----- Chapter 15 : Riddles In The Dark -----


Natasha Milarose approached the console where Elly Person sat. She held out a PDA which Elly accepted.

"These are your new orders." Natasha told her.

Elly tapped the screen and scrolled through the data contained on it.

"You want the Hunter to explore this... Tower?" Elly asked. "Alone?"

"I'm sure the two of you can handle it." Natasha assured her.

"What's this? Operation Juggernaut?"

"It's just a codename for the mission. Retrieve all the data that you can find from down there okay? Now if you'll excuse me, there are pressing matters that urgently require my attention."

Natasha quickly left before Elly could say anything further.

-------

Paganini Zephra sat back and looked upon the sole possessions he had left. Laid out before him were eight storage crates, the last few being sealed up by a couple of his men. They were each filled to the brim with unusual weapons, photon crystals and rarities brought together by a lifetime of collecting. He realised that this might very well be the last time he would see them.

Occasionally the ground shook. It was no mere earthquake though. Nothing nearly so mundane. Seventy-five Beats ago, Kireek had killed Celebra Dumas, sister to Cilantro Dumas who was probably the strongest FOrce on Pioneer two. Another failure on Kireek's part now spelt their imminent destruction.

Security cameras dotted around this undersea research facility showed that they were under attack. Cilantro had gathered a collection of the most powerful Hunters the Guild had to offer. Paganini had initiated the defence systems and released the experiment test subjects but they were not even slowing the marauding group down.

Paganini had ordered an evacuation, but it looked like the authorities were sanctioning the purge. Sensors indicated that Pioneer Two was blanketing the area with a disruptor field, if they were to leave it would either be on foot or in a box.

The quakes were getting stronger and now the explosions could be heard faintly too. It would seem the Cilantro's Rafoie was strong enough to level walls, doors and anything else that might stand in his way.

He looked to his right to where his son Hopkins stood watching him with a worried expression on his face, a little way behind him stood that infernal Android. Paganini walked over to him, unstrapping his Comms unit from his left arm. He handed it to Hopkins.

"Take this, you will need to show the data that's on it to the members of Black Reach when they arrive on Pioneer Three..." He said, there was a sadness in his voice.

"But father!" Protested Hopkins.

Paganini cut him off before he could speak further.

"Kireek... I need you to take care of my son. He's all... I have left." He had trouble speaking the words because he was so choked with emotion.

An explosion could clearly be heard very close now, dust and ceiling tiles falling from above. Kireek nodded once and then stood directly behind Hopkins placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. A column of green energy covered them both and they vanished. Paganini turned and addressed the remaining members there.

"I would like to thank you all for your loyal service, but now is the time to run. Those that stay behind face death... Or worse. Should we survive, we will gather again at the Beta site in ten days."

-------

Paganini was sweating under his labours. He had opted to head in the opposite direction to the incoming invaders. This path led him to the access ladders and gantries that spanned the inside of the shaft. The interior was almost pitch-black but Paganini dared not risk a light in case it gave his position away. The sounds of fighting and explosions echoed up from below him, while a mechanical sound drifted down from above.

Can you feel our pain?

Paganini froze. It had sounded like someone had just whispered in his ear. He clung to the pipe tightly and attempted to see if there was someone nearby. He craned his head this way and that but could not see anything in the poor light.

We are the darkness

It was more than Paganini could stand. He awkwardly extracted the Evil Curst cane tucked into his belt. If there was someone here with him then soon it would be them that would be afraid. He attempted to wave it about in a vaguely threatening manner until it slipped from his grasp and vanished below.

"Damnit!" Paganini cursed loudly.

He glanced downwards hoping to see where it had fallen. He relaxed his grip slightly to allow himself to move away from the pipe. There was an explosion. His hands slipped. The world disappeared in a blur of wind...

-------

Paganini opened his eyes and looked cautiously about. He appeared to be lying in a shallow crater made of mud. He attempted to move and almost passed out from the pain. He gritted his teeth and attempted to calm down. From the looks of things he had probably shattered his pelvis upon landing and if he attempted to cast Resta he might cause the bones to set in their current position.

He became puzzled, it seemed to be getting brighter. Some kind of multicoloured light source behind him and he could feel the ground tremble as it approached. He tilted his head back as far as it would go to see what it was.

Share our pain!

Paganini could not scream loudly enough...





To be concluded in 'Paradise Lost'