The two girls were crowded together in the ships hold, far enough away from anything that might be damaged if something went wrong, with the remains of the grenade disassembled in front of them. They had been going over the fried circuits and bits for the better part of an hour trying to figure out how it had worked. They were both tired, they had danced for quite some time, Jinx had learned three different dances, and was getting decent at one of them. After returning to the ship they had went straight to work on this. Deathtrap had went off to another part of the ship to avoid any possible mishaps. And despite their exhaustion, they had finally figured it out enough to understand the basics of how it had worked on them.
“So it basically is an electric pulse that overloads all circuits in the area, and this thing must be what powers it, looks like they can get maybe a minute out of it, at least with this prototype.” Gaige said leaning back, her hands pressed into her lower back to stretch. She had done most of the electronic analysis, being more adept at robotics and mechanical engineering.
“Next time they might have a portable unit with this. Though the power source would have to have some form of shielding, or be a low-tech option, maybe if they combined it with a C.O.V. Engine.” Gaige continued to muse on the device.
“At the very least they will have more of these, even if they haven’t gotten them to mass production yet, they will have more prototypes, even if some of these parts seem kinda expensive to produce. We’ll need to find a way to shield ourselves and more importantly DT from them.” Jinx hadn’t been able to help as much with the electronics, but she had been useful as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of.
“Deathtrap. I was just trying to shorten it, try something out for a way to talk to him, can’t call him babe, that’d just be weird from me.”
“Yeah, don’t do that. Whatever, but we’ll need something to absorb or redirect the pulse if we want to survive. Unless we just hide out until this has all passed.”
“As tempting as that might be, there’s no guarantee that Holloway won’t still try something afterwords, especially to Deathtrap, and then claim it’s an accident.”
“True. Damn it, that guy is a pain in the butt. Anyways we still need to deal with this first.” she said gesturing to the remnants of the grenade.
Jinx frowned and rubbed her chin thinking “Absorb or redirect the electricity, wires wouldn’t work, nor would an electric field, enough insulating material might work but that would be to heavy and cumbersome to move in,” She stood up and started moving toward the front of the ship, Gaige followed her not interrupting her thinking
“Something light, but that would be too fragile…unless, that might work.”
She headed into the sitting room and over to a shelf of well-worn volumes. Plucking one off she flipped to a page, went back a few “Aha!” She looked up with a mix of triumph and embarrassment “I always wanted to say that but never had a good excuse, but anyway, aha! Here we are.” she set the open book down on the table and turned it to face Gaige, who looked at the book, which had been read through so many times it’s pages where falling out, and read the open page.
’ While hunting the Great Red Footed Diomos of Jaka 4 I came across another interesting species, the Honeystuck Wibbler, which is a fun name to say, give it a try, Honeystuck Wibbler. Giving it its name the Honeystuck Wibbler coats itself in a secretion of its own making, which renders it immune to all electric energy, thus allowing them to eat the fruit of the Shock Vines, as well as live near the nests of the Great Plumed Thunder Wings, using them for protection against various predators, most notably the Diomos, many of whom seem to find the crunch of the Honeystuck Wibbler’s shell to be a delicacy.’
‘ The Honeystuck Wibbler itself is easily identified by its hard amber-like shell and green wings, though a rare red winged one has been rumored to have been seen, after an extensive hunt, I have concluded that it was just a rumor at present. I should note that there are also rumors of other colored wings, according to the locals.’
‘ When hunting the Honeystuck Wibbler beware of its mandibles as well as their sting which is much like that of the Scorpion Rakk, only about ten times more painful.’
The page went on to describe other variations, hunting tips and the like, as well as a few illustrations siting its dimensions at about two feet long.
“This is Sir Hammerlocks book, isn’t it?” She asked.
“Yep, told you the where useful. Here’s the other part we need.” She pointed to a side bar “This explains how the shell may be harvested and processed. But the downside of this stuff is that it’s brittle, that’s why it’s not used that much.”
“Then it’ll just shatter if we coat our stuff with it won’t it?”
“If we coat normally, yes, but if we make a new outer armor made up of thin layers of the shell honeycombed around Tritanium and in multiple layers, it would provide a layer of protection that would absorb most of the impact damage without the shell being damaged.”
As she talked, she drew on a scrap of paper a honeycomb shaped layer with thin pegs filling the holes in the comb, sandwiched between layers of metal.
“With the multiple layers if we offset them the spill-through should be minimal. Mine should be easy enough to make, but for you and Deathtrap, I’ll need measurements and a facility that I can work in. Hopefully there will be somewhere on site that we can use. Of course, we will also need cases for our ECHO units, our shields, grenades and any tech guns we wish to use. That sound good?”
So after setting a course, they found Deathtrap on his way out of the kitchen with two plates of breakfast for them.
“Aww, thanks babe, I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
“For me? Thanks big guy, you’re a life saver.”
And so after a very late meal, or very early breakfast the two of them slept as the ship flew on.
Dense jungle pressed against the central town of Jaka 4, which after some research, they had found to be the only place on the planet with the facilities they needed and was coincidentally within the band of the Honeystuck Wibbler’s nesting grounds. The buildings where tall, thin and made of wood, with a metal mesh wrapped over it like it was keeping it from spilling out, with most of the buildings leaning into the next, each floor tilting a different way and often of a different thickness. They were crowded around winding cobble streets, all spiraling out from the center like the tentacles of a dead octopus. The roads all lead to a much larger building built disquietingly out of center of the town. At first glance the building seemed to look as if a number of buildings had grown up and into each other, with no real rhyme or reason, and no one gave it more than a first glance without developing a headache.
“How’s the wrist feeling?” Gaige asked glancing over at the other girl, whom was dressed in a very left sided way. Everything from her chest guard to her rifle and even her pistol was on her left side, causing her to move a little awkwardly, constantly tugging at the holster on her leg.
“Getting better, but it itches. That’s something they never tell you about, how much these things will itch as they heal.” she said rubbing her right wrist, which was still wrapped and covered in a striped forearm sleeve that matched her stocking. In fact, Gaige suspected that it was the other stocking, since Jinx was only wearing the right one. In a similar outfit to what she had been wearing when they had arrived on Talion 6, the main difference was the colors, today’s being a dark green top made of folded cloth to look like it had scales, the equine toy hanging from her belt today was Fauna, foul of the forest.
Jinx strode up the winding street, even as the buildings seemed to be leaning in to listen. “So I suppose the first thing we should do is find an inn or lodge or bar, someplace that exchanges information, we need to find out whom to talk to about the forging facility as well as the best way to get to the hunting grounds where we can find our prey.”
“Jeez, when you talk like that you seem almost, I donno…”
“I was gonna say sinister, but we’ll go with yours.”
“S-sinister?” Jinx said hanging her head “I was just trying to show you I knew what I was doin.”
“I was kidding, I’m sorry it was a juvenile thing to do,” She laughed before continuing in a mutter to herself “Gotta stop doing that, you’re not a kid anymore Gaige.”
Jinx gave her a sidewise glance as if she had heard that, but before either could continue, they rounded the curve in the road to see a bit of commotion ahead.
Before a building that appeared to have once been two, was a pile of crates, five or six in total, surrounded by some ugly locals. All the locals had been ugly and since these where not particularly loathsome examples, just calling them locals may have sufficed. They seemed to be observing some sort of disagreement on the building side of the pile.
The two girls looked at each other and skirted a wide circle around the mess, trying not to get involved, when Gaige stopped, hearing what was being said.
“Like I said, I wish you’d wait and try and find someone to go with you.” A gruff voice was saying.
“Oh, quit being such a worry wort, Winny, I’ll be fine.” A higher pitched refined voice returned.
“I am not bein a worry wort, Alistair, we haven’t even unpacked yet.”
“Pish posh, I’ve already lost hours.”
“The beasts will still be there tomorrow.”
“Of course they will, it will take at least that long to get to the hunting grounds.”
“You know what I’m meanin.”
“I know Winny, I just…fine, I’ll at least stay till your settled in.”
Gaige walked up to the two men, as Jinx looked around nervously, the man with wild hair looked behind his lover and saw them walking up.
“You know I don’ mean to deprive you of your…well I’ll be, Alistair isn’t that our little weddin planner?”
The thin mustachioed man turned “Gaige? That is you. Whatever brings you all the way out here? Work?”
“Not hardly, come 'ear ya big goofs.” and she threw an arm around the two men “How have my favorite guys been, and what are you doin here?”
Both men took the hug awkwardly, so Gaige let them go before looking between them.
“You both look good. Married life’s been treating you right, eh?” she said with a grin.
“Yes well, I couldn’t be happier” the mustachioed man replied, his hands clasped behind him.
“It is as Alistair says, we’ve had our minor tiffs, but they all come from a place of love, so what does bring you to Jaka 4? And who’s your friend.”
He asked as Jinx moved up and said “Can we move this someplace private first?”
The wild haired man, Winny, looked at her for a second before drawling out “Certainly, we can retire to the sitting room inside while they relocate our things to the room.
A few minutes later
The inside of the building was surprisingly ornate, with dark wood, and thick rugs. Paintings hung
on the walls and the front desk was intricately carved with a forest motif. The sitting room itself was narrow, with tall stuffed chairs covered in soft velvet, arranged around a fireplace. Wall scones and
bone chandeliers lit the room, driving the darkness into the corners without doing much to brighten
the ambiance. The two men had helped themselves to the side bar, and each took a glass of whiskey before being seated.
“Now then, if everyone is comfortable shall we continue.” Winny said fixing his one good eye on Jinx, as if daring her to contradict him.
“Winny, we should first make sure they’re comfortable. Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink? Gaige? Miss?”
“I’ll have what you’re havin.” Gaige replied happily.
“Water’s fine.” Jinx stated flatly.
Once their glasses where filled, Gaige took a sip and coughed slightly “Hu, that’s got a burn to it, cough , now I suppose introductions are in order.” she said taking charge and moving to the middle of the group. “And since I’m the only one who knows everyone, I guess that makes me in charge of it.”
“Ladies first” She turned to Jinx “This is Artemis, a friend of mine who’s helping me with an um, personal problem we’ll call it. We can talk about that later.”
She turned to the wild haired man “This is Wainwright Jakob, current head of the Jakobs corporation.”
She turned to the last man “And this is his husband, Alistair Hammerlock.”
“Sir Alistair Hammerlock, if you don’t mind. Thank you, Gaige. Now then I suppose we should get down to it, shant we?”
“Wait, Sir Hammerlock? The Sir Hammerlock from the hunting guides? And the head of Jakobs? Like THE Jakobs? I think I’m gonna be sick, or faint, maybe a little of each.”
“What? I told you I knew them. Sit down, here have a drink from this, wait, no, seltzer would probably be better in this case. Hold on.” Gaige was smiling while moving around in a bit of a
“Oh my, I don’t think I’ve ever had that effect on someone before.” Sir Hammerlock said looking on.
“Well you did on me, but for a different reason I’ll bet.” Wainwright said taking the other man’s hand.
“OK, I think we got that under control.” Gaige said calming down as Jinx sat with her head down sipping on a glass of seltzer “So where were we?”
“We were about to find out what we were all doin here.” Wainwright replied “Well I do suppose it is polite to let the ladies go first.”
“Ah well, OK then, first off, I suppose, how much do you know about my, well, let’s call them circumstances?”
“I do know you were a Vault Hunter when we first met.” Hammerlock replied “But as for what lead you there or what happened between then and when you became our wedding planner, I cannot say.”
So Gaige explained, about her, and Marcie, and her dad, about Deathtrap, and about Jinx. She also talked about Holloway’s goons and their grenade, as well as the solution that they had, or rather Jinx had come up with.
The two men listened politely, interjecting questions at the appropriate moments, and when she finished Hammerlock rose and put his hand on her shoulder “You poor girl, you’ve been through a
lot.” he turned to Jinx whom had recovered while Gaige told her story “And thank you for looking
out for Gaige.”
“I just did what I wanted to do.” She muttered embarrassed.
“But back to business, what brings you two here?”
Wainwright leaned back and replied swirling his whiskey “First off, you should know that Jaka 4 is part of the Jakobs family, has been for generations, in fact that foundry you mentioned is one of ours, and the reason we are here. The truth is there has been an incident there, not to get into specifics, which we are sorely lacking right now, but production has been down, and as head of the family it is my duty to find out why, and smooth things over so that they return to normal as soon as possible.”
“While I was gonna be takin care of that, Alistair was gonna be huntin for a what was it again, a Ruby footed Diomar?”
“The Great Red Footed Diomos.”
“Yah that’s the one. He was gonna be huntin that while I did my business in town. Two birds and
“And that’s what you were arguing about when we arrived?”
“You saw that huh?”
“Kinda hard not to. Sorry, not my place to comment.”
“No no we were making a spectacle of ourselves weren’t we Winny.” Hammerlock said with a trace of embarrassment.
“That we were, though you two may just be the solution to our little problem. See I always worry when Alistair is out there alone, but if you two were to go with him, that’d be a load off my back.”
“Wait, shouldn’t we deal with the town problem first?” Jinx piped up.
“Then what would I do while you were out hunting? Truth is, as much as I’d like to, I’m no good out there, I just am not a hunter, so I stay behind. And I’m OK with that.”
“I understand, but I was just meaning, shouldn’t we make sure that the situation in town is handleable before setting out?”
“She’s right” Gaige interjected “But I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I stay in town with Wainwright, and you two go out hunting? I, well, I’m probably not that good out in the jungles either. So if I stay, then me and Deathtrap won’t be getting in the way. And I’ll also feel better knowing someone competent has your back out there, Artemis, especially until you heal up.”
“Heal up, what happened?” Hammerlock asked.
“Oh, just broke my wrist. Fired my back up gun with the wrong hand.”
“What she means is, after the grenade fried our limbs, she saved my butt by doing something she knew better than, she shot this guy point blank with this cannon. Go on show them.”
Jinx reluctantly drew her gun, popped the cylinder and handed it over. The two men examined it carefully, especially Wainwright.
“This is quite the, what’d you call it, back up piece.” He said handing it back.
“It’s a work in progress, trying to get the most stopping power I can out of a close quarter emergency weapon. It does kick too hard for non-cybernetic arms though.”
“What powder you using in those shells?”
“A Jakobs reserve, a brandy seems to work best, prefer a scotch for the rest of my ammo, but I find the brandy seems to give a smoother finish with these shells.”
“A good choice, I’m not much of a gunsmith, so I couldn’t help you with that too much, but it seems like you know what your doin.”
“Gaige said you were healing, how much longer do you need, and how much will it impair you on the hunt? Forgive my impertinence in asking, it’s just that I need to know whom I’m hunting with.”
“I get it, trust me. Well no I don’t. I don’t hunt with others, so I mean, I get where you’re coming from. Ahem, sorry, I’m not to shoot with my right hand until after about two in the morning, tomorrow. And it’s an annoyance, but I can manage left-handed.”
“Yeah, she managed to get six Tamtrols, in the wild, left-handed, all neck shots. That’s supposed to be impressive, I think.”
“That is pretty good, I’ve never hunted one, but they are quite similar to the Quashook’nar of
Middian 2, so I understand the skill needed.”
“So she passes then?” Wainwright asked.
“Very good, if it will set your mind at ease, then she can accompany me, besides her Honeystuck Whibblers should have their hives set up not far from the Diomos’s hunting grounds.”
“Very good, then we are all set, Gaige will stay with me, while young Artemis watches your back.”
The hunters had headed out, and the three left behind set out to go to the factory, which was set up in its own district. As they walked along the nearly empty streets, Gaige couldn’t help but feel ill at ease.
“Seems a bit too quiet.” she muttered
“Hush, there are some things we do not say, no matter how true they may be. It’s bad luck.” Wainwright chastised her, his good eye sweeping the surroundings.
“Didn’t figure you to be the superstitious type.”
“First off, I’m from Eden 6, we have Witches and Warlocks adhering to THE PACT, and second, it’s not superstition, not when it guarantees something will happen.”
“Yeah, that’s called superstition. I don’t believe in that stuff anymore, I’m not a kid.”
“Your age doesn’t have nothin to do with it, it’s common sense.”
“Jeez, you sound like Artemis.”
“Well, not so much sound, but, well whenever I say something like that, she gets this strange look, like she wants to say something but doesn’t know how or if she should or something.”
“She seems, odd, but you two seem good together.”
“I mean, I like hanging with her, but I’m not sure.”
“Not sure what? How you feel about her, or maybe what you feel?”
“What? No, I mean, yes. I don’t know. All my life I’ve liked who and what I like, but she makes me feel, uncomfortable? No that’s not right, unsure, that’s it. And that makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“What don’t you feel sure of, if you don’t mind me prying.”
“Everything. I mean, I don’t think she’s a stalker or anything, but she knows who I was as a kid, and I think she still sees me that way. And I don’t know, it’s like I’m disappointing her, and that makes me feel like I’m in the wrong, but I’m not. I mean I am who I am, right?”
“Maybe, but are you sure that you are who you think you are?”
“Of course I am, why?”
“Well it’s just that when me and Alistair where just getting together, I questioned myself too. I mean other than a Jakobs who was I? I mean I knew who I was. Least I thought I did. I was the man who never stood up for himself, the man who let his dad and his legacy dictate who I was to be. Even after we got together, even after fighting to retake my company, I was plagued by indecision, right up to the wedding, well at least until I got possessed. I mean Alistair is a man of action, a man of adventure, and I find that I am not. I debated if I should change, should I try and be more like him, even though I knew at best, I would be just pretending. And if I didn’t, how could I see him off on each of his adventures? Why would he come back to me, to this stick in the swamp with one good eye and no adventures to offer him.”
“In the end do you know what settled my mind? It wasn’t that I got over the worry of seeing him off. It wasn’t that I suddenly gained the confidence to be a different man. In fact it was the opposite. I realized that for all my faults and worries I had forgotten the most important thing. Alistair had fallen in love with the man I was, not the man I wanted to be for him. I realized that he had the same worries as me, the same desire to try and be the man I wanted. So we came to an understanding, we wouldn’t change the other, we would be the person that we were and the man that the other had fallen in love with. He would go on his adventures, I would run my business. Where we could, we would work together, where we couldn’t we would let the other do what they needed. It’s not like we stopped worrying, I mean you heard us today, but what it does mean is that we have faith in each other. I trust him to come home and he trusts that I’ll be there. It’s as simple and as hard as that.”
“That’s touching and all, but I don’t love her.”
Wainwright stopped and turned to her “First I never said love, I was talking about trust. Trust and faith. Second, friendship is much the same as what I was talking about and you two seemed pretty good together, comfortable, and that might just be the necessity of your common goals, but I think you have faith in her either way. The truth is, a friend should be like that, not trying to change you into something you’re not, but to try and help you see yourself for whom you really are. That and the same worry about her that I have about Alistair. But I could be wrong.”
“You’re not. I mean you are wrong about us, I mean there is no way she sees me like that anyway, as anything more than a friend, but I mean, I understand what you mean about them going off to hunt. It’s like, you want nothing more than to go with them, but you don’t want to get in their way, to ruin their fun. To make them hate you.”
Wainwright could see that Gaige was struggling with something so he took pity on her and started walking again.
“Besides” She said keeping up “I like older men.”
“Ugg, please let me forget about that, I was drunk, and he like, eats balls. Literally. Besides he only likes huge buff women.”
“I do apologize, but I was using him as an example of a bad choice in men.”
“I got ya, but that seems to be the way of things with me, either their gay, married, or not interested, and the ones that are are disgusting sleazes. It’s just, I’m getting kinda tired of being alone.”
“Sorry, you knew what I meant, just the two of us.”
“Now I ain’t no expert, but mayhaps you’ve been trying to either find men who won’t reciprocate your feelings, someone who’s safe for you to, as you might say ‘crush on’ or you might be looking for someone to fill in the empty spot where your dad is missing from your life, which is not entirely a different thing. Again, I do apologize if I am overstepping.”
“I wasn’t meanin that you want to be with your dad physically. Only that, in going after older, mature men you are trying to fill the void left by having to leave your father, a man whom you had great respect and filial love for. And given that you subconsciously are going for men whom would not desire a physical relationship, but would care for you as a father would, it does lend some credence to the theory.”
“That’s messed up, you really think all that of me, I mean where do you even get this crap?”
“I will have you know that I have taken extensive courses in interpersonal interactions as part of my preparing to be the head of the company, these include but are not limited to conflict mediation and relationship consoling, though I must admit to not having finished all the courses at this time, and that most of the mediation is in which gun to use in which situation.”
“So you’re learning how to psychoanalyze people to help with running a company? Why can’t you just be like Mr. Torgue and scream about EXPLOSIONS and stuff?”
“If I thought that I could make it work, I’d at least be willing to try, but that just isn’t me.”
“I was kidding, the thought of you screaming EXPLOSIONS or going Meedly-MeedlyMow, man, I still suck at that, I should grow up and quit trying, but anyway the thought of you doing a Mr. Torgue, that would be funny, but no, totally not you.”
“And with that we are here.” Wainwright drawled.
Gaige looked around, they had passed through a wooden gate and the buildings had changed. What had been tall wooden buildings where now replaced with stone frames for the first story, with larger wooden houses bulging out over them, reminding her of a fat man’s gut hanging over his belt. At the end of the street was a large clearing with a tall solid metal fence, a thick gate standing in the middle.
It wasn’t to this gate they went, but the smaller door set next to it.
Wainwright knocked on the door, and after a wait, the slot slid open revealing a pair of distrustful eyes.
“We’re closed.” The man on the other side of the door growled and started to slide the slot closed.
“I am Wainwright Jakobs, and I demand to know why this factory is not operating.”
Gaige sighed, so much for subterfuge.
The man eyed them suspiciously, before he growled “One moment while I get the foreman.” and slammed the slot shut.
Wainwright leaned back arms crossed while Gaige leaned in “Why’d you do that?”
“Do what? I merely announced myself. Admittedly usually you have your manservant do it, but he has the day off.”
“No, why did you tell him who you were? You could have just asked why it was closed, or psychoanalyzed him or something. Now they know who’s here, and if, just if, something is wrong, you just told them the big man himself is here. Like perfect hostage material, if they’re in for that.”
“Nonsense, the Jakobs corporation is a family, and family doesn’t lie to one another.”
“Aren’t you married to Alistair? Didn’t his sister try to kill him and take your company? Don’t you remember Katagawa? He killed all his siblings, well except what’s her name, but he killed them for his company. Family can betray you.”
“Those were different, they weren’t Jakobs family. You’ll see.”
Just then the door opened revealing a burly man with a sour face.
“Are you the one claimin to be the head of the company?” He said. Something about his voice and look made Gaige think his breath must be as foul as his manners.
“That I am, though it’s not a claim, it’s the truth. Are you the foreman?”
“No. Foreman’s busy, I’m to take you to his office, where you’ll wait.” he looked over at Gaige
with a leer “Oo’s this, your secretary? Bit on the scrawny side, but I bet she’s got it where it counts.
Am I right?”
“What’s your name?” Wainwright said eyes narrowing.
“Names Stander, why?”
“So that I can put you on notice mister Stander. We of the Jakobs corporation do not tolerate that kind of behavior. I expect you to either have a written apology in by the end of the day, or your resignation slip, either one will be fine.”
Gaige groaned to herself, Wainwright didn’t seem to understand, that was something you didn’t tell the person, especially if you didn’t know what was happening within the factory yet, and what part he played in it.
“Whatever you say, boss.” Stander said with a sickening smile “This way.”
They followed him in but when Deathtrap floated through the door, they let out a shout of warning.
“That thing can’t come in here!” the doorman yelled “It’s against policy.”
“Military bots and outside loaders are forbidden” Stander agreed “We can’t run the risk of it recording company secrets, after all.”
“As the head of the company, I vouch for the integrity of both this unit as well as his mistress.” Wainwright flatly informed them leaving no room for discussion. “Now, proceed.”
The other two men looked at each other nervously, the doorman shook his head but Stander shrugged before he turned and started leading them into the interior of the grounds.
Gaige shot Deathtrap a look telling him to be on guard, he nodded subtly in response.
The inside of the fence was covered in crushed gravel all the way to the main factory, which in contrast to the rest of the planets buildings was covered in metal. Tall stacks stabbed out of the main building, though nothing was emerging from them at the moment. Other side buildings grew off the main ones like boils. Nothing about the place made Gaige at ease.
They were led around to a side staircase, the metal grates and rails had a rusty grunge to them, and creaked and groaned as they ascended them. Through the door at the top that screeched in protest as it open, they emerged in a grubby hallway, yellowing posters lined the walls with such inane slogans as ’ Don’t Treat Your Life Like A Tediore, Practice Safety ’ and ‘You Don’t Work For Jack, Report Unsafe Practices’ that rather than anything, gave the place a hopeless feel.
They were led to a wooden door and told to wait inside. Much like the rest of this area of the building, the office was dismal. Dominated by a massive metal desk piled high with papers, its chair looked worn, with a cracked fake leather cushion. In front of it stood two molded plastic chairs in a nauseating tannish yellow. One wall was covered in metal shelving stuffed with cheap binders, the other was glass so oily and dirty that only wan light made it through. In front of it there was a cheap table, with a disgustingly stained coffee pot, a few oily looking mugs with the logos smeared to illegibility, and a valiantly dying plastic plant.
After a suggestive wink that sent shivers up Gaiges’ spine, Stander left them with a “The boss will be right with you.”
Gaige listened as the creeks and thuds of his footsteps receded before turning back to Wainwright, who was inspecting one of the chairs with a look of disgust.
He looked up “I must assure you that this in no way represents the usual Jakobs office. Where is the wood paneling, the decanters of twelve year aged single malt, the proper office chairs with minimal two-inch leather cushions, and the desk is nowhere near the three inch required mahogany? This is an outrage.”
“I don’t think this is the real main office.” Gaige said stepping over to where Deathtrap was indicating and swept a finger across the surface of the desk, leaving a clear mark in the accumulated dust.
“What are you suggesting?”
“That Artemis is going to rub my face in it, well no she won’t, I’d almost prefer it if she would, but she will give me a severally disappointed look. In other words, this is a trap.”
“A trap you say? For what possible purpose?”
“Don’t know, better leverage at bargaining?”
“No your right, if they wanted to bargain they would have probably tried that first. I am not entirely sure.”
“Hmm, you have a point babe,” She turned to Wainwright “Do you know anyone who works here? I mean actually know them? By sight?”
“Well I was introduced to the head of operations a few years ago when he attended a soiree that my father was hosting, I believe his name was Brandibarry.”
“I see, and generally speaking, was he the kind of man who would use an office like this?” She said walking over to the shelves of binders.
“Certainly not, as I recall him, he was the kind of man who knew his scotch and bragged about his extensive collection of fish, all of which he had caught.”
“I thought as much. That and these binders being filled with useless crap leads me to think that this entire wing we are in is nothing but a fake.” she said shoving the binder back.
“Now why would they have that?’
“Well I don’t mean that it is a fake hallway, just that this is probably an unused wing, and that whoever is leading us around here is dumping us here to keep us out of the way until they can figure out what to do with us.”
“It is whom ever.”
“Whatever. Is this really the time to be correcting my speech?”
“It is always time to fix one’s grammar.”
“Ugg, fine. But we need to get out of here and find out what’s really going on.”
“It is time like these that I envy Alistair. He always seems to be able to move quietly and I find every squeaky board in the place.”
“I could leave Deathtrap here with you?”
“I know babe but we gotta keep him safe, or Hammerlock is gonna hate me, so please. For me?”
“You know I do get a say in this? And I am more than capable of looking out for myself.”
“All right, what do you want to do?”
“I agree with your plan, I just wanted a say is all. But do be careful, I would hate to have Alistair and Artemis cross with me should anything happen to you.”
“Fine whatever you got your say, now Deathtrap stays behind and I’ll go scouting.”
She moved to the door “Babe?”
Deathtrap cocked his head before looking at her and shaking it, having detected nothing. Gaige carefully gripped the knob and with a turn pulled the door open. Looking both ways down the hall she found it empty. Slipping out she headed further into the building.
The hall was lined with stacks of boxes, some of which were blocking doors, but the ones that weren’t blocked she peered in and found to be similar to the office they had been left in, only stuffed with more boxes and miscellaneous crap. Piles of broken furniture filled one, another was nothing but rusting lockers tossed in haphazardly.
Moving toward the end of the hall she stopped at a poster and stared in amused disbelief, it featured
a picture of an ultrasound with the caption ‘Have Your Accidents In The Bedroom, Not At Work’ . Looking both ways she undid the pins holding it up and folded it along the creases before slipping it into her pocket.
‘Artemis is going to love this’ she thought before coming to a stop. ‘Wait, when did I get to the point of wanting to share random things like this with her?’ she thought. Was Wainwright right? Or had their conversation just affected her thoughts? “Now’s not the time for this” She muttered to herself, shaking her head and trying to clear her mind to focus on the task at hand.
The door at the end of the hall was a heavy blast door set into a concrete wall, that was locked. Gaige put her hand to her chin and thought about it before heading back to the last room that was open. Slipping inside she made her way over the boxes and junk to the windows. While the opening mechanism had long since rusted out, a bar that had once been a chair leg provided the necessary leverage to persuade it to open.
Poking her head out, she was relieved that her memory had served her, and slipped out onto the slopping roof. Holding firm to the eave over her head, she carefully made her way across the corrugated steel to the main building. She gently slid down the roof till she reached the vent work and shimmied herself onto it, setting out to climb her way up till she could get in.
Sweating and grousing to herself, she made her way up, praying that none of the guards or employees would look up. Eventually she made it to a spot where she could slip back inside.
Finding herself on a narrow catwalk high above the factory floor, she spotted several men milling about. With the foundry cold, the room was dark, which worked to Gaige’s advantage as she tried her best to stealthily work her way down.
Eventually she got close enough to listen in just as a familiar face showed up. “Hay Stander, why’d you let those outsiders in anyway?” one of the men asked as the sleaze walked up.
“And I hear you let them keep their guns.”
“Yeah” Another added “And I heard one of them had some kind of a combat bot.”
“Shut it you morons” Stander growled “'It wasn’t just anybody, he was the head of the Jakobs company. It would have been a lot more suspicious if I had turned them away. Use your head once
in a while.”
“What’d Brion have to say?” One of the more evil looking ones asked.
“He said we should keep them there a while longer before apologizing that the boss had to leave on personal business, and that they should try back in a few days. And if that don’t work, shoot them.”
“What a waste to just kill them.”
Stander smirked “Well he didn’t say we should shoot them right away, now did he.”
While most of them joined in on the sick laughter, the evil looking brute interjected “I was thinking that it would be better to use Jakobs to get the workers in line. Long as we have him, they won’t rebel.”
“Now that is a better option isn’t it Mr. Stander.” A low, gravelly voice drifted in “If it comes to that, kill the bot, if you have to, kill the girl. But only kill Mr. Jakobs if you absolutely must.”
Gaige could only see the man’s ratty slacks clad legs and scuffed shoes as he stood in the doorway, but even from where she was, she could tell he was the boss.
Realizing that time was of the essence, now more than ever, she slipped away as quietly as she could. As she lamented the fact that the cavernous rooms equipment was still and silent, she wished she had the skills of Artemis in times like these. That girl could move across gravel without making a sound, much like Hammerlock. Must be a hunter thing, she thought as she arrived back at the grate she had slipped in from. She slid out before realizing that she had made it this far without any loud noises, and realizing that she shouldn’t even think those things lest she trigger something.
She sighed quietly to herself ‘Now I’m starting to think like that’ she groaned inwardly, while scoping out the area to make sure no one was watching and then shimmying back down the duct work. She knew she was in a hurry and could have jumped, but she was sure that she would have at best made enough noise that she would have alerted the guards, and at worst went right through the roof. No better to take it slightly slower and not make a mess of things.
Moving quickly across the roof, she slid back through the window and after a quick peek to make sure it was unoccupied, down the hall to where Deathtrap and Wainwright were waiting. She knocked on the door and waited “Whom may I ask is there?” came the surly reply from Wainwright.
“It’s me, let me in.” Gaige whispered as loud as she could.
The door opened a sliver, reveling Wainwright with his shotgun aimed in the door’s direction, before he stepped back letting it open all the way.
“And what did you find?”
“This is bad.” Gaige told him in a rapid fire “There were a bunch of guys with guns, real skeezy looking, not bandits, but close, and they’re coming this way, want to do unspeakable things to my poor delicate body and or kill me, and they want to kill my best bud, oh and they want to take you to make the workers not rebel, and your workers are probably still alive, and I was able to sneak around like Artemis or Zero or Hammerlock which was cool, but we need to get out of here, like now and”
“What you need is to slow down. Now if I got the gist of what you were sayin, it sounds like someone unknown has taken over my factory, got the workers hostage somewhere and wants to use us to motivate them, and they are coming here now to do just that?”
“Whew, that’s what I just said. So as I see it we have like three options. One, we wait here and let them do what they want with us. Me? I reject this one, so that’s out. Two, we wait here and ambush them. Course then we would be trapped here while all of them could surround us or burn us out or whatever, so also rejected. Three, we could get out of here now, get outside and wait for Artemis
and Hammerlock to return, though they know we’re here and would probably come searching for
us. Or four, we get out of here now, find your workers and fight off whoever, sorry, whomever these punks are.”
“Well when you put it like that, number four does sound the most appealing, though I do not know how well I’ll do with all that scurrying around.”
“Well either we could find a place for you to hide, or Deathtrap could carry you for parts, wouldn’t be the first time he had to would it?”
“I do not remember that, nor do I want to” he said fingering his ring “But if it comes to that we shall proceed accordingly. Lead on.”
Gaige hurried to the door, peered out to make sure the coast was clear before signaling to Wainwright and Deathtrap to follow. They hurried down the hall and slipped into the room with the open window, closing the door just as they heard the stairs groan.
They slipped outside, though Deathtrap had to pull the window out of its frame to get out, and managed to do so without making too much noise. Gaige could tell they wouldn’t make it before being spotted so she turned to the other two “Babe, take Wainwright and get him to the back of the building, I’ll get in through my way, we’ll meet up later. I know, I’m not happy about it either. And you, keep my buddy safe” she finished to Wainwright.
Deathtrap grabbed Wainwright and flew off with him as Gaige ran for the ducts again, muttering as she did “If I die here, Artemis is never gonna let me live it down.”
“Adventure ho.” called out Hammerlock.
They had just left the town and Jinx immediately pulled back her hood and rolled her shoulders, taking a deep breath. Letting it out she said “I still think we should have went with them.”
“I understand, but they should be fine. But if we went with them, it would have taken an hour, and if we delayed ourselves by an hour, we may not get back tomorrow, so we needed to get going.”
“Yeah, I get that, but still. Anyway where is this hunting ground you’re heading us towards?”
“You mean you don’t know, didn’t you do your research?”
“Of course I did, I know where the Huneystuck Whibbler’s nesting grounds are, and I have a general idea of where your Great Red Footed Diomos hunts, but I figured since you’ve hunted it before and this is your expedi-expo-expodation, that doesn’t sound right, anyway this is your show.”
“That’s it, expedition.”
“Well since I am in command of this expedition we can start with some friendly banter. This way.”
He started into the woods “Now then, you know who I am, but I must apologize, I’m afraid that I haven’t heard of you. Wait, that didn’t sound very friendly, dear me. I am dreadfully sorry. I didn’t mean to cast aspirations on your skill, it’s just that I try and keep up with the other hunters, you know, to keep up on who got what and where, you know, to keep track of which beasts are still out there. It’s not like we have some kind of club or anything, though we do have a few lodges, so occasionally I miss an up and coming hunter, but I must say, the way Gaige talks you up, I would think that I would have heard of you by now. But the name Artemis eludes me, so what’s your best trophy?”
“Artemis?” Jinx looked at him with confusion.
“That’s what Gaige called you is it not?”
“That explains it” Jinx said nodding “that’s my ECHO handle, she calls me that, like a nickname.”
“Ah, you mean like how I call Wainwright Winny?”
“Yeah, my real name is Jinx.”
“Wait, Jinx. You mean the Jinx who won old Montemore’s hunt?”
“You knew him?”
“I did, nearly made it to that hunt, but I was on Bongusha 7 and my guide turned an ankle. Took forever to get out of those jungles. So, you’re the one who impressed Montemore enough that he gave you his ship. Do you still have it, if I may ask?”
“It’s in orbit as we speak.”
“Ah, the Hunters Moon. Good ship. Oh, you were the one who bagged the double crested Kreth. You know, I just missed you there too. I arrived within a day of your departure to hunt the very same beast myself, only to find that you’d beat me to it.”
“No no, quite alright. To the hunter, the spoils. You where there first, and from what I hear you bagged it magnificently.”
Jinx didn’t respond, looking around in embarrassment.
Hammerlock took note “Onward then.”
As they proceeded through the woods Hammerlock continued “So, what do you think of our little friend. I mean Gaige of course. You do know I have known her for, why it’s been over seven years now. My how time flies. I first met her on Pandora, I was there doing research for my book, specifically on Bullymongs. Still displeased with that name. She was traveling with the other Vault Hunter, of course, and that annoying little bot.”
“Deathtrap’s not annoying.”
“What, no no, CL4P-TP. He was guiding them at the time. Good times. So anyway, you’ve been traveling with her, Gaige that is, traveling with her for a while now, so what do you think of her?”
“Uh…we’ve only meet a couple days ago.”
“I know, I know, but you two have shared a ship for that time, you must have an opinion by now.”
“Uh” Jinx replied eyes darting around nervously. How was she supposed to respond to that, especially after telling her that he had known Gaige for years, it was like meeting a friends dad for the first time, or at least she thought it was, or maybe an uncle or something, so she called upon all her social skills and came up with the best, most placating answer she could “She’s good. And you seem to be misunderstanding, we may be sharing a ship, but she gets the bedroom, and I’m sleeping in the lounge. She’s not that kinda girl.”
Hammerlock sighed, clearly his meaning was not getting through, either that or she was to nervous and didn’t trust him enough to open up about things like that. So he took a different tact. “I didn’t mean it like that. But you say your ECHO handle is Artemis? So why does Gaige call you that? I mean obviously it’s your handle, but how does she know that?”
“It’s actually AR73M15, but yes, she calls me Artemis. And she knows it cause I was one of her subscribers back in the day.”
“I thought you knew her? Back before she was a Vault Hunter” She said with a touch of pride, like she knew a Gaige that he didn’t know “Well actually she continued it for a while after Jack’s fall, but I started way before that. Anyway, she had an ECHO cast, just stuff like her life and what she was doing, who was bullying her, what she wanted to do, building Deathtrap, you know everyday stuff.”
“And you subscribed to that? Sorry that sounded rude, but it sounds dreadfully boring. I mean where is the adventure, the daring do and the like?”
“That was the point, there was no pretense, just a real person, with their flaws and pains on display. And I was, wait, I didn’t tell that part, I’m not very good with stories, see. I don’t really tell that many of them. Anyway, I found her while I was recovering from my accident.” She touched her left arm gently without pausing. “I was in the hospital and in a…well let’s call it a not good way in my head. And I was able to do nothing but listen to other peoples’ lives, and they all put on such fake bragging stories about how great they were and how it was so awesome it was to be them. Or they were total pity parades, how bad things where, but not real bad, just obnoxious bad, like they didn’t get what they wanted, oh poor me. And to hear that crap was enough to make anyone sick, and they all had huge numbers of followers, which I never could understand, I mean who really wants to listen to that crap? Sorry getting sidetracked, where was I? Ah yes, all those stupid casts. But then I stumbled upon a channel with next to no followers, and it was just a girl telling about the ups and downs of her days. Nothing fancy. Nothing grandiose. Just a real person with real problems. And it got me out of my own head. Made me think about how to move forward and what I’d need to do to do it. It got me out of that bed and helped me make a new leg to stand on.”
“And I’ve been moving forward ever since. Even after she stopped posting, even after I stopped wondering what she was up to and if she was safe, which I understand makes me sound stalkerish, but it’s not like that. It’s like how you think of anyone you knew years ago and wonder what they might be up to now.”
“So that’s how I knew Gaige. And when the chance to help her back came, even if it wasn’t that big, I took it, and that’s how we ended up here.”
“So do you like her?” Hammerlock asked.
“Of course I like her.”
“Of course, but do you like her as a friend or as something else?”
Jinx tripped over a root and hopped forward a few times while sputtering “W-w-w-wwhat!” her voice rising in pitch.
“Simple enough question, but a hard one to answer, probably a bit too personal at this point. I was just trying to get a fix on your intentions. Right’o let me retract that for now and ask again, what do you think of Gaige?”
“Uh, what do you think of her?”
“Me, very well, I’ll answer if it puts you at ease, I think she is a delightful young lady, though I am afraid that the loneliness is getting to her, which is why I was glad to see her with someone, especially since it seems like you two seem so good together.”
“I donno, she seems to get along great with everyone, well except for those trying to kill her, obviously. And she has Deathtrap, so she’s not alone, but” Jinx paused before sighing “She does seem kinda off, hasn’t seemed lonely per say, but, I donno, troubled, maybe, but like not troubled troubled, just like she’s got something gnawing at her, no that’s not it, like there’s something that she’s trying to work out without worrying anyone about it. But you think we go good together?”
“Wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it.”
“So wait you meant everything you said earlier, even the stuff you retracted?”
“What? No. I mean, wait what did I retract?”
“Nothing. But see, doesn’t feel good to be put in that kinda spot does it.”
“Hurmp” Hammerlock tugged on his lapels a bit pevishly, before sighing and continuing “Yes, I see your point. But you still haven’t answered my question. What do you think of Gaige, especially in light of your past knowledge of her?”
“Fine. What do I think of Gaige? I think she is a wonderful person. The kind I would like to spend more time with. The kind that I want to make happy. I think that she is every bit the girl I listened to all those years ago, and so much more. I think she’s a genius when it comes to mechanical and electronic things. I think she’s the kind of girl anyone would be happy to take home to their parents, if they have any. I think she’s the kind of person someone would change their life to be with. Although that doesn’t matter because I don’t think she feels that way about me, no one would. And I’d like to keep being her friend, if I could. So enough about her and me and what can you tell me about this beast that we’re hunting. I mean I know what you put in your book, but anything else I should know?”
Hammerlock decided to shelve his thoughts on what she had said and give her a reprieve so he took the change in subject. Clearing his throat and adopting a more scholarly air he started.
“Well for starters, while I said we would be hunting the Great Red Footed Diomos, in truth we are looking for the Emperor Red Footed Diomos, which is the same beast in the same way a Tyrant and a Saurian are. Now before I get into the differences and the types, let me describe the physiology of the Diomos.”
“They are built much like a Saurian in body, with thicker chests accommodating the second set of lungs and heavier legs, these beasts do not skip leg day, ha-ha. Sorry, anyway, the main ways to differentiate them from a Saurian is in the head. While a regular Diomos has an extra set of eyes, the real difference is in their mouth. First the jaw is double jointed and spit into three parts allowing them to swallow most prey whole. Actually they have three spines, one per jaw part, each one built like a snake so they are very flexible. This is where the next interesting part comes in, their teeth are not attached to the jaws like in most creatures, instead being held in place with muscle. This allows them to flex their teeth, so to speak, moving them independently. What this means is that when they take prey into their mouths, the teeth bite in before flexing inward, shredding the prey and pushing it further down the throat, a process aided by the fact that they have over two dozen rows of teeth.”
“Now the Diomos can be found in all the usual variations, caustic, fire, radiation and such. Each one having their own physiological differences, but the ones to be on the lookout for are the Alphas and the Matriarchs. Now the Alpha can be identified by not just being bulkier than normal, but by the antlers growing from their heads. They are tougher and meaner, being hyper-aggressive to help protect their mates. Which brings me to Matriarchs. Matriarchs are twice the size of an Alpha and, well there is no polite way of saying this, heftier than normal. Oh, all right, they’re fat. There I said it. Their heads are disgustingly bulbous, and their tail resembles, well a Ratch Broodmother’s. Which is not surprising due to the fact that they lay their eggs through their tail. Revolting process really. They are usually surrounded by a horde of hatchlings and an Alpha or larger Diomos for protection.”
“The Great Red Footed Diomos, which I have successfully hunted before, though I unfortunately lost my trophy due to a mishap on the return trip, resemble nothing more than an Alpha at about two and a half the size. Of course with the increase in size the antlers majesty increases as well, but unfortunately so does it’s temper, as do the number of eyes. The red footed part is due to a specific mutation that grants their limbs the most striking crimson coloration, but that mutation is also accompanied by a skull that presses in on the brain, causing them to be quite mad. In both senses of the word.”
“The Emperor on the other hand I have never seen. But if the stories are true, they stand at almost ten meters long, with their antlers having a span of over four meters. And they are said to be able to expand their mouths large enough to be able to fit their own heads within them, can you imagine? Other than that, the eyes could be considered a weak point, as well as the space behind their front limbs, about here” he indicated just to the back of the arm pit “As well as the inside of the mouth. More than that we will find out together.”
Gaige ran across the catwalk the opposite direction from last time, trying to minimize the sound of her boots on the metal. Luckily it seemed that all of the goons had went with to round them up, so no one noticed her as she made her way to the ladder and scampered down.
The ladder deposited her level with the tops of the machines, and other foundry equipment. With no way of knowing where they would be holding the workers and no idea about where she was in relation to them, she had no choice but to forge ahead, so she set off when the sound of a siren started up. The party that had been sent to round them up must have sent someone back and alert everyone else. Things were about to get harder.
Gaige unslung her rifle as she turned and without slowing, stepped onto the rail and leaped onto the machinery ducking down just as the door that Brion the boss had been in was thrown open and about ten goons came running out. Even someone as confident as Gaige didn’t open fire on them, knowing a bad fight when she saw one. Instead she waited as they ran to the main door, where they were met by another man. After a short conversation punctuated by much gesticulation, they spread out searching.
Luckily for Gaige the men didn’t have any real order to them, so the search was disorganized at best. While most of them figured they would make a run for it and ran out to try and find them, a few of them stayed in and started sweeping the building.
Looking down at the rifle in her hands, Gaige realized that despite the good times they’d had together, it might not be the best weapon for the job since it’s shots would echo terribly inside the cavernous building. Thinking about it she did lack a backup weapon, especially a quiet one, other than her hammer. And while she had no doubt that Artemis would have no problem in this situation, probably pull a Mordecai and find a nest to snipe from, Gaige didn’t have the weapons nor the patients to pull that off, especially since she had been off for a while now, punctuated by her lack of use in the last few fights. But the truth was she had been feeling a half step off for a while now and felt a burning need to prove herself as good as she remembered.
She would have loved to wait for the goons to make it to her level and pick them off, but the longer she waited the more of them would make their way inside, having figured out that they weren’t outside any longer. So she did what she told herself she did best.
After a double check of her rifle she took off in a sprint across the top of the machine and leaped off the edge. Soaring through the gap, the wind pulling at her pigtails she fell before hitting the edge of the smelting crucible, though she had no idea of what it was called. Without breaking stride, she continued running along the rim before leaping again at the goon who was just coming up the stairs.
He noticed her just before her foot slammed into his head throwing him over the rail. Gaige sprung off him as he went, landing on the metal stairs while still spinning, tracking the second goon. She opened fire just as the first hit the ground with a crunch, and all hell broke loose.
Her bullets found their mark, taking out the second goon, but the others now knew where she was, so she couldn’t stop moving. Instead she leaped off the stairs onto the top of a control box on the side of one of the machines, took a step and sprung off, hitting the ground with a roll. She ran at a third goon whom had raised his weapon, a shotgun and fired. Gaige hit the ground in a slide under the blast while unloading a short burst, downing him immediately. Rising from the slide into a crouch, she spun and with two short bursts, took down the last two before springing back up and running, reloading as she went.
Figuring that the door that the boss and his goons had been going through would probably be near where they were keeping the workers, she made a dash for it. As she drew closer she realized that if she was right, she would likely become trapped between the men guarding the prisoners and those that were chasing her, and without Deathtrap and Wainwright knowing where she was, she would not have any backup, so meeting up with them took priority, so she changed the angle of her run and headed across the factory floor towards the rear doors.
Dashing through them she spotted motion to her left and threw herself the opposite direction, just as the grenade that had been sailing towards her went off, shredding her shield and throwing her violently into a pile of detritus.
Even through the concussion and the ringing in her ears, a searing pain exploded through her right side. Completely unaware of the blood trickling down her brow, she blinked slowly and tried shaking her head to clear her focus, though the pain helped more than anything else. Looking down she saw
a jagged shard of metal sticking out of her bicep. She tried to raise her arm only to have her side
scream in pain bad enough to have the edges of her vision blacken. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed
the shard and pulled straight out, only to her horror to find that it was over four inches long and had pierced not only her arm, but into her side as well. Without realizing it she threw up the burning remnants of her breakfast as she focused everything on her left hand, which was fumbling to draw
out and use a Insta-Health vial.
Only once the cooling burn of the healing medicine was surging toward the wounds did her mind come back enough to realize how bad a position she was in. Raising her eyes from the ball she was in on the ground she saw that three of the goons were closing in on her, picking their way through the collapsed wreckage that had been piled near the doorway, and worst of all at their lead was Stander.
“I thought you said she was good lookin.” one of them snapped at him.
“Compared to the rest of the hags on this mudball she is.” he laughed back.
“True that, but I ain’t big on the bloody look, ain’t no psycho ya know.”
“So throw a bucket of water on her.”
As they laughed and surrounded her Gaige was frantically trying to locate her rifle, only to see that the goons had already stepped over it, and it was too late to go for her pull out another weapon from her backpack.
‘I screwed up’ she thought ‘has my combat senses dulled that much? Have I become that reliant on Deathtrap that I couldn’t even handle a few morons on my own? Is this how it ends?’ As she lay there, Deathtrap, her dad, Artemis’s faces all flashed through her mind ‘I was gonna go home’ she thought ‘I’d made a friend, someone I really liked. Man, she is gonna be furious. Wait, what would she do? Give up? I don’t think so. Find a way. Survive. No matter how painful or nasty. Take out the first. Worry about the second then.’
She grit her teeth, her hand tightening on the first thing it found, and as Stander stepped right up to her she drove the shard of metal through his boot, foot and all. As he screamed in surprised agony she sprung up, drawing her hammer from its holster and delivered an uppercut to his jaw that silenced him with a bone shattering crunch. Taking advantage of the shock of the other two, she smashed a second in the face as she tore past him, dropping into a slide to snatch up her rifle and unload on them.
The gun clicked as the clip went dry, her breathing ragged when a shotgun blast exploded behind her. Spinning she saw the bloody chunks of a goon fall through the ruined doorway and Wainwright step through casually reloading.
“Thought that ruckus would lead us to you.” he drawled as Deathtrap floated out after him, rushing to her side.
“I’ll be fine.” she told him patting his metal arm before turning to Wainwright “Took you long enough.”
He just stared at her while snapping his gun closed “Seems like you found yourself in a worse spot than a hen at a fox convention.”
“T-that’s a new one.” She replied as dryly as she could trying to reload only to find her hands shaking too hard to manage. “I-I really thought I was a goner there for a minute.” she finally choked out.
Wainwright looked uncomfortable, but stepped in and gave the shaking girl a clap on the shoulder “There there, you did good. But we have a long way to go and I need you to keep it together for me.”
“Yeah, thanks, I’m, well not good, but I’ll manage.”
“As soon as we are done here, you are goin to go see a doctor, no argument, on Jakobs tab. Now where in the tarnation are they hidin those workers.” he said looking around.
“I think I know cough where they are” Gaige said with a wince, tucking her cyber hand against her still tender side which had thankfully stopped bleeding “Follow me, quick before everyone comes to cough to investigate,”
‘That’s it’ She thought ‘Keep talking, distract yourself from the pain, and failure, you can stew on them latter, for now keep pressing forward.’
She moved back to the ruined doorway and after peeking around to make sure the coast was clear, headed inside at a jog. As they approached the door that Gaige believed would lead to the main offices she asked “So how many of these cough these, whatever you wanna call ums have you two got?”
“I myself have only taken out three, but your friend here has six. Why?”
“Just trying to get a rough count of how many are down, so I can guess how many are left. I got, what, five inside and three out making eight, plus three and six is seventeen, and from what I saw there are probably thirty to forty, so high ball it at forty-five, and we still have a ■■■■ load left.” She sighed “We need more guns, by which I mean bodies with guns. Quiet, we’re here.”
She pressed herself against the wall next to the door and prepped for entry. Wainwright stood a little off to one side, shotgun at the ready and nodded to her. Gaige breathed in deep, trying to resurrect that old Vault Hunter in her, where had it gone, she wondered and when? Had her edge been slipping gradually? It’s not like she hadn’t been in fights for her life many times in the last few years. So why was this different? Why was she feeling off now? Was it as simple as not having Deathtrap with her? No, that wasn’t it, at least not all. Was it that she had nearly lost him? Again that wasn’t all of it, that had happened months ago. And why had she thought about her father when she thought she might die? Well she had been thinking about reuniting with him the last few days. But then what about Artemis. Yes they had been together more than either had been with another person in years, but somehow that wasn’t it. Was it what Wainwright had said on the way in? Had that affected her? Again no, she didn’t feel like that was it. This was getting her nowhere, shelf it and come back to it, like any one of her problems, mechanical or work. Usually when you spent time away from it and came back, the solution was more readily there. No, time to shake off the cobwebs. And nothing like kicking some ass to knock the rust off the old killer instinct.
She let out her breath and twisted the knob, throwing the door open. When no blast followed from within, she spun around the frame and threw herself into a roll. Coming up in a crouch on one side of the room she pivoted, sweeping the room. Finding it empty she let Wainwright know it was clear and surveyed the room properly.
In stark contrast to the rest of the factory the room was the usual Jakobs slightly decayed opulence. It appeared to be some kind of reception area, with large wooden desks organized in rows. The ink wells, papers and computers that had sat on them had been brushed onto the thick carpeted floor, leaving stains that would never come out, not that the filth covered boots of the goons hadn’t done worse than that already. The paintings were astray or knocked off the walls, and the filing cabinets had been ransacked.
Moving through the wreck they came to another door, and after a check, found it opened to a hall lined with heavy wooden doors.
A few nerve-wracking minutes of sweeping the rooms, which turned out to be similarly wrecked offices, they came to a T juncture. Running low on time they split up, leaving Deathtrap to guard the hall and be ready to come to their aid if needed.
The first room Gaige opened on was a large board room. The once opulent table was now piled with guns, ammo, and anything of value that could be looted. Suppressing the old desire to sift through the piles for anything exceptional or rare she moved on. As she came to the next door, the one at the end of the hall swung open and two goons emerged, holding an ECHO. Without missing a beat, Gaige spun and fired two short bursts, downing both. Without waiting to see if more emerged, she grabbed the knob on the door in front of her and rolled in while opening it, which turned out to be the right call as a shotgun blast tore through the air above her. Rolling up, she spotted the goon who must have been hiding in the room, crouching behind the desk. Springing forward she vaulted the desk, slamming her spiked shin guard into his head. Grabbing his gun with her cyber hand she twisted it aside and jammed her gun barrel under his chin.
“Hi” She said while smiling “If you don’t want your few brains to end up as modern art all over this wall, where are you keeping the Jakobs workers?”
“Screw you bitch, when I get” his threats where cut off as Gaige pulled the trigger.
“Try to be nice and this is what I get.” She muttered to herself while dashing back to the door.
After a brief hand signal to Deathtrap letting him know she was good, she quietly checked the rest
of the rooms, finding them empty, though the last office was decidedly more opulent then the rest,
and judging by the stuffed fish on the wall, she assumed was the bosses office, but he wasn’t in at
Hoping Wainwright had better luck, she started back down the hall just as Deathtrap started firing lasers down the hall they had entered. Swearing she took off running to help.
Sliding up to the corner, Deathtrap having moved to the other side, using the wall for the best cover he could with his bulky frame, she swung her gun around and started firing.
“Wainwright, hurry up and find something.” she shouted.
“I am doing my best.” came the reply. “Aha, stairs.”
“Go, get your employees.” She yelled back “But beware, the guards will be ready. We’ll hold them off, so be quick about it.”
“You sure babe?”
“You’re probably right, but I don’t like it. You stay safe and don’t be afraid to fall back if things start to go bad, K?”
Gaige nodded and backed away from the hall, before sprinting and at the last second dropping into a slide, crossing under the wave of fire that responded to her silence. Dashing down the hall she waved to get Wainwright’s attention.
Sliding up to the door frame she rattled off “Deathtrap says he can hold them off so I should back you up, but let’s hurry.”
“All right. It seems to be this way.”
“I’ll go first, follow me.” and without waiting for a reply, she descended the stairs at a sprint,
leaping the last half to land in a crouch, gun sweeping the short corridor. The wood paneling
continued down the hall, but the carpets where replaced with hard wood floors, making it seem
like the inside of a barrel.
Finding no one, she signaled for Wainwright to join her, and they continued down the hall to the three doors at the end. Starting on the left they threw open the thick wood door to find a second door made of solid metal. With no lock on it Gaige opened it and swept the room, finding shelves of paper records neatly organized on them. With no one inside they went across the hall.
This door likewise opened to a second door this one with a dial lock, but with a simple push they found it also opened. Inside they found empty shelves and torn open boxes. Likely where important works and finished high end guns were stored. Leaving the last door, which they approached with rising tension, cause if they were wrong, they would be in trouble.
Like the last two, they found a double door, this one with a three-key lock, and like the last one it was open. Holding her breath for a second, Gaige calmed herself, time was of the essence, she could hear the gunfire from upstairs still, but she could not screw up again. Letting her breath out she dove through the door. The guards that had been lying in wait opened fire, again proving that they were not professionals by both shooting at where she should have been standing, instead missing her. She rolled up and unleashed two short bursts downing them. Standing with a sigh she turned to the door, only to feel a round slam into her shield knocking her forward.
‘■■■■’ she thought ‘Again?’
Wainwright stepped through the door and unleashed both barrels on the goon who had been hiding in a side door, killing him in a spray of blood. Quickly reloading he scanned the room before turning to Gaige. “You alright?”
“Gah took that one right in the ego.” She cursed. “I’m fine. No I’m not, been half a step off all day. And it’s PISSING ME OFF!”
“Well if you’ve got that much piss and vinegar left, you must be fine, now let’s find my workers.”
They went through the door the third guard had come through and found a room with bars crossing it holding a group of men. A group of rather ugly, unkempt men.
“Would you be the workers of this fine factory?”
“O wasta ow?” one of them managed through a mouth of broken teeth.
“Wainwright?” a voice echoed from the back “You’re Wainwright Jakobs aren’t you. It’s me Brandibarry. Reginald Brandibarry. We met a few years ago on Eden 6.”
The man who stepped forward had the look of someone who had been used to a good life, but had not eaten in a few days. His once magnificent suit was torn and grubby, the skin on his stubbly jowls hung loose and his eyes had a sunken look to them.
“Brandibarry! What the devil happened to you?”
“It’s those bandits, they just showed up one day demanding we start making guns for them. We refused of course, we are all Jakobs family after all, so they rounded us up and well you can see that we haven’t broken.” he said with some pride.
“And I assume that you would all like some payback on them?”
“Damn straight.” came the reply from the cage.
“Then let’s get you out of there.”
“On it” Gaige called having already spent the last few moments searching the bodies for the key.
“We’ll need our weapons, they should be next door.”
“Unfortunately that room is empty.”
Gaige held up the key in triumph before tossing it to Wainwright.
As he opened the cell she informed them “Your guns and stuff are on a table in some conference room, but they are on the other side of a firefight.”
“Well, you heard her, those of you who can still fight and are willing to risk life and limb follow me.”
To no ones surprise the entire mob of workers surged forward, following them upstairs, though most stopped at the sight of a massive floating robot firing lasers. Gaige ran up to him and slid across the hall, taking her position and opening fire. The men moved up uneasily to Deathtrap eying him.
Wainwright moved to the head of the line and called to Gaige to let him know when it was clear as she ducked back to reload.
“Go!” She shouted as she resumed fire and the first few ran across the gap, not stopping til they got to the boardroom, where a few seconds later she heard the lamenting cries of the men sobbing over the treatment of their ‘babies’. Even though she understood completely, Gaige still let out a sigh, wishing they would get their ‘babies’ and come help, even as she sent a second group after them.
Eventually they started showing up to fight, which allowed them all to push forward down the hall, moving from door to door till they got to the first room.
Skillfully leaping over the pile of dead bodies that Deathtrap had made, with a little help from her, Gaige hurried up to the main door, only to be surprised by what she found.
Standing in front of a line of the rest of the bandits, who were standing with their hands up a few paces back from their guns, was the evil looking bandit, with a gun pointed at the back of a man who was dressed in what had once been nice clothes.
“We wish to surrender.” the evil looking man said flatly “Except for the boss, who would’ve liked us to all fight to the death, which is why I have a gun pointed at him.”
“You traitorous Skag excrement.” the well-dressed man was swearing at him. “You’ll all go to prison for what you’ve done you know.”
“Shut it. I can survive prison. They’ve freed the prisoners and taken the weapons, they’ve won. Only a fool dies when he doesn’t have to. So I go to prison, I stay alive. I fight, I’ll die. Simple as that.” he turned to the door that Gaige and Wainwright were at “Now if you could train your guns on him, I can set this one down, then we can call the authorities and get this over with. And before you think that we have snipers or anything out here, we all know that if one of you gets shot, the rest of you will mow us down, and like I said, I want to live.”
Gaige looked to Wainwright and Brandibarry “It’s your call.”
“Very well” Wainwright called out “We will send out some of the men to tie you up, if that is an acceptable solution.”
When the man nodded, Brandibarry motioned to a few of the workers who cautiously moved out and covered the now prisoners. After a moment Deathtrap emerged followed by the rest and took custody of the lot of them.
A few of the workers went and found some cording and set about tying them up when one of the workers, with a split lip and swollen eye walked up to one of them.
“'Member me?” he asked pulling back and driving the butt of his gun at the mans head, only to be stopped by Wainwright.
“There will be none of that. That is not the Jakobs way. This man is bound and our captive. Treat him with the dignity that entails, even if you did not receive it.”
“Sorry” came the sullen reply.
“Don’t worry. I’ll deal with him.” Brandibarry said.
“Nonsense, after what you all have been through, if a few of the men didn’t have their dander up, they wouldn’t be Jakobs men, but they do need to remember their etiquette. Take this man and get him a good stiff drink and let him cool his head before he returns.”
“Now then, you lead these ruffians?” He said turning to the well-dressed man.
Getting a better look at him Gaige saw that he was probably in his late thirties, with dark hair that had been shaved on the sides, though it had since grown out, and was longer on top, that had probably once been greased back but was now just naturally oily. A dark beard, moving into unkempt territory, covered his lower face. His suit was of a nice cut, a few years out of date, and looking like it had been worn since then. The scuffed shoes on his feet where the same ones she had seen talking to the evil looking bandit and Stander earlier.
“Does it look like I’m leading anyone?” The man spat.
“Well then, I do believe we will need to have a sit-down chat, see if we can’t fix that attitude of yours.”
They left the goons under the care of the workers and lead the man to one of the offices. After sitting him down, they got down to it.
“Now then, who are you and why are you trying to steal from me.”
The man glared at them before sighing “I’ll take a whiskey, then I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
Once everyone had a drink the man started.
“My name is Brion Petterson, and I once worked for Hyperion, before those bastards fired me. You see, after the death of Handsome Jack, the company needed to restructure and rebrand, so they hired a bunch of us to oversee it. And we did. My department especially was successful, not only did we come up with the ‘We didn’t know Jack’ campaign, we were the ones who came up with the idea to install shields into our guns. We brought the company back from the brink and what did those bastards do?
They ‘cut back in redundant areas’ which is their way of saying ‘thanks for saving us, now piss off’. Didn’t even give us severance pay, no we got stock, stock we couldn’t sell for twenty-five years. Even worse we couldn’t work for a competitor due to a clause in the contract, so we couldn’t even get a job. Which is how I ended up with these traitorous dogs.”
“Their boss actually kidnapped me to try and ransom me, but well, didn’t work out. Not many people willing to pay for an out of work executive. So I had to get creative to survive. Wound up taking over the gang, you know, a little bit of smooth words here, a few rumors there, a couple ideas for jobs that worked out, and bam, new chief. Only to get back at Hyperion I needed more. More gangs, more bodies, and for that I needed the one commodity that speaks to these reprobates, guns. Of course I would have loved to use Hyperion guns to take my revenge, but those places, ■■■■, the one good thing that they kept from the Jack times was his sense of paranoia, so they were out. So we needed guns and you had the worst security, I mean look at this place, it’s like you were inviting us in, no wonder you almost lost your company to an outsider. Well I suppose we could have went after Tedior, but seriously I wanted a gun that works. And that brings us to here. And I’ve finished my drink.”
“So, if it was our security or lack thereof that brought you here, what made you think you could hold it?”
“Ah that, well we figured that we would take the place, take the guns that where here, make your workers produce as many as they could in about a week, and then be gone.”
“Even if someone showed up to investigate we should be able to take them, right? It’s not like you’re DAHL or Vladof or those psychos who work for Maliwan, I mean those guys give me the creeps. Anyway, that’s where I went wrong, I didn’t think those bandits were such pansies. Or that those workers would hold out like that, ■■■■, I could use an army of them. Or that you’d show up with a damn death robot, I mean seriously who the hell made that monster.”
“That would be me.”
“And you sold it to Jakobs? If I could sell that to Hyperion, I could get back in. Let me have it. Just the plans, that’s all I need. What’da you say? Deal right.”
“He’s not for sale. Not to Jakobs and not to you and definitely not to Hyperion. I was there when Jack died you know, and let me tell you, he got what was coming.”
“Oh ■■■■, you, I recognize you. You’re that chick, the one with the price on her head, Ginger or Gauge or something. Hey, hey buddy, what do yah say, we turn her in and collect that hefty bounty, I’ll split it with you, even give you forty no wait forty five percent, it’s a great deal right. Come on, how bout it?”
“I think we are done here, Brandibarry if you wouldn’t mind gagging our guest here it would be
“It would be truly my pleasure.” He said with a cold smile.
“And Gaige, first off just so you know, I would never dream of selling you out. And second, time for you to go see the doctor.”
“Just as long as it’s not Zed.”
They had traveled through the day and finally set up camp a short ways outside of the Diomos territory.
There was a small fire going and they were roasting some small animal that Hammerlock had bagged on the way. A few small devices where set up that would keep most of the smaller predators away while they ate and slept, and they were settling in when Hammerlock made a declaration.
“We will now partake in the old hunter’s tradition of swapping manly stories over the fire. Not that you’re manly, or that you would be mistaken for a man. Oh dear, I’m afraid I’ve made a bit of a mess of this.”
Jinx looked at him “K, but what’d you mean by manly stories? I mean do the stories have to be
“No no, it’s just an expression. It’s just a tradition that when two hunters share a fire, they swap hunting stories, usually exaggerated and full of bravado.”
“I don’t lie about my hunts, defeats the purpose if no one believes you.”
“Not lie, embellish. But since that doesn’t seem like something you’d want to do, let’s instead tell about a hunt that changed us in some way.”
“And I suppose I’m to go first?”
“Well it is polite to let the lady go first.”
“I ain’t no lady, but a hunt that changed me. Huh.”
“Well you are at least female, but you should work at being a lady. It has many uses, or so I’m told. Not out here of course, but back in town. May not be the worst thing to learn. Perhaps it would even amuse Gaige.”
“She’d prefer me to be who I am, and leave her out of this.”
“Touché. So on to the story. Can be any hunt. And the change doesn’t have to be physical, maybe a time you saw something beautiful, or a time you were afraid. Anything.”
“Everyone gets afraid, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, I could tell you some stories of times I was terrified. None more so than on my wedding day, ho ho, what a story that was, but I’ll save that for later, now’s your turn.”
“Never said I didn’t get afraid, was just thinking of a time, now this would have been about a year ago? Little longer maybe. I was on Gralin, it’s a moon around Nelia 9. It’s a frozen moon, lots of ice, and I was hunting for Mitrith, which is about the only thing that lives there, well other than Mites, but they’re not worth hunting. Anyway, I was hunting Mitrith and…what?”
“Well, it’s just that your story telling needs work, you need to elaborate, expound upon things.”
“I told you I don’t lie.”
Hammerlock shook his head “No no not embellish, elaborate. Describe things more.”
“Oh, is that how it’s pronounced.”
“It’s just, well, I’ve read a lot, but I don’t really know how things are supposed to be, you know, pronounced, so I kinda fumble around sometimes.” he could tell even in the firelight that she was blushing from embarrassment.
“Ah, is that what that was, no worries, I had been wondering, because it seemed like you had an expansive knowledge of verbiage, but seemed to stumble over them sometimes.” he said but quickly switched tact to save her from shutting down in embarrassment.
“What I was meaning about embellishing, was to try and get your audience to feel what you felt. An example would be you described Grailin as a frozen moon, but that doesn’t really tell me much. How cold was it, was there wind, what formations did the terrain take and on and so forth? By telling me these things, I get a better feel for what you went through. Also never assume that your audience knows what you are talking about, so unless you know that they know, ask. For example, I myself have never hunted Mitrith so I am unfamiliar with their physiology and dynamics.”
“Oh um K. Let’s see. I was hunting on Grailin, an ice moon around Nelia 9. And it was cold, really cold, with winds constantly blowing throwing little bits of ice and dust at you, so I was wearing goggles. You know those protective kind over my eyes, and a mask over my lower face. Let’s see, there where cliffs and these cracks in the ice fields wide enough to walk down.”
“Didn’t your cybernetics have problems, I know mine do if it gets too cold?”
“No I had installed a heating element into them.”
“Ah, then try this next time ‘It was so cold that if I hadn’t installed a heating element in my cybernetics, I would have had frostbite in less than a minute’ or something like that. See how it creates an evocation of the atmosphere.”
“K, so yeah, it was that cold. I was there to hunt Mitrith, which are these crystal crab-spider things. Um, let’s see, they have six limbs, usually and are about two to three feet in diameter, made out of a clearish blue crystal, usually, with like a pinkish core thing in the middle that has veiny things branching out. They live in these warrens, I think they’re called or maybe dens, or nests or something. But they live around a queen and mostly eat Mites or often other Mitrith, which is super gross if you think about it. Anyway, they’ve got these warriors and their front legs are like huge, with these pincers that could crack most cybernetics.”
“So I was hunting, looking for an entrance into their, we’ll call it a warren for lack of better terms, when the entire sheet of ice I was standing on cracks and gives way, and woosh, down I fall. Turns out I was walking on top of a warren the whole time. Anyway, I fall into a tunnel, and bounce around hitting things, getting beat up and then splat crack I hit the ground and all these ice chunks hit around me. I come to in a world of pain, I mean I hadn’t felt pain like that in years. Turns out my leg had got tangled with my rifle as I fell and ended up breaking both, my leg in two places and my rifle is bent and the stock is busted into these splintery shards, meaning it’s useless. And to make things worse, I look around and find that I’ve landed in the middle of the Mitrith nest, the little ones are scuttling around freaking out because ice just rained on them. Lucky for me, they haven’t found me yet, ice chunks had made a bit of a ring around me. But I’m in a bad way, legs busted, guns busted, I can’t run, and to fight, I’m down to my back up pieces, a pistol and a SMG, a Maliwan fire-caustic one, don’t remember the name. And I realize I’m gonna die, or at least most likely.”
She paused, trying to figure out how to continue for long enough that Hammerlock was beginning to worry that she had ended her tale, when she spoke in a small voice that was barely audible over the fire. “Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t that I was gonna die that really freaked me. It was the sudden knowledge, the realization that no one knew I was there. That I was gonna die, and no one would know. No one would care. That’s what had an icy fist around my heart. I mean this place is in the middle of nowhere, like edge of the map. And I didn’t have anyone to tell that I was off to, or where I would be, so there is no rescue, no help coming. And I’m seized by this exta-stren-tal, no wait that’s not right.”
“Existential” Hammerlock ventured softly.
“That’s how it goes? Existential dread. I’m gonna vanish from the galaxy and not only will there be no one to morn, there will be no one who knows. I’m just gonna be gone, poof that’s it. No more me. And I’m nearly paralyzed with it. But that’s actually what got me through, I didn’t want to be forgotten before I had anyone to remember me, so I take the ruined rifle and tie it to my leg as a splint. And I proceeded to hobble and crawl my way out. And if you ever find yourself hunting Mitrith know that they dislike caustic much more than fire. Melts the little buggers to goo.”
“Truth is, even after getting off that moon, the dread kept coming back, late at night, and especially on a hunt. But I went back out, got back on the horse as they say, though I don’t know who says that. Nearly died. My first hunt I mean. Held back, was to cautious. I can’t say I’m over it completely, but I will say I no longer hold back on the hunt.”
“And you are no longer alone. I am sure that Gaige would miss you if you were gone.”
“We’ve only known each other a couple days, so I don’t know about that.”
“It’s not about the length of time, but the quality of the time you’re with someone that matters.”
“Why do you seem so interested in me and her?”
“Because, when I saw her earlier today, I thought that was the happiest that I have ever seen her. Like the shadow that has hung over her since the day I met her had retreated, it was still there but almost gone. And that made me happy for her.”
“Well that probably has more to do with her being almost out from under that massive bounty on her head. Can’t be easy living like that.”
“That might be part, but when you were together it looked like she was alive with you, not in spite of. Which is why I think you should tell her that story.”
“Because it would help her to understand you a bit, and what frightens you, even if it’s only to a small extent. Anyway, I suppose it’s my turn to tell a story. So let me tell you about the time I had to survive with only a spork and unripe Guana fruit. Which in the theme of the stories, is also where I met Winny.” And so, they told stories into the night.