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The Network

By Kiercy Collins All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter 1

I walk into the king's office, sitting at the luminous red cherry desk with a pile of papers scattered across it is the king himself. The only part that's clear is the area where he keeps his most important work. His official title is King Antonius Exercitus. He is a man of about 5'11'', with skin of olive, eyes the color of rust and brown hair that was once purely dark but now is littered with flecks of gray. On his face sits a smile that most find unsettling; I know what it hides. He wants something, but whatever it is, it won't bother me. I've done things for him many people would find disturbing.

While most people have trouble talking with him, I've never had an issue with it. I know how to negotiate with him, and I know he wants something from me. I may just want something in return. I have an idea as to what he wants, so I think I will want something. I'm an excellent negotiator, especially with him; I am, after all, not only his second in command but the commander of his military, too. I'm also his secret weapon. It was through my job with the Network I gained my best negotiation skills.

"Senecius Endler, welcome. I have a task for you, a mission, you might say. Since you're the most reliable person in the Network, I believe you can handle this. This is a Class 1 mission of the utmost importance; you are not to fail me." I keep all emotion off my face. If I weren't trying to remain stoic, I'd be smirking. The first thing you're taught in the Network is to always guard your words and demeanor, and watch for slip-ups from others.

He made a mistake by letting me know just how important this mission is. Class 1 missions are matters of national security. By letting me know that, he gave me the advantage of this conversation. This is why I'm good at negotiating. He's usually careful with his words, but when an occasion like this happens, I catch the blunder. I will use any advantage that I can find within a conversation.

"The mission?" he smiles a smile you give someone that you're doing business with. It's a smile you give when you're not genuine, that you'll give no matter how much you hate the person you're speaking with. It's the way that he works, the way the Network works. The rules are simple enough: never accept a mission blindly, never pass up an opportunity to turn things to your advantage, and always ask what's in it for you.

Life in the Network is no easy life to live. We are a top secret government organization, and we are mercenaries. Our missions consist of making people vanish, even if it means killing them. Occasionally we need to merely get information. No matter the case, though we've trained for all circumstances, absolving a matter of national security is easy. We keep this country running smoothly, preventing others from upsetting the balance.

Network Agents are typically 25 or younger; they're either executed or killed on mission before they get that old. Many field agents try to quit, but you don't quit the Network. You can retire from missions when you've earned enough credentials. You kill enough people, you get another place in the Network, you can train people to do more than go on missions. A desk job is available if that's what you want, and when you're older you can retire from the Network itself.

You can never leave without dying or earning your freeway out; few retire from the Network altogether and live. However, the ones known as the Millions can. They're the most respected and even when they're old, they're still dangerous because they've lived through so many years in the Network. Very few with this rank stick around; you don't talk to them or look at them. Those that do stay sometimes take an interest in younger agents. Once they take an interest, keep them entertained and they'll give you secrets, tips for surviving.

Besides Millions there are five other official ranks. Recruits, who are people we pick off the streets, or anywhere we find them. Next are Pros, Recruits who have shown they're good at what they do. Then there's Assassins, which are similar to Pros, except they are far more experienced. Next come Executioners, with sub-ranks of class 1 and class 2. They are taken from birth, beginning training for life in the Network not long after.

Finally are the Eliminators. Earning rank through experience as a class 1 Executioner, they have several extra studies. Language fluency is a requirement for Eliminators. They learn any language, be it known by ten, or a thousand people. Furthermore, Eliminators have genetic changes made to them not long after birth. They are the supreme members of the Network. They tend to go rogue, as they dislike taking direction and are temperamental, which makes them a risk.

To earn the title of Eliminator, they must have completed language studies, and be so thoroughly equipped with mathematics and science they may as well be a rocket scientist. Eliminators are easily classified as masters of torture. As part of their exclusive training they learn to manipulate a person's mind through pain and fear, whether for information, or simply for their own entertainment.

Eliminators are not people to mess with. While they can look simple and harmless, getting on their bad side is no different than signing your own death warrant.

Eliminators are like something from a bad dream. They are impossible to successfully lie to and killing is as natural to them as breathing. It's just not something they think about. Not much information is required for a mission, just the target's confirmed identification. Sure they went through years of extensive training, but they still start young. Eliminators have no remorse. They regret nothing.

"You know the rules as well as I do, Mr. Endler. I am not going to tell you the details of your mission. Every detail is within this envelope, including the date I want this mission completed. I understand these missions are sometimes lengthy, which is why I have given you a completion date that should give you no trouble. In the entire Network, you are the best agent, best Eliminator, am I correct? Your skills are why you command the military, why I trust you more than my other advisers. The reason why you are next in line for the throne until my son has gotten his priorities straight.

"You, Mr. Endler, are not like the rest; you are smarter, more cunning. We have given you more power than any other, and you are fully equipped to use it. It would be a surprise if you did not use it to the absolute best of your abilities. After all, no agent has such a trait. Royal adviser is a seldom obtained opportunity, as well as your other duties to the country. You would do well to remember that."

"I'm glad you brought that up. As this is an important mission, one that requires my services, I'm not going in without a team. I'm going to need aid from Prince Antony and Cicero, along with Cassius and Decius, for this mission. You get them for me, or forget getting my help. I want them. If you can't do that, find someone else to do this job for you. It shouldn't be too hard for you."

Anyone would be dumb enough to accept this assignment. But as soon as they found out that I refused it, they would think one of two things. Either it's so simple I refused to bother with it, or perhaps the mission is more complicated than I could handle. An intelligent person would refuse the job, but some idiot would try to prove they have worth, accept the job, and die before making any progress.

"Mr. Endler, I don't believe you are in a position to negotiate. Nothing here remains to be settled. Whether you like it or not, you are going alone. Or, I suppose, I could have you Deleted from the Network. It's not everyone's preference, but you've always been a strange case. You can be replaced with no effort, it's only a matter of when."

He's given direct threat on my life if I don't go along with the mission precisely the way he wants it to go. Harsh, yet predictable, and one thing I hate is predictability. Being 'Deleted' is not a term reserved just for the Network society. Most government organizations use the term, although they have a different understanding of the word. When an agent has been Deleted, it's simply another way of saying killed. Yet people who know anything about the process call it a fate worse than death.

Now things are starting to get a little interesting, which is good. I'm in the mood for interesting. Although, while I'm in the mood for it, I'm not sure he wants to deal with my antics. Of course, if he doesn't, then that's his own fault. He should know better than to give me any leverage in our conversation.

I looked King Exercitus right in the eyes. "Sir, listen to me. And listen good. If you want to kill me, then fine. But you and I both know I'm more useful to you alive and cooperative than I am dead. You give me the guys I asked for, and I'll give you complete compliance in this mission. If not, you know how far we'll go to get what we want, no matter how stupid it may be.

"You know and I know that I have information known to no other. Information you gave me. Information that your son, Antony, lacks. Information that could change the way our society works.

"You see, sir, our society is like a network of veins. You cut the right one, just deep enough, and you'll find yourself bleeding to death in seconds. This knowledge I have is like one of those veins. Look at the underside of your wrist. Do you see which one I'm talking about? That is what I know, and your jugular that represents me. Cut me, and you're dead."

The king returned my stare with a steely gaze of his own. "Do not flatter yourself. You hold nowhere near as much power in the Network as you give yourself credit for. As I said before, Mr. Endler, this is a solo mission. I will not have you gallivanting around with your friends, making this mission longer than necessary."

That's a little rude. We wouldn't take that long. Well, I guess when Antony gets involved, who knows what could happen. My 'friends' are Network Agents, Cassius being the only Eliminator. The rest of them are Assassins.

Eliminators typically don't associate out of rank, simply because we terrify everyone else. That, and we've got rules separating us. Apparently Eliminators are too dangerous and unstable to let us just wander around unsupervised, since we may decide to kill someone. I'll admit, we do have bad tempers.

Cassius is only a month younger than me; precisely thirty-one days. We've been best friends for years. He's practically my brother. Developing close friendships in the Network doesn't happen often, as there's far too much risk. But we all have our friend groups, and each has its own secrets. Our little body of friends keeps us sane, but there is little purpose besides to form any friendships. Close friendships usually do nothing but cause problems, but there are some benefits. Yes, Cassius and I are like brothers, but we still keep secrets.

Cassius and I, we have an agreement. I don't betray him, and he won't betray me. We abandon ship should either of us put the other at risk. Some people would think of that as betrayal, but it's our agreement, and it benefits both of us. We maintain friendship without risk of us stabbing the other in the back.

"Very well. If that's how you're going to be, I'm going to walk," I take a step backwards. "I'll leave the Network. You can send your best Eliminators after me, but if they can't get to me, they won't be able to kill me. What do you think? I'm thinking that making me your secret weapon may not have been your best decision. But then again, what would I know?

"After all, as long as you keep me happy, you have all the power you need. You know that. When you want someone dead, all you need to is tell me to do it, don't you? If you want to take over the world, you just have to tell me and I'll do it, no questions asked. Guess what? You didn't do your calculations right when you made me so powerful. You completely forgot to consider that I would eventually reach that rebellious teenager stage. That is exactly where we are. Don't you just hate when you get one of those teenagers that really do fit right into that crazy stereotype?"

King Exercitus slammed his hand on the desk in front of him. "Hold your tongue, boy! I will not hesitate to have you killed if you refuse to watch what you say with that bad attitude of yours. Learn some respect, or you can forget making it to your birthday." In the Network, your birthday is a milestone. People tell you 'Congratulations, bet you won't make it to your next one.'

Now he's getting more direct with his threats. He didn't simply say Delete; he directly stated that he would have me killed. That is an excellent and explicit death threat. Far too few people make good death threats.

"So I have issues. I'll go see Avis more often. Everyone knows I need a psychiatrist. Remember, she recommended that I see her every day, twice a day? Of course, we never listened to that one. It's not my fault though, I've always had problems. Doing something abnormal like therapy takes from my training. I won't see her twice daily, but I'm willing to compromise. I'll visit Avis every other week. And if my mentor tells me I should pay her a visit on a day outside my schedule, I will. But I want my team. Give me them, and that's what you'll get."

He lets out an exaggerated sigh as he sits back in his chair with a contemplative look on his face. But his eyes don't show that he's thinking over my request, they show stress that I have most likely caused. He's been telling me for years the stress that I cause him is getting to be too much, that the gray in his hair is my fault. He questions constantly why he chose me to be an Eliminator.

Of course, I already know the answer to that question. You see, most of us had a mother that did not want us. It's really rather ironic. He has us kill for no good reason, but he's pro-life. His father had abortion outlawed, so if a mother doesn't want a child, more often than not they're sent to an orphanage. That's not always the case, though. On some occasions, he finds a child that interests him. For this to happen, he'll look at the parent's behaviour, focusing on the father's. The best Eliminators have just the right behaviour combination. It's why we're so unstable.

Since we have an identification imprinted on our wrist, it's easy for him to look up information. Typically, he goes through the police files, and he'll put a star next to certain men in there. They're usually rapists and murderers, sociopaths more often than not. He'll star anyone that has a record like that, then he'll go through his stars and find out if they have children.

He'll look at the wives, or rape victims, and see what their situation is. Sometimes, when he finds these women, they don't want their baby anymore. If so, he takes the babies and makes it all better for mommy. This is done by accessing the Database, then erasing all evidence it had ever happened. He also looks at victims. Often times, they would willingly give up their child.

Of course, our beloved king prefers those of us that aren't children of a rapists. Not that I blame him. He wants ruthless killers, not power hungry people that want to take advantage of women. This is why Eliminators are trained to feel contempt for such individuals. Those of us who had a father fitting that description get an unhealthy, sick pleasure out of killing men like that.

It helps that he can erase entire situations like that from the Database, and what you erase from the Database is erased from the memory of everyone in the Network. It's not completely foolproof, as the existence of a person cannot be completely erased. Yes, you can erase a pregnancy or birth, but not an entire life. Erasing memories means replacement memories, which can be a hassle. Completely Deleting someone from memory is rare, but not impossible. Only the Network head can do it.

King Exercitus always told me I was a special case. My mother was flat-out insane. She tried stabbing herself in the stomach to get rid of me, love you too Mommy. That, however, is just a small part of the story. My father was a unique sociopath. Unlike with most Eliminators, their fathers were never members of the Network. As luck has it, I'm sired by an Eliminator. He is a mentor now, and somehow I received him as mine.

I'm sure that my father enjoys being my mentor, though I think he's learned his lesson about getting drunk at bars. It was the result of both him and my mother being drunk that I entered this world. My father obviously inherited whatever psychotic gene he has from the first Eliminator in the family, and here we stand today. I come from a long line of sociopaths, and for the Network, that's a good thing.

Unlike any other Eliminator, my DNA is not entirely from my family. When my mother decided to stab me in the womb, King Antonius saw it as the perfect opportunity to test out some genetic modification he'd been developing. He managed to gather DNA samples from a collection of long dead denizens of history. People like George Washington, hoping to give me leadership and honesty, and Edgar Allan Poe for intelligence plus a healthy level of insanity. Whatever the case, he seems to think it has worked.

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