

BENJAMIN PERCY has won a Whiting Award, a Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of the novels The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding, two story collections, and an essay collection, Thrill Me. He also writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titans series for DC Comics. He lives in Minnesota with his family.

Read an Excerpt

Hannah wasn’t born blind, but sometimes it feels that way. She has retinitis pigmentosa, what she calls RP. Like, I’m so sick of this stupid RP. Which makes the disease sound like one of those jerks she goes to middle school with ​— ​the BGs and BJs and RJs ​— ​who talk too loudly and wear chunky basketball shoes and toss French fries dipped in mustard across the cafeteria and draw dicks on people’s lockers with permanent marker.
      She was diagnosed at five. She’s twelve now. But she acts like she’s forty. That’s what everyone tells her. “An old soul,” her mother says. “Stick in the mud,” her aunt Lela says. If she had a smartphone, if she had boyfriends, if she hung out at Starbucks and Clackamas Center Mall, if she didn’t rely on her mother’s help to pick out her clothes, if she didn’t prod the sidewalk with a stupid cane or wear stupid sunglasses to hide her stupid absent eyes, if she could see, maybe then she wouldn’t be such a boring grump, maybe then she would act more like the rest of the giggling, perfume-bombed lunatics her age.
      At first she couldn’t see at night, crashing into walls on the way to the bathroom. Then her sight fogged over. Then her peripheral vision began to decrease, like two doors closing slowly, slowly, over several years, until there was only a line of vertical light with color-blurred shapes passing through it. If she held something directly in front of her face, she could get a pretty good sense of it, but one day, within the next five years or so, darkness will come. She’ll live in a permanent night.
      Hers was an accelerated case. And there was no cure. That was what the doctors said. So her mother prayed. And gave Hannah vitamins A and E. And restricted her intake of phytanic acids, so no dairy, no seafood. Hannah tried a dog, but she was allergic and got sick of cleaning up his crap. And she visited a school for the blind, but that felt like giving up, despite the crush of bodies at her middle school, the eyes she could feel crawling all over her while the occasional BG or BJ or RJ whispered a Helen Keller joke.
      Then a doctor at OHSU approached her about an experimental trial. Would she be interested? She knew all about gene therapy and about the retinal transplants that had so far failed to develop synaptic connections with their hosts, but she didn’t know about this, a prosthesis built by a Seattle-based tech company. It converted video images captured by a camera into electrical pulses that bypassed the diseased outer retina and poured into over one thousand electrodes on the inner retina. They called it Mirage.
      “It’s all very Star Trek,” the doctor told her, when describing the device, not glasses so much as a silver shield that wrapped your eyes. She liked his Indian accent, the buoyancy of the vowels, making his words sound as if they were gently bouncing.
      Her mother worried that people would stare, and Hannah said, “They already stare.” At least they’d be studying her now with awe and curiosity rather than pity. “I’ll be a cyborg, a Terminator!”
      Her mother could never afford the surgery ​— ​the removal of the post subcapsular cataracts and spoke-wheel pattern of cysts, the insertion of the casing and array and antennae along the periphery of her sockets ​— ​which didn’t matter: the tech company would pay for everything, so long as she agreed to serve as their lab rat and advertisement.
      Now, three weeks after she went under the knife, it is time to take off the bandages. Now it is time to wire up the Mirage. To see. The doctor tells her it might take time for her brain to process this new sensory experience. “Think of it like this. What if I gave you a new set of lungs that allowed you to breathe underwater? The first time you jumped in the river and took a deep breath, your body would fight the feeling, thinking you were drowning. There will be a little bit of that at first. A little bit of drowning. But I believe it will pass quickly.”
      Hannah knows the sun is a yellow ball of fire ​— ​she can still see the smear of it ​— ​but the image has been replaced more by a feeling of warmth that tingles the hair on her arms and makes her turn her face toward the source. Yes, a pine tree has a reddish trunk and green needles and cuts away the sky when you stand beneath it, but for her the sensory analogue is the smell of resin and the feel of scabby bark plates beneath her palm and the sound of the hushing, prickling breeze when it rushes through the branches. The ability to see has become an abstraction, something she can only vaguely imagine, like time travel or teleportation.
      She sits on an exam table with the doctor leaning in and her mother hovering nearby. He tries to make small talk ​— ​asking how’s school, is she excited, will she do anything to celebrate ​— ​but she can barely manage a response, all of her attention on the tug of his hands, the wounded ache of her eyes.
      “We don’t go out to restaurants very much, but we’re going to one tomorrow,” her mother says. “Benedikt’s. For lunch. To celebrate. With my sister. She writes for the paper. Maybe you’ve read her articles? She writes about other people’s problems, but let me tell you, she has plenty of her own. Anyway, as long as Hannah is feeling up for it, that’s what we’re planning.”
      “That’s nice,” the doctor says. “Almost done.” Then the last bit of bandage pulls away and he says, “There.”
      A part of Hannah feels lighter, more buoyant, now that she’s unrestricted by all that gauze and tape, but another part of her feels more panicked than ever ​— ​as if, when he said, “There,” a light switch should have turned on in her head. For now there is only darkness. Her brain churns. She can taste her breakfast in her throat.
      He leans in and thumbs aside her lids and shines a light on the still-sore incisions and nudges the outlet. “Good, good. Okay. I think we’re ready for Mirage.”
      Hannah has worn it before, more than a month ago. She ran her fingers along the shape of it then, the sleek silver shield that wrapped her eyes. But that was just playing pretend. This is real. The doctor fits it into place, tightening the band around the back of her head and neatening her hair. Two bulges, almost like the nubs of horns, swell next to each of her temples. These are the brains of the thing, a cluster of microprocessors. The right one carries the small power switch. The doctor asks if she’d like to do the honors.
      She nods and blows out a steadying breath and snaps the switch.
      “Well?” the doctor says.
      “Hannah?” her mother says. “Did it work? Is it working?”
      There is a game she sometimes plays. The wishing game. She’ll say, “I’m looking forward to our trip to Costa Rica,” or “I’m riding a horse across the Scottish Highlands,” and then, as if a spell has been cast, an image will crystallize. She is on a white sand beach with coconuts thudding the sand and dolphins arcing from a lagoon. She is pounding across a bog, through swirling mists, while the horse kicks up divots of mud and bagpipes honk and wheeze. No matter how expensive or distant or impossible the dream, the wishing game makes anything possible.
      “I can see,” she says. She has said this many times before, has whispered it into her pillow and coat collar and closet, testing the words in quiet places to see if they spoil once released to the air. But this time it’s true. She can see.
      It is difficult for her to comprehend images, her frame of reference so far limited to her other senses. What she sees is like an echo. And inside the echo there is another voice. There is a blazing white above, and a muted white all around, through which things ​— ​people? ​— ​move. Her mother asks, “Can you see me? Hannah?”
      She sees something, but is it her mother? It must be. But everything is mixed up. She can’t forge colors with shapes or shapes with distance or distance with texture, every different input temporarily fizzling her brain, making her want to shout, “Does not compute, does not compute!” As if someone put a banana under her nose and a shark in front of her face and jazz in her ear and a broom in her hand and said, “What a beautiful sunset.”
      “I don’t know,” she says. “I can’t tell what’s real.”

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