Here begins my "snippeting" of Paradigms Lost, my vastly expanded and revised version of my first novel, Digital Knight. This will continue until the e-ARC of the novel is released by Baen, probably in late August or early September.
Paradigms Lost is a greatly expanded edition of Digital Knight, my first published work. It is not just a polishing and slight reworking of Digital Knight – indeed, in many areas I have tried not to touch the writing overmuch, as I don't want to damage the "flavor" that made it work in the first place.
What I have done is to add in incidents and actions which would have happened – foreshadowing and "crossover" events that are part of Jason's universe – but which I didn't fully know when I first wrote Digital Knight, some portions of which were written as far back as 1987-88. I have also reconciled a few contradictions and confusing incidents to make more sense. I've also clarified the dating of the stories, as some readers might have found it confusing; Jason's adventures begin in April of 1999.
In addition to these additions – some of which are quite substantial – I have added in two more of Jason's adventures, "Shadow of Fear" and "Trial Run", to make this a truly worthwhile read even for those of you who may have read the original. Overall, this means that more than a short novel worth of material has been added to Paradigms Lost; the original Digital Knight was about 103,000 words, while Paradigms Lost runs to well over 160,000.
Jason's world is very like ours… but not precisely, and it changes as time goes on for him. His adventures also connect – sometimes in surprising ways – with other stories and events in his universe. Those who have read Phoenix Rising will perhaps not be surprised to see his encounters with a certain young man, and possibly make other connections with things that have happened… or will happen.
Join Jason, then… on the day that everything changed.
Part 1: Gone in a Flash
Chapter 1: Dead Man Knocking
I clicked on the JAPES icon. A second picture appeared on the Lumiere RAN-7X workstation screen next to the digitized original, said original being a pretty blurry picture of two men exchanging something. At first the two pictures looked identical, as always, but then rippling changes started: colors brightening and darkening, objects becoming so sharp as to look almost animated, a dozen things at once. I controlled the process with a mouse, pointing and clicking to denote key items that would help JAPES to interpret the meaning in the image and bring out details.
Fortunately, I had a lot of pictures of the same area – and same individuals – from the same batch of photos Lieutenant Klein had given me, which provided me with a lot of material for enhancing and interpreting what was in this photo. JAPES, which stood for Jason's Automatic Photo Enhancing System, was the whimsical name I'd given to my own specialized image analysis and processing suite which combined multiple standard (and not so standard)photographic enhancement techniques into a single complex operation controlled partly by me and partly by a learning expert system.
I stiffened; suddenly I was overwhelmed by the sense that I was being watched. Some people say they get that feeling a lot when they're alone; since I live alone, and work in the same building I live in, I've never been prone to that problem. But this time the feeling was so strong that I turned suddenly to the plate-glass window that was the front of Wood's Information Service.
For just an instant – that split-second between turning and my eyes focusing – I thought I saw something: a very tall figure in the mists of evening, dressed in what seemed – in that vague glimpse – to be robes or a longcoat of some sort, with a peculiar wide-swept hat like nothing I'd ever seen. Long white hair trailed off below the hat, and the figure was leaning on or holding some kind of a staff.
But when I focused, I could see there was nothing there at all; just mist and the cotton-fog glow of a streetlamp beyond. I stared out for several minutes, then shrugged. What the hell, brain? I thought to myself. Not even seeing things that make sense.
The delay had, at least, allowed JAPES to complete its work. The computer-enhanced version was crisp as a posed photo; except that I don't think either the Assemblyman or the coke dealer had intended a pose. Yeah, that ought to give Elias Klein another nail to put in the crooks' coffins. I glanced at my watch: eight-twenty. Time enough to digitize and enhance one more photo before Sylvie came over. I decided to do the last of Lieutenant Klein's; drug cases make me nervous, you never know what might happen. Come to think of it, I realized, that's probably why I had that weird feeling; I'm twitchy over this one.
So let's get back to it. I inserted the negative into the enlarger/digitizer, popped into the kitchen for a cream soda, sat down and picked up my book. After seventeen minutes the computer pinged; for this kind of work, I have to scan at the best possible resolution, and that takes time. I checked to make sure the scan went okay, then coded in the parameters, set JAPES going, and went back to Phantoms. Great yarn.
After the automatic functions were done, I started in on what I really get paid for here at Wood's Information Service ("Need info? Knock on Wood!"): the ability to find the best "finishing touches" that make enhancement still an art rather than a science.
A distant scraping sound came from the back door, and then a faint clank. I checked the time again; nine-twenty-five, still too early; Sylvie's occult shop, the Silver Stake, always closed at precisely nine-thirty, and besides, Syl would just ring the bell or walk in from the front. "Lewis?" I called out.
Lewis was what social workers might call a displaced person, others called a bum, and I called a contact. Lewis sometimes did scutwork for me—as long as he was sober he was a good worker. Unfortunately when he was drunk he was a belligerent nuisance, and at six foot seven a belligerent Lewis was an ugly sight. Since it was the first Friday of the month, he was probably drunk.
But I didn't hear an answer, neither voice nor the funny ringing knock that the chains on his jacket cuffs made. Instead I heard another clank and then a muffled thud. At that point the computer pinged again, having just finished my last instructions. I checked the final version—it looked pretty good, another pose of the Assemblyman alone with his hand partly extended—then downloaded all the data onto two disks for the Lieutenant. I sealed them in an envelope with the original negatives, dropped the envelope into the safe, swung it shut, pulled the wall panel down and locked it. Then I stepped out and turned towards the backdoor, grabbing my book as I left. Just then the front doorbell rang.
It was Sylvie, of course. "Hi, Jason!" she said, bouncing through the door. "Look at these, we just got the shipment in today! Aren't they great?" She dangled some crystal and silver earrings in front of me, continuing, "They're genuine Brazil crystal and the settings were handmade; the lady who makes them says she gets her directions from an Aztec she channels—"
There was a tremendous bang from the rear and the windows shivered. "What the hell was that?" Sylvie demanded. "Sounded like a cannon!"
"I don't know," I answered. "But it wasn't a gun. Something hit the building." I thought of the photos I was enhancing. It wouldn't be the first time someone had decided to erase the evidence before I finished improving it. I yanked open the righthand drawer of the front desk, pulled out my .45, snicked the safety off.
"You're that worried, Jason?"
"Could be bad, Syl; working for cops has its drawbacks."
She nodded, her face serious now. To other people she comes across as a New Age bimbo, or a gypsy with long black hair and colored handkerchief clothes. I know better. She reached into her purse, yanked out a small .32 automatic, pulled the slide once. I heard a round chamber itself. "Ready."
One of the things I always liked about Syl; she wasn't afraid of much and ready to deal with anything.
She started towards the back. "Let's go."
I cut in front of her. "You cover me."
I approached the door carefully, swinging to the hinge side. It opened inward, which could be trouble if someone slammed it open; I took a piece of pipe that I keep around and put it on the floor in the path of the door, so it would act as an impromptu doorstop. Then I yanked the bolt and turned the handle.
I felt a slight pressure, but not anything like something trying to force the door. Sylvie had lined up opposite me. She glanced at me and I nodded. I let the door start to open, then let go and stood aside.
The metal fire door swung open and Lewis flopped down in front of us. Sylvie gasped and I grunted. Drunk like I thought. I reached out for him. That's when he finished his roll onto his back.
His eyes stared up, glassy and unseeing. There was no doubt in my mind that he was very dead.
I stepped over the body, to stand just inside the doorway, and peered up and down the alley. To the right I saw nothing but rolling fog — God must be playing director with mood machines tonight — but to the left there was a tall, angular figure, silhouetted by a streetlamp. Pressing myself up against the doorframe in case bullets answered me, I called out, "Hey! You up there! We could use some help here!"
The figure neither answered nor came closer. He moved so fast that he just seemed to melt silently into the surrounding fog. It's a night for seeing men who aren't there, I guess. I watched for a few seconds, but saw nothing else. I turned back to Lewis.
Fortunately, there wasn't any blood. I hate blood. "Aw Christ …" I muttered. I knelt and gingerly touched the body. The weather was cool for a spring evening, but the body was still warm. Dammit. Lewis was probably dying all the time I was reading Phantoms.
"Jason, I have a bad feeling about this." Sylvie said quietly.
"No kidding!" I snapped. Then I grinned faintly. "Sorry, Syl. No call for sarcasm. But you're right, this is one heck of a mess."
She shook her head. "I don't mean it that way, Jason. The vibes are all wrong. There's something… unnatural about this."
That stopped me cold. Over the years I've come to rely on Sylvie's "feelings"; I don't really believe in ESP and all that crap, but… she has a hell of an intuition that's saved my job and my life on occasion. "Oh. Well, we'll see about it. Now I'd better call the cops; we're going to be answering questions for a while."
Normally I might have asked her more about what she meant; but something about the way she'd said "unnatural" bothered me. I zipped back to the office and grabbed up my phone; obviously I had the local police station on speed-dial, given that I worked with them a lot. The sergeant on duty assured me that someone would be along shortly. I was just hanging up when I heard a muffled scream.
I had the gun out again and was around the corner instantly. Sylvie was kneeling over the body, one hand on Lewis' coat, the other over her mouth. "What's wrong? Jesus, Syl, you scared the daylights out of me! And what the hell are you doing even near the body? You know what –"
She pointed a finger. "Explain that, mister information man."
On the side of Lewis' neck, where the coat collar had covered, were two red marks. Small red dots, right over the carotid artery.
Two puncture marks.
"So he got bit by a couple mosquitoes. Big deal. There are two very happy bugs flying high tonight."
Sylvie gave me a look she usually reserves for those who tell her that crystals are only good for radios and jewelry. "That is not what I meant, and you know that perfectly well. This man was obviously assaulted by a nosferatu."
"Say what? Sounds like a Mexican pastry."
"Jason, you are being deliberately obtuse. With all the darn horror novels you read, you know what nosferatu means."
I nodded and sighed. "Okay, yeah. Nosferatu. The Undead. A vampire. Gimme a break, Syl. I may read the novels but I don't live them. I think you've been reading too much of your woo-woo book stock lately."
"And I think that you are doing what you always laugh at the characters in your books for doing: refusing to see the obvious."
I opened my mouth to answer, but at that moment the wail of sirens interrupted, which was something of a relief. That's the craziest discussion I've ever been in and maybe we can just forget she started it. Red and blue lights flashed at the alleyway—jeez, it must be a quiet night out there. Besides the locals, I saw two New York State Troopers; they must've been cruising the I-90 spur from Albany and heard about Lewis over the radio. I felt more comfortable as I spotted a familiar figure in the unmistakable uniform of the Morgantown PD coming forward.
Lieutenant Renee Reisman knelt and did a cursory once-over, her brown hair brushing her shoulders. "Either of you touch anything?" she asked.
I was glad it was Renee. We'd gone to school together and that made things a little easier. "I touched his face, just to check if he was still warm, which he was. Sylvie moved his collar a bit to see if he'd had his throat cut or something. Other than that, the only thing I did was open the door; he was leaning up against the door and fell in."
"Okay." She was one of the more modern types; instead of scribbling it all down in a notebook, a little voice-activated recorder was noting every word. "You're both going to have to come down and make some statements."
"I know the routine, Renee. Oh, and I know you'll need to keep the door open a while during the picture taking and all; here's the key. Lock up when you're done."
I told the sergeant we'd be taking my car; he pulled the PD cruiser out and waited while I started up Mjolnir. It was true enough that I could afford a better car than a Dodge Dart, even a silver-and-black one, but I kinda like a car that doesn't crumple from a light breeze… and it wasn't as though Mjolnir was exactly a factory-standard car, either.
Sylvie's statement didn't take that long; apparently she chose not to expound on her theory to the cops, which proved she had more common sense than most people. Mine took a couple hours since I had to explain about Lewis and why he might choose to die somewhere in my vicinity. A few years back I'd been in the area when two drug kingpins happened to get wiped. Then Elias got me involved in another case and a potential lead fell out a closed window. I was nearby. Cops don't like it when one person keeps turning up around bodies.
It was one-thirty when we finally got out. I took a left at Chisolm Street and pulled into Denny's. Sylvie was oddly quiet the whole time. Except for ordering, she didn't say anything until we were already eating. "Jason. We have to talk."
"I know that you don't believe in… a lot of the Powers. But you have to admit that my predictions and senses have proven useful before."
"I can't argue with that, Syl. But those were… ordinary occasions." Admittedly, ordinary occasions where she gave me a warning in time to save my life, when I saw no way she could have known what was going to happen… "But now you're talking about the late-night horror movies suddenly doing a walk-on in real life."
She nodded. "Maybe you can't feel it, Jase, but I am a true sensitive. I felt the Powers in the air about that poor man's body. And that noise, Jason. Big as Lewis was, even he wouldn't make that kind of noise just falling against the door. Something threw him, Jason, threw him hard enough to shake the windows."
I nodded unwillingly. I'd already thought of that; honestly, I didn't think Lewis could have made that kind of impact even if he'd been trying to batter the door down.
"Jase, it's about time you faced the fact that there are some things that you are not going to find classified on a database somewhere, comfortably cross-indexed and referenced. But I'm not going to argue about it, not now. Just do me a favor and check into it, okay?"
I sighed. "Okay, I'll nose around and see what I can find out. No offense, but I hope this time your feelings are haywire."
Her blue eyes looked levelly into mine. "Believe me, Jason, I hope so too."