----- Chapter 1 : The Fugitive -----

His footsteps echoed down the olive-green corridor, his breath laboured and quick, adding to the cacophany and undoing his best efforts to escape. He lurched heavily through two more sets of doors before slowing his pace enough to be able to hear if he was still being pursued. The man nursed his right arm where a deep cut bled steadily, dying his red armour a darker shade of crimson. He held his breath and listened attentatively. Even above the low-level noise of the lower Mine machinery he was still able to pick out the sound of doors opening in the distance.

He cursed loudly and lumbered back into a run. This was supposed to have been a standard ambush, damnit! Since Black Hawk was captured after that traitorous Wayans bitch gave him up everyone in the group had been on edge. Now it was he, Pollo, who found himself on the receiving end of justice. Jumping out to suprised a lone FOrce, he in turn was suprised by the intervention of her teammates. One against four were not odds he enjoyed and so he fled, cover provided by a Garanz summoned duly to protect his retreat. One of them gave chase and despite timely interventions of further Mine robots he was still unable to shake this persistant HUnter.

At one point, once he was sure he had lead him far away enough from his compatriots, Pollo stopped to engage him in combat. Even though he had original registered at the Hunters Guild as a RAmar, Pollo had grown found of his Partisan. He wielded it with considerable skill but could not be bothered to change his class designation to HUmar. His opponent was a HUnewm, quite rare on Pioneer Two, but not unheard of. He predicted the fight would be over quickly and he was not disappointed. He got disarmed, a kick to his stomach and the cut he now carried for his troubles. Not totally without weapons, he carried an Autogun for emergencies but he preferred to save that trump card till the last moment.

Pollo was now coming to the most western-most region of these Mines. The interconnecting rooms and corridors snaked like a labyrinth, everywhere dangerous drops into shafts and caverns below. He was quite familiar with these regions as they all had to learn them in the event that they were being followed. He reached into a pocket of his armour and retrieved a remote control in order to setup a trap for the HUnter behind but his injury caused him to fumble it and it fell to the ground, bits of casing breaking off of it as it bounced towards the edge of the walkway.

"Crap! Clumsy fool!" Pollo exclaimed loudly as he ran past the fallen control.

He came to a stop and jogged wearily back to it. He was starting to wheez with every breath and he felt light-headed, no doubt a result of the gradual blood loss. He retrieved the device from the ground and examined it. It was used to communicate to the Mines central network to have mining robots transported to the current location. It also included a transponder to mask the user from attack by those same robots. The damage on the back did not seem too bad, the circuit boards exposed seemed to be unharmed. Pollo turned it over and was dismayed to note that the power light was now blinking instead of a constant light.

"Shit! I hope the beacon isn't busted or the next set of 'bots will murder me."

"They'll be the least of your concerns." Said a voice behind him.

Pollo turned to face the HUnter once more. Compared to his own rather generous proportions the newman was short but muscular and he held his Cross Scar daggers in a way to indicate he would meant business. Without taking his eyes off Pollo the HUnewm raised his left arm up close to his mouth and activated the radio.

"This is Bravura... Can you guys hear me?"

A reply came through barely comprehensible through the static and interference. "Just about... Where are you?"

"Head straight west." Replied Bravura. "I've dropped message disks."

"Ok... Be there... Couple of Be..." The message ended in a loud crackle.

"You hear that?" Bravura asked him. "My friends will be here soon and then we can have a nice friendly chat about Black Paper."

At the mention of that name Pollo started to take small steps backwards.

"You don't know what you got yourself mixed up in! Just walk away and pretend you lost me. I won't tell anyonnnneee..." That last word hung in the air even as he failed to having forgotten where he was.

The portly RAmar twisted in mid-air in an attempt to catch on to something to stop his fall and was hit in the chest by a support spar. The force of the impact sufficient to knock him back onto a walkway below the one he had just fallen from. He landed face first onto the solid metal surface and curled up into a ball clutching his chest. Bravura could see him through the grille below his feet.

"Don't move!" He called out to Pollo, his voice tinged with concern. "I'm going to find a way down!"

Bravura spotted a structural beam with sufficient hand holds to allow him to scale down the twenty or so metres to where Pollo writhed in agony. Through a curtain of tears Pollo could see that Bravura was never going to give up. He rolled onto his back and straightened up as much as he could bear. Standing was out of the question, his knee had absorbed much of the final impact and would now be unable to support his weight. No options left he began to crawl backwards on his elbows, every movement bringing a gasp of pain to his lips.

Bravura jumped down the remaining distance landing softly and in one slick motion drew out his lethal blades once more. Pollo had stopped trying to escape. By now every breath was shallow, accompanied by gurgling. A cough brought a red stain to his lips. When Bravura realised that his quarry was no longer a threat he deactivated the blades and began to root through his Photon Storage Unit.

"Hang on... I think I have a Trimate in here somewhere..."

Pollo tried to say something but found talking more and more difficult.

"Ah-ha!" Bravura exclaimed and held aloft a small green bottle. "Now I can help you, but you're going to have to help us."

"*Cough*... *Cough*... Can't... They'll kill me..."

"We can protect you. I have powerful friends."

"... You don't know what you're dealing with... *Cough* *Cough* *Cough* ... It goes all the way to the top.."

"Wha..."

Bravura was interrupted by the sound of a photon bullet cutting through the air at high speed before inpacting into flesh. Time seemed to slow down, stretching out the moment from a blink of an eye into an eternity. The ever-present hum of the machinery seemed to fade into silence before finally time caught up, the sound rushing like a tide. Bravura fell face forward crashing onto the metal grating beside Pollo.

Pollo looked down the corridor where the shot had come from. In the distance coming ever closer was a familiar form. The figure slowed to a jog and emerged into the poor light of the room. Dressed in similar attire to himself, this RAmar was tall and athletic and moved with purpose.

"Paper!" Pollo croaked.

"Pollo! Man you look like hell!" The RAmar remarked flippantly.

"Think I punctured lung... *Cough* ... Trimate on floor..."

"It's ok, I've got that taken care of." Said Paper as he bent down to remove an object from Bravura's hand.

"I didn't tell them nothing... You know I wouldn't talk..."

"But we still have a problem. They've seen your face... You've become a liability."

Paper held up the object in his hand so that Pollo could see it clearly. It was not the Trimate he desperately needed but one of Bravura's daggers. Paper gently squeezed the trigger and the bright yellow photon blade flicked back into life. He stepped over Bravura's body towards Pollo.

"Wait! Wait! *Cough* *Cough* *Cough* We can talk.. *Cough* about this... *Cough* *Cough* Wait!...."