My name's Bernie.

How did I get to Ragol? No surprise there. It began with a girl.

"Four days ago, the Gran Squall crashed approximately ten miles from the Main Dome," Reus says, enunciating each word as if it were his last. He's bald, a fact I love to rub into his face when he acts like a haughty government official, which he is. Still, he gives me my assignments, and he pays me, so it's not as if I can kid him that much about it. He leans forward, a cigar planted firmly between his lips, waiting for my reaction.

Slowly, I scratch my head. "It's not a pleasure ship."

"Very good."

"So far, the only ships and transports being sent to Ragol are military or hunters from the Guild," I say. "The Gran Squall is probably a military ship, since Hunters don't have those kinds of resources to be able to fly back and forth from the main dome to the ship."

"You're not exactly stupid," Reus murmurs, and I suppose that's a compliment. It is Reus, after all. "So far, no survivors are showing up, but if you do find any, I want you to bring them back. In particular, if any of the females on the ship are still alive, bring them back at all costs." He sits back, apparently finished.

Bounty hunters are not the smartest breed, and they don't usually ask questions. However, I'm not as stupid as the next guy, and I was curious as to why females had such a high priority, but I shrugged. "Okay. Fee?"

"Ten thousand."




"Twelve." Reus slaps his forehead. "Damn it."

I pick up my flamethrower and grin at Reus. "I'll be back in a day."

"Don't be so cocky," Reus says as the door to his office closes. "It might be the death of you."

I'm severely amnesiac, which, conveniently, only happens to purge my personal memories. Everything I've learned of a strictly business nature has been embedded so securely into my mind, that I doubt anything could pry it loose from my brain cells. The only thing I've kept secure from my past is my name, but, of course, coincidentally, I've forgotten my last name.

I rode the transport to the Hunter's Guild and smiled at the clerk, whose name has also escaped me, even though I converse with her every day. To avoid inadvertantly hurting her feelings, I greet her with a hello.

"Bernie." She looks up and smiles, revealing her nametag: RONDA.

I'll probably forget that.

"I need to file a mission statement," I tell her, and I rattle off my Hunter's identification number. "Reus can confirm it."

"Hold on." She pauses for a moment, taps a few keys with little confidence, and looks up at me. "Er...the network's down."

Luckily, I remember this. She knows I have a memory problem, but she doesn't know how severe. And she is very unskilled at the computer. The only reason she got the job was because her mother is a friend of the mayor, and if she didn't get a job, he would have rained hell on the Hunter's Guild. "That's all right," I say. It's part of our ritual. "Just send a memo to Reus and ask for his signature. I want clearance to Ragol, though."

She nods happily and strikes keys almost professionally. This is the only thing she really knows how to do.


"Thanks," I say with a wave as I walk down to the transporter.

"No problem, Bernie!" She smiles.

I forgot her name already.

"Hunter Bernie, identification number 2039491, requesting transportation to surface," I say loudly and distinctly into the transporter. It's been buggy the day the transport moved to Ragol.

"Permission granted."

I breathe a sigh of relief.

"Hold on!" A Hunter dashes out of the Guild and skids to a stop inside the transporter. "Thanks," he says with a smile. He has one of those green photon swords, the kind that they sell to kids and he carries it awkwardly, as if he doesn't know how to use it.

"Not a problem. Continue," I order the transporter.

"Transporting commencing."

In a few minutes, the transporter pad touches down on the damp soil of Ragol and I breathe heavily, trying to suck all of the natural air while I can. "Are you on a mission?" I ask the kid.

He nods enthusiastically. "It was just confirmed the moment I stepped out of the office. I'm working with a Ranger named Bernie."

Damn that girl at the Hunter's Guild. She messed up again.

It's not the first time I've had a partner that I didn't want. A few weeks ago, I was assigned to a case by Reus and the girl assigned a low-ranking Hunter to accompany me. A Booma stuck one of its paws through his leg, so now he can't walk, although I can't see how that's my fault. I told the kid to move back and just shoot him from far away, although I did abandon him when he refused to move.


"Tunsa. Hunter Tunsa."

"Well, listen to me, Tunsa. If we're working on this mission together, I want you to stand behind me, and shut up. Got it? Stand behind me, and shut up. My name is Bernie, and I'm the Ranger you're working with."

He looks at me, looks at himself, and looks at me again.

"Stand behind --"

"Okay, okay. I just thought I could get some more experience with..." He swings his photon sword around a few times, widely, chopping a leaf off a nearby shrub. "This. I haven't had many missions."

Really? I couldn't tell.

I heft the flamethrower in my left hand and wave him along. "Let's go."

As we walk, I ask him, "What did they tell you in the specifics of this mission?"

"Gran Squall, a pleasure ship, crashed on Ragol ten miles away from the main dome. It was filled with wealthy passengers, and a military escort, and we are to recover any survivors of the ship. Job fee is one thousand meseta," Tunsa recites proudly. If there is one thing I can admire about this kid, is his memory.

Apparently the girl hadn't messed up, after all. At least not in the area of mission briefing. Reus must have told her it was confidential. "Good job. We are not to share any more information with other Hunters," I order. "This is strictly a confidential mission and if the other Hunters get to the survivors before we do, we suffer repercussions." The kid might not, but I will definitely get an ass-chewing-out from Reus, and I don't really need that. I probably won't remember it, but I really don't want to experience it in the first place. "Oh, and another thing. Any place where you see Hunters, don't bother looking for the survivors there."

"Why not?"

"The Hunters who have searched there have had a half-hour start on us. If we find them and they're just standing around, that's probably proof that they didn't find anything."

Two Savage Wolves leap out from the underbrush and glare angrily at us. "Remember what I said," I remind Tunsa.

"I know, I know. Stand behind you and shut up."

"Good kid."

Swiftly, I thumb the switch of the flamethrower to 'on' and immediately blast at a Wolf that pounces at us. The Wolf takes the blast in its left flank and immediately begins to howl painfully as the flames eat into its fur. The second Wolf, walks around us warily, looking for an opening. Opening my palm, I activate a Foie spell and it releases itself from my palm, crashing into the Wolf's face. No doubt it was dead. Suddenly, I'm knocked to the side and the flamethrower goes off, blasting earth from where it lands. The first Wolf had recovered from its wounds and wanted either vengeance or meat. Probably meat.

With a war cry, Tunsa leaps forward and slashes towards the Wolf, succeeding in leaving a minor scratch. The Wolf leaps on top of Tunsa and begins to slap at it playfully with its clawed paws, huffing as to emulate laughing, as Tunsa begins to weep.

The idiot. I told him to stand there and shut up, and he did neither.

I blast the Wolf again and it slams against the earthen wall, lying still. Hopefully, it was dead.

I heave Tunsa up and turn off the photon sword, slipping it into his pocket. He had passed out.

Tunsa comes to a half hour after hauling his body around, and he struggles violently, believing that the Wolf had snatched him and put him on its shoulder. "Stop! I can destroy you myself, without my partner!"

Great. So now I was his partner, and he had forgotten that Savage Wolves didn't have shoulders.

I drop him into the dirt and and he flops around for a few minutes.

When I get back from this mission, I swear I'm going to go to the Hunter's Guild and get that girl fired. I could have finished the mission in a few hours, but at the rate we were going, it would be a few days.

Tunsa regains control of himself and stands up, embarrassed, with blood streaming down his face. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," I say, resisting the urge the strangle him.

"A transport," he says suddenly, pointing towards a minimal transport that had been established by the first colonists.

"Leads to the second area of the Forest," I say, referring to my map of Ragol. "Closer to the main dome. Right now, we're twenty minutes away...if we use the transporter, we'll be fifteen minutes away. There's also wreckage in the northern direction..." I muse quietly to myself. "Okay. We're going to the main dome." We step onto the platform and I repeat my Hunter ID number into the machinery. The platform hums as it carries us to the northern part of the forest.

"I have a question."

Inwardly, I sigh. This was going to be a long mission. "Shoot."

"This entire situation seems a bit suspicious, don't you think?"

The funny thing about new Hunters is that they usually are very idealistic, like first-year law students. They join the Hunter's Guild in hopes of rescuing people, helping the helpless, and fighting the good fight, but after a few years, or even months, they slowly convert to money-hungry mercenaries, who figure out that making a quick buck is a lot more profitable than being idealistic and starving. The few that don't convert usually end up in the military. Irony much? "It does," I say, tentatively agreeing. I know the truth, but it'd be best to humor him and lead him away from the truth. It's probably what Reus would have wanted.

"I mean...we're supposed to rescue survivors...but you think we would have found some by now. I don't think there were as many as the mission statement reported."

"I see what you mean."

"So you don't think it's suspicious?"

I pause for a moment. "I think it's very suspicious, but I think we need to find and rescue some people before we start making theories on why they would make this false," I say, and this seems to shut him up.

"Listen," I say as the transporter lands onto the ground. "There will a lot more wild animals in this part of town, so I need you to just back me up. Stand behind me and slash with that photon sword anything that comes near me while I'm blasting animals."

"Okay, I think I can do that." The enthusiasm is drained out of Tunsa's voice, and I feel a twinge of guilt.

I reach into my bag and flip out a de-activated Gladius, handing it to Tunsa, who looks surprised. "It's a Gladius. Yellow bladed, and a lot stronger than that puny photon sword you're hauling around. Dump it."

He grins. "Thanks."

Now he's going to feel grateful. Great.

"This area is populated by Monests and Gigaboomas," I say quickly as I scan from the information that's being fed to me from the Hunter's Guild into my handheld computer. "Monests are populated mostly by smaller, mosquito-like creatures, but after all of the creatures are eliminated, they are defenseless. Gigaboomas move faster and hit harder than regular Boomas."

Tunsa nods quickly as he sprints alongside me as we dash through the forest.

"The entrance of the dome has two paths, but we're taking the east entrance."


Mosquitos stream out of a nearby Monest and I hold a hand instantly. "Stop! Stand back!"

I thumb the flamethrower back onto the 'on' switch and begin blasting at each mosquito, switching back and forth from weapon to magic. A strange tingling sensation soon permeates my body and I realize that unless I take a Difluid, I won't be able to blast any more Foies. Fortunately, Tunsa realizes this, and he brandishes his Gladius fearlessly. "I will cover you."

I uncap a Difluid as quickly as possible and gulp it down, feeling better as the tingling sensation disappears from my body, and soon I heft the flamethrower back onto my right hand.

With a final stab, Tunsa skewers the Monest and turns around, holding his blade proudly. "How'd I do?"

I walk past him and say, "Just great."

"More wreckage," Tunsa observes as we run past several building structures.

"You're right. It's leading to the top floor of the dome, near the entrance," I conclude. "Clear the path so we can continue towards the top!"

With that annoying war cry, Tunsa sprints ahead and quickly slices or stabs the Gigaboomas blocking our path to the top. Although I can't say I like him, I have to admit I admire the fact that he does everything I tell him to.

"There's someone around here," announces Tunsa, as if I couldn't see the obvious. "The majority of the wreckage is here."

The military shuttles that had been sent down to Ragol usually had safety ejection releases, but judging by the wreckage that we were surrounded by, only a few had been used. The rest was too badly burned to determined, scored with burn marks and damage from crashing into the concrete structure of the main dome. All in all, I could guess only three or less had survived, if they had ejected safely.

I spied a limp form near the doors of the main dome, and I sped over to the body, recognizing it as a near naked female. "Turn around," I order Tunsa as I strip off the outer part of my uniform and wrap it firmly around her. "Contact the Hunter's Guild, and tell them to send the transport platform back down to Ragol."

"This is Hunter Tunsa, identification number 1034939..." Tunsa's voice fades away as he walks away.

I withdraw a Dimate from my bag, and, putting it down for a moment, I gently wake her. "My name's Bernie. Drink this."

She sips at the bottle until it's empty, and, drowsy again, she says, "Dragon..."


"The shuttle was shot a dragon..."

Delirium or hallucinations? She didn't appear to be sleep-deprived, nor on illegal substances, but that sounded outlandish. Dragon?

"It's going to be here in a few minutes," Tunsa declares as he arrives.

I sling the flamethrower over my shoulder and pick up the cloth-clad girl as I stand. "Good. Let's get back to the transporter and head south to the main transporter."

A rumbling startles both of us, and flames begin to shoot out of the top of the main dome as we stare.

"Earthquake?" suggests Tunsa.

With a dreadful feeling that the girl was right, I begin to sprint down the steps, away from the dome, as fast as my legs possibly can, with Tunsa following me, asking questions.

"Thank you, Bernie," the girl at the Hunter's Guild says as she processes my identification number. "It appears the mission has been accomplished, and so the fee is being deposited into your account." A receipt prints out, and she hands it to me happily. "There you go."

The transfer says: 1000 meseta deposited.

I stare at the piece of paper. "Um..."

"If it's about your partner, he's already gone, he collected his Meseta and already accepted another mission." She sighs and leans forward, revealing her name tag: RONDA. "You wouldn't happen to remember what his name was, would you? I've already forgotten it, and Guild rules say I'm not allowed to browse into Hunters' accounts for personal reasons."

I pause for a moment, still smoldering at the fact that Reus had forgotten to pay me eleven thousand meseta. "You know what? I really don't remember."


Reus twirls in his chair, puffing a cigar merrily. "Bernie, my boy."

"Listen to me, you bald geezer. You owe me eleven thousand in fees and, not to mention, you made me work for some stupid Hunter who couldn't hit the broad side of a Booma if he had a scythe."

"The higher ups are extremely impressed with your capabilities."

"Oh, really? Tell them that I'm sick of what they think, and oh, I'm also sick of how they partnered me with an idiot. Again!"

Reus slaps down a check and I stare at it, staggered by the amount of zeroes on the check. "One hundred thousand meseta for the successful rescue of the girl. You did very well, Bernie, and the mayor is impressed with both of us. She clued us in as to why the Pioneer 1 project failed. There was a dragon residing in the nearby forest and it was attacked, inadvertantly, by the colonists, so it attacked the Pioneer 1 vessel. One thing led to another, and the proton generator on Ragol detonated when it came in contact with some foreign materials." He grins, despite the cruel news he just delivered. "The dragon has already been slayed, and now we're both being rewarded."

"What happened to the girl?" I ask, out of curiosity.

"She has acute amnesia. She has trouble remembering names, or what happened before the explosion on Ragol, but she does remember her name."

Two of a kind, I suppose. I wonder if she remembers me.

"She remembers you, Bernie," Reus says.

Well, that question's answered.

"But that's about it."

And that answered another question.

"Any more missions for me, Reus?"

Reus shakes his head and leans back, puffing busily. "The mayor said we were both due for a rest, so you have a week off, and then you're going to be sent to the underground mines."

"Slave labor?"

Reus laughs as he puffs and leans back in his chair even farther. "No, it's exploration. Say, don't you want to know the name of the girl of whose life you saved?"

I wave it off. "I'll probably forget."

As I step back onto the transporter to get to the lobby of Pioneer 2, Reus' chair breaks and he falls onto the back of his head.