Mananet, p.1

ManaNet, page 1

 

ManaNet
 


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ManaNet


  ManaNet

  Thomas H. Hancock

  Copyright © Thomas H. Hancock 2017

  The right of Thomas H. Hancock to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted to him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.

  All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the permission of the copyright owner.

  To all the amazing friends I’ve made while at University.

  With special thanks to my wonderful group of first-readers; Sam Healer, Kristina Chamberlain, Rosie Hayward, Jane Hesling, Zahra Massoud, Hannah Pullen, and my father, John Hancock.

  Special thanks also to Matt Bristow and Owen Moulding, for their kind permission of the use of their names after my placeholder names stuck in my head.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1 - Apathy

  Chapter 2 - Grief

  Chapter 3 - Anger

  Chapter 4 - Guilt

  Chapter 5 - Panic

  Chapter 6 - Anguish

  Chapter 7 - Terror

  Chapter 8 - Fear

  Chapter 9 - Relief

  Chapter 10 - Suffering

  Chapter 11 - Confidence

  Chapter 12 - Regret

  Chapter 13 - Sympathy

  Chapter 14 - Trust

  Chapter 15 - Hostility

  Chapter 16 - Shock

  Chapter 17 - Worry

  Chapter 18 - Sadness

  Chapter 19 - Love

  Chapter 20 - Rage

  Chapter 21 - Remorse

  Chapter 22 - Horror

  Chapter 23 - Dread

  Chapter 24 - Empathy

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  “Where am I? What’s happened to me?”

  “You’re-”

  “We don’t have time to explain. We have to leave.”

  The woman felt someone grab her and pull her up. As she slid off the metal sheet, she observed rows upon rows of similar slabs, a sleeping person lying upon each. Her vision still a blur, she could make out little more than their general forms.

  A siren began to wail, echoing through the cavernous chamber. Red lights flashed around the room.

  A man tugged on her wrist.

  “Come on!”

  She stumbled, tumbling forwards. Her body felt unusually heavy. She hit the concrete floor with a clunk. An instant later, she felt the second man grab her waist. He heaved her upright, and the three weaved their way through the still sleeping people.

  “What about them?”

  “We can’t rescue them all.”

  A pair of men wearing full body armour stormed into the room. Combat instincts kicked in. The woman reached down to her hip. She was unarmed.

  It mattered little. One of her companions whipped out a pistol and shot both soldiers. The bullets exploded on impact, ripping the soldier’s body armour asunder and tearing through the flesh behind.

  “There’ll be more on their way.”

  “Then we have to get out of here now. There’s no time to rescue the rest.”

  “We can’t leave them.”

  “I know. Keep her upright.”

  The woman sagged as one of her supports ducked away. A blue board appeared beside her. Fingers tapped across its surface. As she reached the chamber’s exit, with a final tap the blue board vanished. The siren stopped, and for a moment their footfalls were the only sound. Then a wailing filled the chamber, a cacophony of a thousand screams; a noise which would haunt the woman for the rest of her days.

  Chapter 1 - Apathy

  00:21, Pike Street, East District

  Lily saw the man fall as the stranger dashed away.

  “Ethan!” she cried out, breaking into a run. The clack-clack of her boots echoed around the empty buildings. Her shadow flicked back and forth as she ran beneath the street lamps, their eerie glow the only source of light.

  The closer Lily got, the stronger her fear grew. She couldn’t let it end like this. She had to help him. Her fear turned to anxiety, growing with every step, with every moment she lost running to her dying friend.

  Lily dropped to the floor as soon as she reached him, pressing her hands on the wound in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. Ethan rolled his head to look at her. Their eyes met, and Lily felt part of her fears wash away.

  “Lily,” Ethan croaked. “You got my message.”

  His lips curled into a faint smile before he lurched upright and coughed, staining Lily’s blouse with crimson.

  “Don’t speak. I’ll get help.” Lily leaned around, desperately looking for aid, but the street was deserted.

  “It’s too late for me. It’s up to you now.”

  “Don’t say that. Keep pressing on the wound, I’ll go find help.”

  The man instantly grabbed her arm, pulling her close. “No time. Listen. You have to… stop them. Stop… ManaNet.”

  “What? Stop who?”

  Ethan didn’t reply. Instead, he retrieved a small box from a pocket. He reached up and slipped it inside Lily’s jacket.

  Ethan opened his mouth to speak. A wheeze escaped before his head fell limp. Lily felt the fear vanish and she knew he was gone. She bent low, taking her lost friend in a final embrace. She buried her face in his coat, but it was not enough to shield the silent street from her cries.

  * * * *

  00:21, Pike Street, East District

  Damos tore the knife from the man’s gut. It slid free with a sickening squelch, blood gushing forth from the wound.

  A short way away a woman cried out; “Ethan!”

  Damn, that was sloppy, Damos thought. Forgetting the man, he turned and ran, making it into a neighbouring alley before the woman could take more than a couple of strides. Now out of sight, he skidded to a stop, looking down at the knife in his hand. It shone blue, blood dripping off its semi-transparent surface.

  Do I go back and silence her too?

  A voice rang out his head; only the target.

  Damn Vicky and her rules, he thought before beginning to run. Deciding he was done with the blade, he brought it in front of him and thought, vanish. The knife fizzled out of existence, the blood coating its surface falling to the concrete below.

  The thudding of Damos’s boots was drowned out by a woman’s wail echoing down the street. Damos ignored it and kept running. A voice, real this time, crackled to life in his ear.

  “Damos, what’s happening?” Matt asked.

  “A woman saw the takedown.”

  “Shit.”

  “Don’t worry, she was too far away to see my face.”

  “You know Victoria’s not going to be happy.”

  “Screw Vicky. The target’s dead. What more does she want?”

  “You can ask her that yourself. I’m waiting with the cavalry. See you in a sec.”

  See ya, Damos thought as he skidded around a corner and came out onto a wide street. Squalid buildings flanked him. Their grimy windows and crumbling walls summed up the part of the city perfectly. The rooms inside were mostly dark, the few which were lit up doing little to aid the minority of functional street lamps in their struggle against the darkness.

  Damos stuck close to the walls, staying in the shadows. His long black coat flowed around his form, blending him in with the darkness. A black cloth covered his face from the nose down. A patch of damp pressed against his mouth, made wet by his heavy breaths.

  The sound of voices broke through the silence. Damos instantly stopped and slunk back, pressing himself against the building behind him. He slid along its side before ducking behind a trash can.

  “Did you hear that scream?” one of the voices said.

  “We should take a look,” the
other replied.

  “Yeah, guess we should. Boss’ll want answers.”

  Damos leant forward and peered out from behind the can. A tall, well-built man strode forth. Black body armour covered his torso, a torn patch over his breast indicating the piece had once belonged to an unfortunate officer of the law. The second, a shorter and less muscular man, trailed behind. He was unarmoured, revealing a long tattoo on his right bicep which depicted an encircled eight-point star.

  Nexus goons, Damos thought. Freeloaders.

  Ducking back down, he brought his right hand up in front of him. On it he wore an ebony glove. Its back was covered by a network of thin wires, forming intricate circuitry which glinted under light. A tactile coating covered the front, rubbery in texture but smooth to touch.

  Blade, Damos thought, and a familiar blue knife materialised in his hand. He closed his fingers around the handle. The sound of the two men’s footsteps grew louder. Damos held the knife out in front of him, ready to strike in an instant. A foot appeared a short distance away.

  Once again, Victoria’s voice came back to him.

  Only the target.

  Damos recoiled back into the shadow. He held his breath as the men passed, ensuring he didn’t make a sound. Through a miracle of restraint, he held his blade still, and eventually the men turned out of view.

  Vanish, Damos thought, and once again the knife fizzled to nothingness. He peeked his head out to make sure the way was clear, then continued on. A short way down the street he turned again and silently shifted down an alleyway.

  His earbud crackled to life again.

  “Damos, where are you? I think I can hear people nearby,” Matt said.

  “I’m coming. Ran into a couple of Nexus thugs.”

  “Oh hell, you didn’t-”

  “No.”

  “Good, you know what Victoria would have-”

  “Only the target. Yes, I know.”

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. Still, Nexus? What are they doing here? And what was the target-”

  Matt suddenly went silent.

  “Matt? Matt, are you there?”

  There was a ruffling sound, a sharp crack, then silence.

  Damn it. Can’t anything go right this evening? Damos thought, breaking into a run. The rhythmic thumping of his boots filled the alley, his coat billowing behind him. He skidded round as the passage jerked right and continued. A short distance later, the alley opened out into a deserted plaza.

  The cavalry, a pair of silver jet bikes, were parked in the centre. Beside them lay Matt, a knee pressing on his chest and a knife at his throat. The blade’s owner had her back to Damos, but she had allies, both of whom were looking straight at him.

  Without a second thought, Damos thrust his hand towards Matt and thought, grab. The woman’s arm jerked around, the blade tearing from her grip and hurtling towards Damos. Damos leapt. He grasped the knife in mid-air and in one fluid motion flung it at one of the woman’s allies. It struck the man in the chest. He fell back, tripping over one of the bikes and falling to the floor.

  Taking advantage of the distraction, Damos charged and grasped the disarmed woman’s collar. He tore her away from Matt and hurled her back. She staggered but remained standing.

  Sword, Damos thought. A shimmering blue blade appeared in his hand. He lunged forward and thrust the blade through the woman’s chest. Her scream was stifled by a cough as she sprayed red over the ground. Damos twisted the blade, causing more blood to ooze from the wound, then tore it free, kicking the woman back. She tumbled to the floor like a discarded doll.

  A surge of pain erupted in the back of Damos’s head. He faltered and fell to the ground, the sword slipping from his hand and vanishing. He quickly rolled and looked up to see the only remaining assailant stood near, a ball of energy floating above her gloveless hand.

  “Freeloader,” Damos spat as he picked himself up and summoned another sword.

  “Excuse me?” the woman said.

  “Freeloader,” Damos repeated. The woman yelled and hurled the ball of energy. It shot through the air, leaving a trail of haze in its wake. Damos swung his sword around and sliced across the ball’s path. The ball disintegrated to nothing. Damos charged forward, lunging at the woman’s midriff. She gracefully jumped back and hurled another energy ball. Damos dissipated the sword as he ducked into a crouch. The ball flew past his head, warming the side of his face. He stayed crouched, peering around at the woman.

  Time to end this, he thought.

  The woman prepared another energy ball and threw it straight at the back of Damos’s head. At the last second, he whirled around, bringing his gloved hand up into the path of the projectile.

  Grab, he thought. The ball stopped, hovering in front of Damos’s hand. Before the woman had time to realise what had happened, he leapt forward, thrust his arm out and thought, go. The energy ball shot forth, straight back at the woman. It struck her in the chest, exploding on impact and hurling her back. The woman hit a crumbling wall and slunk to the ground. Damos charged after her, summoning a sword as he did.

  “Wait!” Matt called, but it was too late, as Damos sunk his blade into her chest. The woman’s eyelids fluttered then closed as her arms fell limp.

  Matt slowly stood up from his hiding place behind a jet bike.

  “Come on, let’s go,” Damos said, walking over and picking up the jet bike which had been knocked over in the fight. Matt nodded and climbed onto the second bike. The plaza was filled with a dull humming sound as they activated the engines. Then they were off, soaring into the night sky, heading for home.

  Chapter 2 - Grief

  00:28, Pike Street, East District

  Lily barely felt the hand on her shoulder. When it eventually did register, she leapt back and looked up to see two men stood in front of her.

  “Excuse me miss,” the closer man said. He was tall and muscular, wearing black body armour. At first Lily assumed he was a Knight, a member of the city law-enforcement, before she noticed the torn name badge over his breast.

  “Shush, let her be,” said the other, a shorter man with a gang tattoo adorning his bicep. The word ‘Weasel’ curved round beneath it, following the shape of the tattoo.

  “We need to find out what happened,” the taller man replied.

  “He… he was murdered,” Lily stammered.

  “You saw?”

  Lily nodded.

  “We should move the body.”

  “No,” Lily exclaimed.

  “We can’t have a dead man on our turf; Knights will be all over us. He’s got to go.”

  “Have some compassion Jackal, she’s lost a friend,” the short man said.

  “How do you know she knew him?”

  “Why else would she be so protective?”

  “Well, did you?” Jackal asked.

  Lily nodded again.

  For most of my life, she thought, remembering back to her childhood.

  Ethan, why?

  Lily took a couple of moments to compose herself before returning her attention to the two men. They both looked like typical thugs, yet despite their menacing exteriors, Lily could feel genuine concern from both of them. It nestled inside of her, nudging her to feel concern for them as well despite that fact she had no reason to. Over the years she’d become better at distinguishing external emotions from her own, but at times it was still hard. Especially at a time like this.

  “I’m sorry for your loss miss, but we have to move him,” Jackal said. “This is Nexus territory, and the body of a dead man we didn’t kill being found here doesn’t do us any favours with the Knights or other city gangs.”

  Deciding it was wisest not to argue, Lily admitted defeat.

  “Fine.”

  She felt a knot clench in her stomach as she built up the nerve to follow up with, “but I’m moving him with you.”

  “That’s a fair request,” Weasel replied.

  Lily stepped back as the two men moved to either end of Ethan’
s body. They crouched, took hold of his legs and shoulders, and lifted. Ethan’s arm’s flopped to the floor as he rose from the ground. A fresh stream of blood trickled from his gut as the movement reopened the stab wound. The sight was too much for Lily and she turned away.

  “Go take a look round the end of the street would you miss?” Jackal said. “Make sure no one’s around.”

  Lily nodded and briskly walked to the crossroads a short distance away. A quick glance at her wrist informed her it was half past midnight.

  I doubt there’ll be anyone around, but they’re right to be cautious, she thought, checking each street in turn. Dilapidated buildings lined them, their mismatched heights creating a jagged pattern which trailed into the distance. Lily could make out a set of rails passing across one, high above the road.

  No skyrails at this time in the morning, she thought, returning her attention to the streets themselves. After ensuring all three directions were deserted, she turned back and signalled for the men to follow.

  Several minutes later, and several blocks away from where they had originally been, the trio stopped outside a small park, situated in a square between four streets.

  “We can bury him there,” Jackal said.

  “Bury him?” Lily exclaimed, instantly regretting it.

  “Isn’t that what you want?”

  Lily cowered under his gaze.

  “Yes,” she said eventually. “But he should be buried with his friends and family.”

  “And where would that be?”

  “The... the Colonies.”

  “The Colonies! They’re way outside of the city. Ain’t no way I’m carting him there.”

  Lily thought for a moment.

  “We don’t need to. If we let the Knights find him-”

  “Are you out of your mind?” Jackal exclaimed.

  Lily recoiled in fear.

  “Jackal, calm. Can’t you see she’s terrified?” Weasel said. He looked around at Lily. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

  Lily stood up straight again, took a deep breath and continued.

 
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