----- Chapter 1 : The Illusion of Self -----

Seb Cole opened his eyes. He felt groggy as if he had been drugged, but could not seem to remember the circumstances as to how or why he found himself in this situation. His eyes adjusted to the harsh lighting and he peered long and hard around the room. Even with all the people standing around him he could see he was in the Guild hospital aboard Pioneer Two. Lying at an incline of fifty degrees indicated he was positioned in a regeneration chamber, but the door had been removed for some reason.

When Seb tried to sit up or raise his arms he found that he was barely able to do so, as if all his strength had been drained away. His head flopped back down to the firm cushion beneath. His stirrings in turn induced movement in those around him and a figure stepped forward. His sight was getting clearer with every passing moment and he could see a contingent of heavily armed HUcasts standing to attention around the core of four people directly in front.

Two of them he recognised immediately; the first was Jeff Melnikov, or Soldier as everyone called him, a regular hunting partner. The second was Matisse Wilder, a deadeye RAmarl who had saved his life a number of times. Neither of them seemed particularly happy to see his reawakening. The third person was Natasha Milarose, chief of Pioneer Two's Research facilities. He had met her only a couple of times and she never seemed to be pleased to see him, but the lower left side of her face was covered with a bandage dressing, as if she had been injured a short while ago. The final person wore the clothes of a scientist but did not look familiar.

"What's going on?" His voice was croaky, alien, as if it did not belong to him.

"We should be asking that question of you." Replied Natasha. It appeared that talking was difficult because of her injury.

"I don't understand..."

As he peered down he saw that his wrists were manacled with some kind of glowing chain. He rattled his arms feebly as he noticed that a white frame had replaced his traditional dark blue armour.

"What's going on?" He said, louder this time.

"Maybe he has lost his memory?" Asked Natasha.

"It's a trick." Jeff Sneered.

"Soldier, help me."

"You don't have the right to call me that, Ben-X." Jeff said tersely.

"Ben-X? Why are you calling me that? It's me, Seb Cole." He protested.

The four observers were clearly shock by this statement.

"Impossible, Seb Cole is dead." Natasha informed him.

"What?" It was Seb's turn to be shocked.

"I think you'd better tell us what you do remember." Said Natasha.

"I think it was a couple of days ago. We... I mean us, Me and Soldier and Matisse and a couple of others stormed the West Tower. You must remember it." Seb directed this statement at the three of them.

"Not with you." Retorted Jeff.

"Please, you're not helping Soldier." Matisse tried to calm Jeff down.

"What if I told you that that was two days ago?" Said Natasha.

"Two days? Have I been unconscious that long?"

"Not quite. Have you heard the name Ben-X before?"

"Not until Soldier called me that for some reason. Should I...?" He hesitated. His mind raced, flashes of something he did not recognise. "I... I... Think..." He stuttered.

"Go back to the Tower mission. Tell us what happened."

"We started by breaching the Central Control Area. In the rush to get started I neglected to purchase necessary supplies so I returned to the Ship. While there I met a young FOnewm who said that his father, who was also a FOnewm, wished to speak to me about the West Tower. I was surprised by their knowledge of my mission and so went along to see what they knew."

"A FOnewm? Did he give you a name?" Asked Natasha.

"Yes, he said his name was Paganini. He offered me some exotic photon weaponry in exchange for data culled from the computer located at the top of the tower."

"And you accepted his offer?"

"I... Was curious, sure. I said to him that I would see what I could do. But I didn't make a firm commitment if you know what I mean."

"And then?"

"Well as per our report, it took us over four hundred Beats to conquer the Tower. The resistance we faced in some places was nothing short of phenomenal."

"So why didn't you mention this Paganini in your report then?" Her tone made Seb uncomfortable for some reason.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to give him the data, I suppose."

"Did you give him the data?" It was Matisse who spoke.

"I... can't remember. I remember leaving the Lab... And then nothing."