Neon Cortex is a short novella that is part of the Neon Helix Universe but can be read as a stand-alone piece. Salem has retired into a permanent VR vacation, but his six-year exodus is interrupted when he is solicited to find a missing girl, Kirsten. The plot quickly advances through tense conversations and wild action scenes until Kirsten is located and the gravity of the situation increases.
Salem has a unique ability to assist him with both investigating and resolving the crisis,
"Every signal that gets sent out into the world. Every communication, every bit of data in the airwaves, every text, email, radio signal or fucking broadcast comes right into my brain… Imagine you send a message to a friend… that data is like a tiny river, flowing from one end to the other. My brain is like a checkpoint where the water has to run through before it continues on it's journey."
We soon learn that prisoners have been mind-jacking civilians, but when Kirsten herself is jacked, Salem must come up with an unconventional solution to free her mind of its intruder, putting himself at risk. On the surface, his motivation is simply to get back to retirement and repay a debt, but there are intimations that he does care, whether it’s the sacrifice he’s willing to make or the following scene,
“…I'll be on my way," Salem headed for the door.
"Wait," Dramarti said, his voice vulnerable…"I need your help Salem, please. For Kirsty's sake if not for me."
Salem hesitated, staring at Bella. He sighed and hung his head. "Damnit," he whispered, "for Kirsty."
While the novella has some editing issues on the technical side, the writing itself is vivid and creative, and sets the scene well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the following description where Salem’s retirement vacation is suddenly ruined,
A small square of the ocean was playing a loop, the waves weren't in line with the rest of the water…The loop spread, radiating from the surrounding areas, until the entire ocean was a flickering mess of loops, all out of sync. Then the sky began to follow. Salem threw the wine glass at the glitched ocean.
Neon Cortex is a quick, straightforward read, though the final chapter before the epilogue should be read very carefully in order to pick up Salem’s unusual strategy of saving Kirsten. The story will leave readers thirsty for more of Nik’s writing, and with both Neon Helix available, and another book planned, there’ll be plenty to occupy themselves with. Check it out on Amazon.
See my give a reading from the book on YouTube here.