Hunter's Folly: A Borderlands Tale

I wrote this story as a challenge to myself.

Could I finish a story, could I work on a project day after day and see it through to the end?

Not give up part way through, but actually finish.

And I did.

So I now present it to you.

I wrote the characters the way I interpreted them, this is more or less the way I see them, or would like to. It will not necessarily be the same way they exist in your mind, but that is part of reading the work of someone else, to see a familiar world from a new perspective.

I hope you enjoy it, or at least get some pleasure from it.

That said, feedback would be greatly appreciated. Though I must ask it be constructive. By all means, hate it, but if you can, don’t just write that it sucks, explain what about it you didn’t like, or if you did, what that was.

If this brings anyone any joy, that would be great. If someone likes it, it would be fantastic. But in the end, I wrote this for myself. And in that, I am more or less satisfied. There are, of course, sections that I am not one hundred percent satisfied with, but if I try for that, I would never be done.

So I think I’ve rambled on long enough.

Please enjoy my contribution to the Borderlands universe.

I apologize for the way I have to post it, character cap limits and all that.
The story is also posted on both fanfiction.net and Wattpad if you would prefer to read it on either of those sites.

Note

I do not own the characters, setting, nor items used in this story. Nor do I claim to. They belong to Gearbox and whomever else created them. They have been used in good faith, with good intentions, with hopefully evident love and without permission.

This story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual people and/or events is purely coincidental. Any comments, derogatory remarks or offensive comments are not intended to be, if a character is saying it, it is being said by that character, and should not be taken personally. Any social message or real world allegory is likely not intended, I’m not that clever. But if you find one you liked, feel free to give me credit anyway.

Warning:

This story contains depictions of violence and gore, strong language including mild sexual references as well as references to assault, and grievous grammatical errors, if any of these things are offensive to you, proceed at your own risk.

cover

and a pic of one of the characters

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Chapter 1

Galia

“Another amazing wedding, aye babe.”

“Urug”

“Well of course we’re gonna party, so…duh…there’ll be Margs aplenty” the Mecromancer said her robot bestie, her coppery pigtails bouncing jauntily as she walked. Wearing her trademark red and black outfit and jean shorts over striped stockings she looked very much like a young mechanic out for a walk with her robot. “and prolly an omelet or two.”

“Urur” the floating robot next to her growled. He was made of a stack of mismatched shapes, boxes and spikes, topped off with a head with a red crystal stuck in it, and not a smooth one, it looked like someone had jammed a rough-hewn crystal directly into his face, which was more or less what had happened. The motley paint job was plastered with stickers and doodles and told of years on the road.

“Yeesh, what’s got your circuits in a knot, huh?” Gaige wondered aloud “It’s not like I have THAT many, and besides you won’t let me do anything to crazy or let anything happen to me even if I did”

“Never have yet” she muttered under her breath.

“Urur”

“What’s that supposed to mean” she said, stopping and turning to him, hands on her hips, fixing him with a flat stare that would cause most sane people to take a step back, or move around her while giving her a fearful glance.

“Ururg” Deathtrap said

“Huh?”

“Ururg” he repeated pointing ahead.

Gaige turned and looked, the road they were on was wide, with short brightly painted buildings partially hidden by hedges on either side, the spaceport looming ahead, partially hidden behind thin clouds. And in the crossroad just ahead of them stood an extremely suspicious figure.

Their hood, mottled green with purple lines, did a good job hiding their face, but the dark gray cloak over the rest of them, did nothing to hide the rifle on their back.

“Gaige” the voice, softer than she expected said as their head cocked slightly to the side “and Deathtrap, correct?”

Gaige shot a subtle glance to her side, letting her partner know to be ready, he responded with a slight change in posture, readying himself for a fight.

“Any requests for a wedding consultation are by ECHO appointment” Gaige said shifting her grip, readying herself to draw the assault rifle on her back. “still, nice of you to acknowledged my bud here, most people don’t even acknowledge him.”

‘Not good’ she thought, if this is a fight, they’ve already acknowledged that there were two combatants, a mistake that had saved her more times than it should, anyone that underestimated her BFF met a bad and sudden end.

“I’m not here to get married, don’t have anyone anyway, not even a date” the voice trailed
off to a sad mutter on the last that Gaige almost couldn’t make out before returning to normal
“Weird business though, being a wedding planner I mean, especially for someone on the run.
Always thought that, though it kinda makes it easy to find you, which I’m grateful for…WhohWhohWhohWhohDon’tShootDon’tShoot.” the voice shot up a few octaves cracking
at the end as Gaige whipped her rifle up. The figure’s right hand waved clear of the cloak, while their left twitched underneath causing the whole cloak to wave about, frantically thrashing until it got clear, showing that they had no weapons drawn.

“Notheretofightyounotheretofightyou, lower your weapons” the voice squeaked “…please?”

Gaige took note, the exposed left arm was cybernetic, smooth metal dulled to reduce reflection, and a fair piece of work, judging by the apparent quality of it. “Who are you, and whaddya want with us?”

The figures right hand moved.

“Slowly” Gaige cautioned keeping her gun trained.

The hand slowed down and gently tossed the hood back. What was revealed was not what Gaige was expecting, the face was, if she had to describe it, was ‘tomboy pretty’. She appeared to be younger than Gaige, with a strange style about her, the right side of the girl’s hair was in spikes, going from dark purple to nearer to magenta at the points, the left side was buzzed short. Her full lips where covered in purple lipstick that matched her eyeshadow over her large violet eyes that stood out in sharp contrast to her barely tanned skin, in fact she was about as pale as Gaige herself was. And now that Gaige was getting a good look at her, she thought the other girl was probably shorter than her, probably by almost a full head.

“My name is Jinx,” the girl said “I’m a hunter, which I think, is why Holloway tried to hire me. Don’tshootme!” she waved her hands again as Gaiges’ gun snapped back up “Tried, he tried, I turned him down, obviously. I’m not here to hurt you or try to or anything like that.”

“Then what, I’m supposta believe you’re here to what, warn me that the guy who’s after me is still after me?”

“Well when you put it like that”

“DON’T SCREW WITH ME! “

“Urug”

“Ahem…you’re right babe, sorry bout that, now, what do you want with me?’

“Um…like I was saying, Holloway tried to hire me to hunt you down, of course I turned him down, but I realized that you would be just the person I needed for…” she trailed off eyes focusing off behind Gaige. Her demeaned changed dramatically, eyes narrowing and starting to emit a predatory aura, her voice dropping to a flat tone “We’ll finish this in a moment, don’t shoot me, seriously.”

And with that her right hand flew to the clasp on her cloak, while her left deftly spun the sniper rifle off her back even as the cloak fell. Dropping into a crouch, she fired calmly at Gaige, the bullet whipped past her and she heard a squishy pop even as the rifle fired again. And again, six times as the girl rotated, each time accompanied by the same pop of a head transforming into grisly chunks, before carefully setting the gun down with her left hand, as her right dropped to her side, drawing a heavy pistol as she stood. Continuing the turn, she fanned the hammer hitting the dark armored figures that emerged from the bushes. Only the last and most heavily armored of them was still standing as the last shot pinged off his helmet.

“That pea-shooter won’t work traitor” the man said, as Gaige got a good look at him. His dark armor was polished with a smooth lacquered finish, the joints covered in a heavy weave, his helmet was of a similar dark material as his armor. The only identifying marking was a brown star-burst on his chest. In his hands he held a heavy assault rifle.

“Can’t be a traitor, never worked for you” Jinx replied lowering her pistol.

The man snorted, “Whatever, you killed my men, so traitor or not I’m gonna kill you now.”

As he started to raise his rifle, Jinx’s left hand drew a pistol from across the small of her back.
As Gaige saw it, she revised her thought, it was a hand cannon. Leveling it, Jinx fired once, her left arm remaining steady even as the cannon barked and the attackers head vanished in a mist of gore.

Jinx lowered her arm as the remains of the man slowly toppled over, “I really should think up some pithy comment for times like these” she muttered to herself.

Gaige slowly looked behind herself at the dead bodies fallen out of the bushes and on the street,
and whispered an aside to Deathtrap “Ya know, I’m startin to believe her about not bein here to
try and hurt us”

“Urgru”

“Couldn’ta said it better myself.” Gaige looked at the other girl, who had turned and was facing them with her pistols at her sides “OK, so let’s say I believe you about not being here to try and hurt us, then what are you here for? And what’d that jerk want with you? Holloway, not that dead guy behind you. Him to, actually, who’s he? And what’s with that gun? And what’s with that look?” She ranted as a small smile crept onto the other girls’ face.

“You really haven’t changed, have you”

“And why are you acting like you know me!?”

“Um…can I get my stuff so we can get outta here before anyone unwanted shows up to, I dunno, investigate gunfire?”

“Fine, but I’m getting answers as soon as we do.”

Jinx nodded as she holstered the cannon, before popping the cylinder on her pistol, and with a practiced hand dropped new rounds in so fast they seemed to blur, before snapping it closed and holstering it. As she went to pick up her rifle Gaige got a good look at it, with her familiarity she could tell at a glance it, like the pistol, was a Jakobs, but unlike most of their sniper rifles it had no scope.

“That’s related to the Buffalo, isn’t it, but I’ve never seen one with a cylinder before.”

“Another question,” Jinx muttered “but good eye, yes it’s a descendent, or offshoot of the Buffalo, this one’s called a Rhino.” She said while reloading it.

“Never cared for the scope-less line myself, too hard to line up a clean shot”

“I’ve got good eyesight, and it’s got unparalleled stopping power, besides I didn’t think aiming was really your thing, too much order in it.”

“There you go again, seriously, why ya actin like ya know me?” She said warily before muttering “Besides I’m not that kid anymore.”

Jinx shook her cloak and tossed it over her shoulder. “I’ll talk as we walk, so lets.”

“First, sticking with the guns, this is a unique custom piece, bit of a prototype, I guess.” she said patting the handle of the gun on her back “Trying to get the most stopping power I can, lacks some accuracy though. Haven’t chosen a name yet.”

“Second those goons are some mercenary company or something, maybe Holloway’s personal mercs, not entirely sure.”

“Which leads to that jerk, as you so rightly called him. He heard I was a hunter, mistook that for having bounty with it, I ain’t, told him that. He didn’t care. Tried to hire me anyway, told him I ain’t
for sale, he laughed, said ‘course I was, everyone was’, so I stormed out.” Jinx stated her voice was going flat, which Gaige realized was her getting angry. “Wait, before that I asked him why he was
doin this now, he told me to shut up, hired hands didn’t need to know, then I told him I wasn’t for
sale, that’s right.”

“So, anyways, I was curious, why now, bit early for an anniversary, right. So I did some digging, turns out he’s about to lose his claim to a bounty on you. See, one of his products had a slight glitch in the programing, killed some people, people whose families would sue, so he did what any corrupt dick in a suit with his position does, got some laws changed. Only he had to get them applied retroac…retroarc…back dated. Only that means you get out of your ‘murder’ charge as well, so he has it, the law thing, being held as long as he can, but it has to go into effect in like a week, or his suing gets there first. Next Tuesday, that’s when. So next Wednesday your free.”

“Wait…what” Gaige stopped and stared at the back of the other girl in disbelief. “He can’t come after me after next Tuesday?”

“Well he can, but not legally”

“But I’ll still have a bounty on my head.”

“For what?”

“UH…creation of unauthorized technology?”

“What? That got thrown out like…three years ago I think, something like that. There was like a thing where the tech was being used by the police bots, and if you where the one who made it, then if they were using it, it had to be stolen, otherwise you didn’t create it. I think your dad was behind that.”

“Best. Dad. Ever.” Gaige yelled. “So, wait, I’m about to be free?”

“Yeah. Well, there is still the excessive adorability charge, but you can probably plea that down to involuntary cuteness, or maybe hotness in the third degree.” Gaige blinked, was the other girl cracking a joke?

“But that’s partially why I came searching for you. And why douche-bags’ getting desperate to kill you”

Gaige continued to stand staring at Jinxes back, unable to process what she’d been told.

“I’m about to be free?” she repeated. “like I can go home, see my family? Not have people after me? Free?”

Jinx stopped and turned back, “Well there will still be people after you, I mean there’s probably a couple bandit clans that want your head, and some corporate suits after you for something, and probably some fines to pay or something, but yeah, free.” She suddenly looked a bit perplexed “Though I still find it odd, you killed Marcie by accident and I just killed like, a dozen people on purpose, and you get charged with murder, but I get to just walk away, I know it has something to do with their jobs, hunting people and such. Ah well someone tried to explain it to me once, but I didn’t get it.”

Gaige’s eyes narrowed “There you go again” she shifted her grip on her gun “Why do you keep acting like you know me?”

The other girl looked uncomfortable “I do know you.” she muttered looking away.

“How? I don’t remember you, we didn’t go to the same school did we?”

“No, we’ve never met before.”

“Then what, how do you know me, wait are you a stalker or something”

“What! No!”

“Then spill it, or we’re outa here”

“Urgr”

Jinx looked down, as she slowly ground her toe of her boot into the concrete. And then with a sigh looked ahead into the sky “You didn’t know me by Jinx, would you remember me, I wonder,” she sighed “My ECHO handle is AR73M15”

“AR73M15, AR7…wait YOUR Artemis? You where what, my fifth follower, one of the two who stayed subscribed?”

The other girl nodded as her ears reddened.

“So that’s why you know all those things?” Gaige staggered, then whispered “Then that’s why you turned down Holloway?” Again, a nod.

“Wait, anyone could have looked at old logs, prove it.”

“I …can’t, the best I can do is,” she was stammering, before she let out a sigh “The best I can do is,
I sent you one privet ECHO, ‘Faithful subscriber here. Marcie sounds like she couldn’t find a Vorx’s butt from the inside, don’t let her get to you, just wanted to let you know how much of an inspiration you are. Your Friend (?) Ar73m15’ ” her ears where practically glowing as she spoke while staring at the ground.

Gaige stared at her, jaw hanging open, “Wha… you really are her. My mind. Is. Blown. Seriously, first Holloway, then my dad, and now this, I don’t think I can handle any more.”

“When Holloway ECHOed me, I…I had been searching for something, I…I can’t talk about it here, but I realized that I could finally help you, and you could help me. Do you have a ship?”

“Uh…no, no I had one, stole it from some bounty hunters. What? They were dead, it’s not like they were using it anymore. And then another group of bounty hunters blew it up.”

“Wow, that’s…unfortunate. We can go to mine, if it’s alright with you.”

“Sure, sure. Just a normal day, following a strange girl to her ship. Still trying to process all this. I cannot believe this day…mind, still, blown.”

Chapter 2

Hunters Moon

The fast travel station deposited them near the cargo hold, or so Gaige surmised from the piles of crates and stuff covered in tarps she could see through the door. Ahead on the side was a workshop, with various parts of what appeared to be left arms and legs in various stages of build, along with other projects she couldn’t easily identify. They passed through what would best be described as a mud room, with racks for boots and tools and a partitioned off shower area and as they went through an ornate door the open pipes and metal floors were replaced with wood paneling and deep patterned carpeting.

The other girl led her through a wide room lined with trophies, some Gaige recognized, a prime horned saurian, a double scaled milinx, and others she had never even heard of, one looked like a crystal bird head, another a dragon head that reached from floor to ceiling.

Up some stairs, another door opened onto the bridge.

“I would recommend that you hide until after next Tuesday.” Jinx said turning to Gaige “I know
some places that would be hard to find, or we could just hide the ship and wait.”

“Can’t, I got a wedding tomorrow evening, so I need to be there by one to make sure things get
set up right.”

“You should cancel, but I suspect you’ll refuse, so where is it.”

“Talion 6”

The other girl leaned around one of the leather chairs and programed the course in. Then she led Gaige back to what would best be described as a sitting room, even though it only had one armchair. The room was lined with cases filled with books and small artifacts. One wall was an armory display, to which Jinx walked, pulling her guns out, checking them before hanging them up.

“Have a seat” she said waiving to the chair before crouching next to the fancy burl wood desk and opening a cabinet, from which she pulled out a bottle and after some digging two glasses. She set them onto the table next to Gaige before pouring the clear liquid into them.

“Water” she said setting a glass near Gaige “I’m gonna change into something more comfortable, than we can talk.”

When she returned, she had changed into a pair of tattered jeans, the right leg missing from mid-thigh showing a purple and white striped stocking, the right side had tears around the knee and elsewhere, relieving her artificial leg. Her top was a dark green hooded shirt with no right sleeve and the left rolled to mid-bicep reveling a purple lining, the lower part of which was similarly uneven, with the right side being full, and the left consisting of four narrow straps over the lower part of a leather chest guard that went over her right breast and shoulder.

She snagged the desk chair and pulled it up, snagging her glass, before curling into it, with her left leg bent up to rest her cheek on, her glass dangling from her fingertips.

“Before we start, can I get you anything, coffee? I think there was some tea somewhere when I got this ship, something to eat?”

“Got anything stronger?”

“You’ve already had something stronger, by the smell, and I prefer to be cogni…cornaz…clear headed while we talk.”

“Urgru”

“Fine, team up on me then” Gaige said grabbing her water “So what couldn’t you say on the surface?”

“I suppose I should start at the beginning, or there abouts, maybe a little later.”

“I first found your ECHO casts while I was in the hospital, after the accident” she started looking into the distance, her right-hand tightening on her left arm. “I had been trolling through dozens of casters when I found yours, I think what drew me in was that you were real, most of the others sounded, I dunno, scripted? But you were real, relatable, talking about things that where small, not that I’m saying that they were small or unimportant to you, only, well, not massive, earth shaking things. A fight at school, a bully, loneliness, your parents, and such. Anyway, that’s what got me into robotics, before I got released, I already had designs for my first arm, it was crude but it worked. I continued to follow you until you stopped casting, then to be honest I would think about you from time to time, you know, wondering what ever happened to you, but overall, kinda forgot about you. Sorry.”

“Well, about the time you arrived on Pandora, there was a problem in my area, a wild tusked skraling had started attacking hikers. So, they placed a bounty on it. I, wanting to test out my latest limbs, went and bought the only gun I could afford, a Tediore piece of crap, and some ammo, and went hunting.

And I found it, but that piece of crap gun didn’t do anything but piss it off, but I noticed that the reload throw did hurt it, so I just threw the next one, which hurt it and as luck would have it caused it
to roar, my last throw went right into its mouth and blew inside, killing it. Well the reward was some money and a gun, that gun in particular.” she pointed to a well-loved Jakobs pistol on display “I carried that gun for years, saved my butt more times than I can count, started my love of the Jakobs gun line,
'if it took more than one shot, you weren’t using a Jakobs.” she said with a distant smile.

“Well after that I started to do more hunting, started bagging some pretty good trophies too, got some more guns, and before long I had hunted just about everything worth hunting on the planet. So I did the only thing left, at sixteen I hopped a flight off that rock and never looked back.”

“Wait” Gaige said apologetically “But how old are you?”

“You mean now? Uh…something like twenty what, two or three? Depends on what month it is. How old are you, that might help?”

“You don’t know how old you are?”

“Doesn’t come up in my day to day.”

“Fair enough, as for me, I turn twenty-six next month.”

“That would make me, let’s see, I’m three years younger than you so…twenty-two, I’ll turn twenty-three a week before you.”

“Really? Huh, we nearly share a birthday. Anyway, sorry, carry on.”

“Right, where was I? Right, anyway, like I was saying, over the next few years I taught myself all about hunting, how to track, how to spot weaknesses, how to drop a target without ruining the meat, or hide, or head, whatever I was hunting it for. Then a few years ago there was a big hunt on Wilina 2. Sir Talbot S. Montamore, a legendary hunter, was dying, and all of his heirs where, well as he put it ‘Where less useful than a Ratch turd in a gunfight’ and that they ‘Couldn’t find their prey unless someone nailed a dollar to it.’, so he organized a competition, a grand hunt to determine his will, with the winner getting his estate. So of course, I took part. There was some heavy competition, including more than a few that were representing his relations, and let me tell you, those ones played dirty. Still I went out and did my best.”

“Won the damn thing to, to my chag…shagrim…chagrin, that’s it, chagrin. Took a bit to convince the old man that I didn’t want the estate, I wanted the ship, but then he told me ‘Ship’s part of the estate dipshit.’ so he gave me his old ship. This ship, ‘The Hunters Moon’. It took me a little to get things how I liked them, but I had a home, transport wherever I wanted to go, and I was set. He also insisted I keep the rest of the estate, since I had won it and was the ‘Only real hunter in this pile of greed licked snake farts’, truly had a way with words he did, though I haven’t been back since he passed, but he told me to hold onto it, someday I would want a home to retire to, retire, pfft, don’t ever want to stay in one place that long.”

“So anyway, things went well for a while, then about just under a year ago I was on Tartaris, hunting a beast the locals called ‘The Keeper of the End’, you saw him on the way in, that long skull, looked like a dragon, that one. Anyway, after a long fight, had to snipe his eyes out to get him to land, then blow off some scales to get at his heart, regenerating parts, pain in the butt, anyway when he died, I found something. He must have swallowed it or something, maybe that’s why he was so big, but anyway he had this.” She stood and went to one of the cases, and withdrew a large spiral cylinder of stone, around an orb of what looked like a bramble trying to escape.

“Is that, a Vault Key?” Gaige gasped, her eyes going wide. “You were a Vault Hunter?”

“Yeah, I guess I was, took me almost four months to find that damn Vault, half way down the inside of a live volcano, though it did kinda make his name make more sense in retros…retrospes…retrospect, ‘Keeper of the End’ that is. So, I find the Vault, kill some weird glowy crystaly guys, and find the Vault itself. No one ever tells you what you’ll find inside one of those things, do they.”

“So portal opens and out plops this giant ball of rotting, bloated tentacles, with mouths everywhere, bone spikes and eyes and total gross. And me, I’d figured if there was going to be something, it would be fire based, I mean it was hot as all get out in there, but no, thing was weak to fire. Lucky me, my SMG’s alternate fire mode from ice was fire. So after a long fight with that thing, spent mostly ducking around the room, shooting the eyes and pustules on its’ tentacles, which if I didn’t pop them fast enough spawned mini versions of the thing that floated around vomiting acid and chunks and firing lasers, I had nightmares for weeks, hell I still do once in a while. So anyway, after it dies the gate reopens, and I’m freakin out a bit cause I’m like, almost out of ammo, I mean I think I had like two pistol rounds left at that point, but nothing comes through, so, and I still have no idea why, I go through. Actually, I do know, curiosity, but anyway on the other side was this weird room, with nothin in it. Well almost nothin, there was a creepy statue of one of those crystal guys with his arms extended, and floating above them was something.”

“I knew that whatever it was, I could tell that it was not something that should end up in the wrong hands, so I started to look for someone I could trust with it. And I had no luck with that, none, nada, well until I got the ECHO from Holloway, then I realized, you might know someone, the right someone. So, I help you and you help me, at least that’s what I thought.”

Gaige looked at her, stupefied, before shaking her head “Hold on, you found something, in a Vault, and thought I could help you with it?”

When the other girl nodded, Gaige just sighed “Can I at least see this thing?”

Jinx nodded and opened another cabinet, and after crouching down made a poor attempt to pretend she was fiddling with something behind the door, while actually doing something on her belt. Gaige wasn’t fooled for a second but kept her mouth shut. When the other girl stood back up, she had in her hand an object about eight inches long, that seemed to smoothly transition from red crystal to dull gray stone, and was covered in strange glowing red lines. Jinx reluctantly offered it to Gaige to examine. Holding it in her hands and examining it for a second, she was surprised that the crystal was warm to the touch, and the warmth seemed to pulse in time with the brightness of the lines. After turning it this way and that for a few seconds she handed it back.

“Tannis, you want Tannis.”

“What’s a Tannis?”

“Not what, who. Tannis is this crazy smart lady, emphasis on the crazy, but also the preeminent Eridian expert. She should still be with the Crimson Raiders, so she’s probably on Sanctuary 3, or at least they could tell you where to find her.”

“And where is this Sanctuary 3?”

“No idea, it’s a ship, so it tends to move around a lot.” Gaige admitted “But I might know someone who does. But it’s gonna be out of our way, and that’s if they’re even in, and we’d have to go back there.” she closed her eyes for a second “ You’d need an introduction I suppose. What do ya say babe, should we go see the old B team?” she said as she turned to the large robot floating behind her.

“Urug”

“Yah, not happy about it either, but it would put us out of where we would be expected”

“Urarug”

“OK so maybe they would expect it, but do you think anyone would survive messing with them? Didn’t think so. It’s settled than, after the wedding, we’ll go to Pandora, and make some introductions”

“Well that’s settled” Jinx said returning the artifact from where she’d gotten it, then sat back down before looking around awkwardly. “So…um I don’t really know how these social things are supposed to… proceed, do we… um talk, about what? Do you ask questions? Do I?

“Don’t have a lot of social interactions do you.” Gaige said looking a bit shocked at how fast the conversation had died.

“To tell the truth, other than to order stuff and get info on a hunt I haven’t had a conversation in, well…um, I can’t remember, no wait, it was with Sir Montamore, before I left, that’s it.”

“Wow, I think she might be worse at this than I am, definitely doesn’t have the confidence.” Gaige whispered to Deathtrap before looking the other girl up and down and proceeding “Well, first off, odd question, can I call you Artemis? I mean that’s how I’ve been identifying you in my head this whole time, if not that’s cool, whatever you’re comfortable with.”

“That…would be fine, actually that would, that would make me happy, actually, please do.” She said with a smile while her cheeks reddened slightly.

“Cool. Artemis. Artemis.” Gaige said as if trying it on, then with a nod and a smile, “So, Artemis, I suppose we should get to know each other better, so I got this thing I sometimes do with a client, especially ones that don’t quite know what they want, it was one of the things they taught in the ECHO lessons for being a wedding planner. Care to try it? I mean, gonna have to modify it slightly, I don’t need to ask what kind of cake is your favorite.”

“Chocolate, with like white frosting, and sprinkles.”

“OK then, wait they put sprinkles on cake? Anyway, just answer with the first thing that comes into your head, you can also always refuse to answer if you want, but if you answer you can ask me a question. You good with that?”

“Uh, OK.”

“Let’s start simple, favorite color?”

“Purple, you?”

“Same, is that your natural hair color?”

“Yes, is that yours?”

“Yes, you know you don’t have to ask the same questions back?”

“Yes, I just can’t think of one now, maybe in a minute.”

“Oh, well then what’s up with that hand cannon?

“Like I said, it’s a prototype. I wanted a backup weapon, one with as much stopping power as I could get, so I started experimenting, and that’s what I’ve come up with, fires custom rounds, about the same size as that elephant rifle there.” She pointed up to a huge old rifle across the top of the armory “Though the first time I tried to shoot it I felt something in my wrist crack, so you need a cybernetic arm to fire it, at least for someone my size.”

“Geez, is that why you didn’t reload it until you got back here?”

“Correct, I try to save the cartridges to reload them, it also only holds three rounds, so there is that.”

“So you’ve built your own gun, and your own limbs, so do you do the ship maintenance as well?”

“Nah, there’s was a robot on the ship when I got it, that takes care of most of that. I only do something if there’s a real problem. One that it can’t take care of by itself.”

“Anyone else on board?”

“One other robot, does the cleaning, neither one has a vocal processor though. Older models, some out of business brand, bugger to find parts for them.”

“Why don’t you get some new ones then?”

“They are a bit pricy, and it’s almost impossible to find any that aren’t Holloway robotics. I refuse to have one of those things on my ship.

“Good choice. What’s your favorite band?”

“Don’t have one. Don’t really listen to much music.”

“Oh come now, I saw the Digby Vermouth records in the case over there.”

“Truth is most of them where Sir Montamores’, and were on board when I got the ship.”

“Well he had good taste, but I noticed you picked up his latest.”

“Complete the set, plus he is good.”

“That he is, ‘Sax to Grind’ is a personal favorite. OK personal question, got a boyfriend?”

Gaige thought she saw a twitch in the other girls’ face, but whether it was from a bad experience or something else she couldn’t guess. ” No.” came the flat but forceful response. Then a bit softer laced with something undefinable she stammered out “H-how about you?”

Gaige sighed “I’d like to pass, but you answered, so, no. No, I’m not seeing anyone. What about you, any ex’s that might be hunting you?”

“No.” Jinx looked down “no ex’s, no ex’s at all.”

“Wait, you’ve got no ex’s, like never dated anyone.”

“Fine, laugh at the girl that no one would want to be with.” She didn’t sound angry, just sad as she seemed to shrink in on herself.

“That’s not what I meant.” Gaige started.

“No, no, you asked, so here you go. I lost my limbs, missed a lot of school, was considered a freak when I got back, didn’t care though, I didn’t have anyone close anyway since I was at a new school. Then I took to hunting, not allot of options for dates there, especially not ones I’d be interested in. But I’m good, really, with not dating I mean. And before you ask, no, I haven’t been with anyone. How about you, what’s your love life looked like? There’s a question for you” To Gaige’s surprise she didn’t sound mad, or annoyed, maybe a touch embarrassed, but that was it.

“That’s gonna be you’re first real question? Uh…” Gaige started to turn a bit red. ”I’ve been good, had a few serious boyfriends and”

“Urura”

“Baaabe” Gaige whined turning to her robo buddy “Fine, there you have it, straight from the traitor bot’s mouth. Was too much of a nerd in school, then went on the run, no one as a Vault Hunter, little hard to find time when your being shot at by bandits all the damn time. Then was on the run, like you said, kinda hard when you’re always movin planet to planet. And fine,” she added with a sigh “Haven’t had much luck with men, only a few drunken come-ons from seriously gross guys. There were a few nice ones, here and there, but someone chased them off.” she turned with a fake glare at Deathtrap who shrugged with over the top dramatics, and ended with her sticking her tongue out at him.

“Ururg”

“And a number of guys that wanted me, wanted me to get rid of my best bud, can you believe that?”

Jinx just shook her head. “No way, no wait, I mean I can believe it, I mean…let me start over. I believe there are jerks like that out there, but I do not agree with them, there, that’s what I mean.”

“Wait whose question is it?”

There was a moment of silence as they both thought.

“Ururarg”

“Ooh that’s a good one babe, mine would be Deathtrap here, but since that might be considered a cheat, the next most favorite thing I’ve got is,”

“Wait,” Jinx interrupted “let’s change that slightly, how about what is your favorite thing that you’ve collected that would be considered weird or silly or you know…”

“Embarrassing?”

“Yeah, but only slightly.”

“Oooh, like guilty pleasures, I like it. Hmm, well I’ve got my wanted posters, but that seems pretty, tame. No. Mundane. Expected. So I also keep an invite from each wedding, but that’s kinda work, lemme think, I don’t really have that much stuff since I keep moving, and then I lost more of it when my ship exploded, Mr. Torgue would have been so proud of that. While I’m thinking, what about you?”

Jinx stood and turned showing what was hanging from her belt. Gaige looked at the small horse hanging from a metal carabiner for a few seconds before “Ahh, is that Shadowstar, from 'My Friendly Equine”?! That one was super rare.”

“Oh? You know it?”

“Pfft, know it, I loved that ECHO series, had almost the whole collection, probably still do unless my dad sold them, and there’s no way he woulda done that.”

“I’ve got the whole set” Jinx said with a smile “Creatures aren’t the only thing I’m good at hunting.”

Gaige suddenly stopped smiling, like she just remembered something and turned a bit to the side while she said “I would’ve sold mine by now though.”

“Why?”

“I’m too old for that stuff anymore.”

“To old to like what you like?” Jinx was sounding so confused that it stopped Gaige for a moment, and she quickly realized that it could sound like an attack on the other girl if she continued. “But hey, you be you, K.”

Jinx looked at her a bit funny before sitting down and seemed to curl inward a little again.

Gaige sighed inwardly and continued “So other than the guns, what is your favorite, or most used thing in this room?”

“The chair?”

Gaige blinked “That you’ve added?”

“Hmm, Ooh, I’m rather proud of the first editions of Sir Hammerlocks series, very useful those, though I don’t think he would have been to welcome where I’m from.”

“Hammerlock! I know him, did his wedding.” Gaige got a far-off look and missed the look that crossed the other girls face. Deathtrap did not, and nudged Gaige to get her back. “Ahem, back on subject, how about foods, do you have any allergies?”

“No”

“Yeah, me neither, though I did try and convince my parents that I was allergic to onions when I was a kid. But they told me I would learn to appreciate them when I got older. And I do eat them now.”

“I hate onions, unless their cooked into something, and chopped really small. But on like a pizza, ew.”

“Yeah totally, speaking of pizza, what do you like on yours? Me I’m partial to just about anything, but no anchovies, that’s just wrong, or squid, or like anything still alive, oh or bugs, I had a wedding where they wanted to serve pizza’s with like local centipedes on them, and I’m like, I’m all for local cultures and all but you people are just sick, like in the head.”

“Eww, I mean I’ve eaten a few bugs, mostly roasted, and always when I couldn’t find anything else
to eat while hunting, they’re actually not as bad as you’d think, but to choose to top a pizza with them?
No. Sick. Oh, but for my pizza, meat. Meat and I’m good. Actually, doesn’t have to even be a pizza,
I like meat.”

“And what would you have to drink?”

“I’m actually good with water.” she said raising her glass.

“Margarita’s for me. Babe! Margarita me.”

“Urug”

“Seriously? Traitor. Anyway” she turned back “and what for dessert?”

“Haven’t had many, what you’d call fancy desserts, but a fresh bowl of berries, maybe with some whipped cream on the side.”

“That actually doesn’t sound so bad, but you’ve got to try a triple chocolate and berry Argolian cake. Had one at this wedding, absolutely blew my mind how unreally good it was. Seriously think I died a bit when I ate it, so good.”

“Wow.”

Gaige came back down from her memory high “Can you cook? Not to sound like a bitch, or anything, was just wondering, I can’t myself, at least nothing more than the basics.”

“I mean I can follow the directions to make something, but other than that I can fire roast things, learned a bit about spices, but only enough to survive.”

“Ah, that’s cool. So, been wondering…”

“Y-yes?”

“What’s up with the chest protector?”

“Huh? Oh, this, it’s so I don’t smack my boob with my gun.” Seeing the confused look on the other girls face she stood and said “Here, stand up.”

Gaige stood slightly confused. Meanwhile Jinx grabbed her rifle off the wall.

“Now take your gun like your carrying it.” Gaige mimicked the way the other girl held her gun at hip level like they were walking.

“Now raise it like you just saw your prey. Notice you pulled it away from yourself to avoid hitting your chest.” Gaige blinked and repeated the motion looking down. Sure enough she brought the stock out and around her breast on the way to her shoulder.

“Now watch” Jinx smoothly brought the gun from hip to shoulder keeping it close to her side. “If I didn’t have the guard, I would’ve smacked my boob, and that hurts, or I would have had to swing the stock out and that creates extra motion that could attract your prey’s attention.”

Gaige nodded with understanding, before pushing in on her chest. “But doesn’t it get uncomfortable?”

The other girl shrugged “Not really, maybe I’m used to it.” she said looking down at her rather small chest, over at Gaige’s chest and back, causing Gaige to realize that she had at least a full cup size on Jinx, if not more. Taking pity on the other girl she changed subjects.

“What’s the weirdest request you’ve had for a hunt?”

And they kept going like that well into the night, both girls slowly opening up and before long started to get into it, until Deathtrap finally interrupted them. Looking at the clock on the wall Jinx stood up. “Wow, yeah it’s getting late. Uh, you can have the bedroom, it’s this way, just let me get a couple things out of it first.”

“No way, I can’t take your room on your ship, I’ll take the guest room.”

“Yeaaaah, kinda don’t have one, and you’re the guests and theirs two of you and I’ll be fine, just sleep in the trophy room, or the cockpit or the workshop, or in here, wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Really? I don’t want you to have to put yourself out on our account.”

“I insist, wouldn’t be able to sleep otherwise, this way.”

“OK, but I still feel bad about this.”

And Jinx lead them to another door, which opened on a room dominated by a large posted bed. The rest of the room was filled with dark wood dressers, cabinets and glass fronted shelves.

“Bathrooms through there, don’t worry there’s another in the hold, so I won’t be bothering you for that, just let me grab my things.” She quickly grabbed some things from the dresser and snagged her pillow off the bed “Make yourself comfortable.” she said closing the door behind her, leaving Gaige and Deathtrap alone.

Gaige slowly looked around the room, at the thick fur hide over the bed, which had dark purple cloth hanging from it, and as she stepped over to the shelves she spotted with a slight squeal, the full set of ‘My Friendly Equines’ figures.

“Ahem,” she caught herself before turning to her robo-buddy “What do you think?”

“Urarug”

“No, I meant about her.”

“Urur” he said in what was his equivalent of a laugh “Ururu”

“Yeah, I think she might be OK too, maybe a bit naive, but seems nice enough.” She paused and looked at the door “She’s not outside listening, is she?”

“Uru”

“Good, then to be honest, she might be a bit too trusting. I mean how can you admit some of that stuff to someone you just meet?”

“Uragu”

“I hear ya.” she turned to the bed and pulled back the fur, before stopping and petting it a few times “So soft” she whispered. She then tested the bed lightly with one hand before nodding and throwing herself onto it, enjoying the luxurious sensation of sinking in.

“Urru”

“I know but it feels so good” Gaige barely lifted her head while responding.

A few moments latter there was a knock at the door, causing her to quickly pop to her feet. “Yeah?”

The door opened a little and Jinx popped her head in. “Do you need anything, an extra blanket, a toothbrush, a specific size connector to charge things with?”

“No, I’m good, thanks, got everything I need with me.” she said thinking the other girl seemed almost desperate to be useful, like she didn’t know how to act with someone else onboard, which judging by their earlier conversation probably wasn’t far off the mark.

“Just thought I’d ask, oh and I brought you this.” She pushed open the door and entered with a tray, with a single steaming mug on it. “Thought with everything that’s happened today, with all you’ve heard and with all that must be on your mind, and I’ve heard sleeping on a strange bed can cause people to have trouble sleeping, I figured you could use something to help you get to sleep.” She set the tray next to the bed “Well, good night.” And with a slight blush, hurried out.

Gaige looked in the mug to find it full of hot chocolate, with little marshmallows floating amidst the steaming brown liquid. “What does she think I am, a kid.” she grumbled to Deathtrap.

“Urarg”

“Well if it’s safe I shouldn’t let it go to waste” she said before taking a tentative sip. “Oh god that’s good, almost as good as dad used to make.” she said with a sad whisper. “Dad.” With everything that had happened during the day, it finally hit her, “I can finally see him again, I could go home. Do I want to? What will he think of me? Of what I’ve become?”

Before she knew it, she had finished the mug and after a quick trip to the bathroom, which was way better looking than any bathroom should, crawled into bed. She had expected Jinx to be right about her having trouble sleeping but within a minute of her head hitting the pillow, she was softly snoring.

—*—

Her eyes slowly fluttered open as consciousness reluctantly came back, and when it did, she panicked for a brief second, as she woke in an unfamiliar bed, before remembering the events of the previous day. Looking around she was surprised to find Deathtrap was not in the room, but a quick check of her ECHO told her he was operating properly elsewhere on the ship.

So after a relaxing shower, she got dressed and went looking for him, as she did she realized she was hungry, really hungry, and she wanted breakfast. To her surprise she found him in the sitting room playing chess against Jinx.

“Good morning, sleep well?”

“Best night I’ve had in a long time, how’s the game going?”

“I think I’m zero for ten, eleven counting this game.”

“Good to see he’s found someone else to destroy, definitely not a game for me, should never have installed that chess subroutine.”

“Seems like an odd thing for him to have.”

“Yeah, actually I installed it because this one couple wanted a chess themed wedding. Having the groomsman and bridesmaids calling out moves so that one king, the other queen and one of the bishops would end up together and perform the ceremony. Cute concept, but man was it a pain to figure out. Anyway, I had Deathtrap download the game so he could help me set it up and he seems to enjoy playing, so he kept it, he’s actually got a few dozen games in there. He actually says the help him in combat if you can believe that, something about strategy, never really got it myself. Sorry he conned you into playing with him.”

“Actually, I’m just glad for the distraction. I’ve had this set since I got this ship, but I never really knew how to play, nor had anyone to play against for that matter. This game is his so go, go big guy, make your mistress breakfast.” She turned to Gaige as an aside “He makes a mean omelet, but I had to cook the meat, how does he not know how to cook a breakfast steak, still I think he’s figured out my trick though, so I’ll let him try it this time.”

“Wow you two seem to be getting along fine. He usually doesn’t take to people this well.”

“Neither do I, but I think we see eye to eye on the important stuff. Oh yeah we should be making planetfall in about an hour and a half, about twelve local time so I should be on the bridge about ten, fifteen minutes ahead of time.” Jinx told her as they relocated to the dining table, which could have sat six without too much inconvenience, and through a door was a small but well-furnished kitchen, where Deathtrap slipped an apron on and went to work making Gaiges’ breakfast.

“What’ll you have to drink?”

“Coffee, black.”

“Eeeegh.” Jinx replied grimacing “Black it is.” before slipping into the kitchen and coming back with a tray a minute later. She poured a steaming mug for Gaige from the pot, before prepping her own, which consisted of six lumps of sugar, a solid pour of cream, and then topped off with a shot of strong coffee. Gaige looked at the other girls longingly before sipped hers with a slight wince at the bitterness, but was pleasantly surprised by the taste. “This is good, what kind is it?”

“Arcturian black roast, you sure you don’t want anything in it?” when Gaige shook her head “Suit yourself, me personally, I can’t stand it straight, way to bitter, and this is a fairly smooth cup.”

Gaige took another sip of the dark black goodness as Jinx eyed her like she was trying to figure something out. Eventually Gaige couldn’t stand it “What?”

“Somethings different about you, I’m trying to place it. That’s it! You’re missing that, whatsit called, that spot on your cheek.”

“The beauty spot? I must’ve forgot it, I generally only wear it for weddings. Gonna have to put it on before we hit planetfall.”

“Pity, you look better without it.”

Gaige’s shoulders slumped slightly “It’s supposed to accentuate the beauty of the wearer.”

Jinx just shrugged “You look better without it.” she repeated.

Right then the door swung open and Deathtrap brought in another tray and set it before Gaige, much to her relief for the distraction. As she dug in, she tried a strip of steak

“Mmm this is perfect.” to which Jinx just gave Deathtrap a thumbs up, before heading back in to whip up a second batch for her.

After they finished, they headed back to the sitting room where the two girls continued their conversation from the night before until it was time to prep for planetfall.

Chapter 3

Talion 6

The road from the spaceport to the wedding was through an ivy-covered walkway. In the distance the planets forests could be seen, and if the ambient noise had been lower, the sounds of birds could’ve been heard. Many of the angular buildings had tall fences across the fronts of them, which were covered in thick ivy growth, including the businesses, which were noted by lavish signs over their gates.

It was through this sun dappled path that the trio walked, or floated in one case, with Deathtrap in front, Gaige in the middle and Jinx bringing up the rear. An order that Jinx had insisted on to best defend against ambushes.

“This is ridiculous, I feel like some kinda prisoner being escorted” Gaige whined “Artemis, come up here and talk to me.”

“It’s for your own good, you insisted on doing this wedding, and I’m insisting on keeping you alive.”

“It’s my business, it’s taken years to build it up to this point, I can’t just abandon a client. It would kill my reputation.”

“Being dead would do that to.” Jinx grumbled, “Whatever made you want to be a wedding planner anyway?” She asked before suddenly stopping, her head cocked to one side, spinning around and dashing back the way they’d come from. Leaping as high as she could, she caught something tracing an arc through the air, and was trying to throw it back when the grenade detonated in her left hand. But instead of a standard explosion, a huge crackling sphere spread out from it, enveloping her and extending through Gaige, stopping just before reaching Deathtrap. Jinx landed bad, her left leg collapsing under her as if everything in it was dead, her left arm flopped out, the grenade slid from her limp hand, still projecting the dome.

Gaige started forward, when she realized that her left arm was limp, causing her to stagger from the sudden shift as the dead weight pulled her off balance.

“Stay back.” Jinx yelled, as best she could, from the ground “It shorts out electronics or something. Also, ouch.”

“Very good” came a cold voice as the thrower stepped out from one of the gates. “EMP grenade, prototype Holloway tech made specifically for dropping that thing” he motioned to the still floating Deathtrap, whom was glaring as best he could at the crackling dome. “Still never expected anyone to try and catch it, so kudos to you, whomever you are, I am impressed, it was stupid, but impressive. Still, going to have to kill you for interfering.”

Gaige looked at the speaker, he was dressed the same as the attackers on Galia, same dark armor, though his seemed much heavier, which fit his massive frame, his head hidden behind a bulky helmet, in his hands was a heavy assault rifle, crude and low tech, probably an old Bandit or maybe a C.O.V… As she looked another group of similarly dressed goons stepped out as well, though they were less built and in lighter armor, carrying a similar crude-looking assortment of weapons.

“The other thing about that EMP, is that it fries most guns, hence the low tech. But best of all, it killed your shield, meaning this will all go right into that fragile little flesh of yours.” She could hear the disgusting smirk in his voice. “And before your monster their gets any funny ideas, like lasers or missiles, any of us see that and the rest will fill you with lead.”

“Guess that explains the armor then.” Jinx commented looking up as the group moved around her “Pity you didn’t all spring for the good stuff, cause I’mana have ta kill ya now.”

With that the closest goons head exploded as her pistol fired almost straight up into it, the bullet ricocheted into the next guy staggering him. “NOW!” she yelled emptying the gun, killing a goon with each shot, and bouncing the bullets into nearby mercenaries dropping eight of them with six shots, and causing the rest to spin at her in panic, only to be cut down by Deathtraps laser.

The boss though, was the most experienced and with a swift punch to her stomach, sent Gaige soaring as she struggled to get her assault rifle up with only one hand, sending her through the nearest gate and dove after, just as the laser shot through the space where he had just been.

Jinx let her empty pistol fall and caught the nearest dead guys’ gun as he fell. Pulling herself into a sitting position she braced it across her good knee, and let loose on the leader, the bullets pinged off his armor, but she just tightened her aim till she hit her mark, and his gun smashed under the stream of bullets just as her gun went dry.

“You are one annoying bitch.” he roared in frustration throwing down his now useless gun “You could have died nice and easily, but no, you had to make this hard, well this is on you now.” and with that he landed a solid kick into Gaiges’ stomach, driving the air from her lungs, leaving her gasping for breath. He went to follow up, when Jinx, hopping on one leg, threw herself between them.

“Seriously?” he yelled in exasperation “What the hell can you do? Do you just want to die first? Well wish granted.” And his massive hand shot forward, catching her throat and lifting her up so he could look her in the eye as she choked. “I hope your happy now, I was going to savor killing you, but for my men’s sake and for all the trouble you caused…what the hell is that?”

He had failed to realize that her good arm had not been fighting his grip, but instead flailing at something on her back, until the hand cannon pressed against his helmet. Jinx straightened her wrist and grit her teeth before firing all three shots point blank as fast as she could. The first two cracked the helm while the last obliterated it along with his life. His hand loosened and dropped her, before his corpse toppled backwards. Jinx landed on her butt and rolled onto her back in front of Gaige, who was just catching her breath. She could tell by the way the other girls face had went waxy that she was not alright. Her hand was on the ground next to her, sweet was beading on her forehead and her breathing was short and rapid.

“Are you…alright. Of course your cough not after that cough , hospital, you need a hospital,
b-babe get a hospital.” she wheezed.

“Get. Wedding. Be. Fine. Take. Grenade. Go.” Jinx panted out through her gritted teeth.

Gaige was about to say something when she realized that the dome had expired and she could hear sirens coming closer. She staggered to her feet as Deathtrap arrived and gave her a hand up.

“Are you sure?”

“Mmmhmm. Meet. Later.” Jinx affirmed.

Gaige staggered over to the spent shell of the grenade and scooped it up, along with Jinxs’ guns and leaning on Deathtrap for support, got out of there.

As soon as she was out of sight, Jinx’s eyes rolled back and she passed out.

-----*------

A few hours later

“No no that goes there, and that one goes there.” Gaige desperately tried directing the staff “Sorry you where sayi… No, that spot’s left open for their grandfather.”

Amid the chaos, she spotted Jinx making her way across the room, limping slightly and her right hand tucked against her chest.

“Artemis, good to see you back up, how bad is it?” She nervously asked.

“Broke most of the bones in my wrist. But they fixed that right up, not supposed to shoot with that hand or do anything too stressful with it for, like, thirty six hours or so, and then I took about an hour to fix what I could in my limbs, need to get back to the ship to tear them apart and replace most of the servos and circuits and stuff. Had to make a report to the police too, but I kept you out of it. But I’ll manage. You?”

“Thanks. Same, sorry, HEY that doesn’t go there, the blue ones are the grooms’ side. Idiots.”

“You seem pretty busy” Jinx observed as Deathtrap flew by with an arm load of decorations “Anything I can do to help?”

“Oh my god, yes, talk to that guy, find out what he needs, excuse me.” She stormed off, yelling at the people trying to get the hall ready “No, blue goes there! Are you color blind? You are? Then why are you doing that? Help him out. You, take over.”

Jinx turned to the exasperated man standing in Gaige’s wake. “So, I guess I’m like an assistant or something now, so what’s your problem?”

“Az I waz trying to tell ze bozz, zer waz an attack on ze farm we get our Tamtrol from. Due to ziz zey have none to delivar to uz. Zey were ze main course, oui. Without zem we would be az zey zay, a cooked goose, without ze goose.”

“OK, Tamtrol, those are native birds here right?” Jinx thought about all she knew about them “Still ones in the wild, how long do you need to cook them?”

“Zey need to cook for four hours.”

“Four hours, right, right, how long before they absolutely need to be cooking?”

“Three hours, forty-seven minutes. Prezizely.”

“OK then. Let me talk to the boss and see what I can do about that.” With that, Jinx turned and went over to where Gaige was rearranging decorations.

“Can I leave?”

“Wow, three minutes, I think that’s the record for shortest employee I’ve ever had. What’s up?”

“Something about there not being any Tamtrol. I was going to go get some.”

“No Tam…that’s the main course, how can they not… I put the order in months ago.” she turned to the head chef “HEY, why didn’t you bring this up earlier?” Turning back “Where are you going to get some?”

“I’m gonna do my job.”

“But you can’t use your right hand, right?”

“I still have a backup one, I’m just not as good with it.” She unslung her rifle switched it to her left hand and brought it up toward her left shoulder. Gaige heard a thwacking sound and watched Jinx’s
lips thin as her face turned red, tears formed in the corners of her eyes, as she slowly curled into a crouching ball.

Gaige waited as the other girl rubbed her chest “I’m gonna need some help.” Jinx managed “Need to move this chest protector to the other side.”

Gaige tried not to laugh as she helped unhook the guard, then tried not to be embarrassed working around the other girls’ breast. Once they were finished Jinx tried again and this time the gun went smoothly to her shoulder.

“And what if something jumps you from close up?”

Jinx raised her left hand and a stiletto blade snapped forward out of the back of her arm, which with a hum was quickly covered in a Digi-structed energy blade. “I got it covered.”

“Alright then, you sure you can do this?”

“The nearest hunting ground is probably fifty minutes away, but my guess is that it’s already been picked clean, so I’m gonna have to go out a bit farther. Can you manage without me for a few hours?”

“I managed before you got here, but I can’t manage without those birds, so get gone.”

Jinx turned to Deathtrap whom had floated up while they were tightening the chest guard “Watch her back big guy.”

“Ururg”

“Righto, be back in a few.” Jinx said walking away with a wave.

Gaige watched her go “I worry about that one” she said to her robo buddy before turning back to the room “Oh for the love of…OI! Blue goes on that side, what, are you also color blind?”

-------*------

Three hours twenty-seven minutes later

Gaige gave the wedding hall one last look over, her clients would start to arrive any minute now to inspect it before the guests arrived.

“Everything good?” came a question from the side door.

Gaige gave a startled turn “Artemis. Don’t sneak up like that, wait you’re back? Did you get them? Tev’s been up hear every few minutes asking if your back yet. Tev’s the chef by the way.”

“Got a good haul, speak of the devil.” she said as the frantic looking chef entered.

“Finally. You are back. Where are zey? Did you get zem?”

“Cool it. Yes, I got them. Bagged six of them.” she said unslinging the bag on her back and handing it over to the chef, who yanked it open. Inside Gaige could see a pile of birds covered in dark scale like feathers, each a little smaller than her torso.

“Yez yez very good, and all shot clean through ze neck, all headz intact.”

“Yah I read the recipe on the way, you use the brains as marinade? That’s just weird. Can you cook one of the extras without the brain glaze for us? The staff I mean, unless you wanna eat brains?” She turned to Gaige, who was looking a little disgusted.

“Nope, I’m with you.”

“Fine, fine, but you don’t know what you are mizzing, I must go, perfection awaits.”

As he hustled out of the room, Gaige turned to the other girl. “Chefs are so weird, almost all of them, weird. So you got six with your off hand, damn, you weren’t kidding about that hunter thing.”

Just then Deathtrap floated over leading a stern looking older man.

“You must be the wedding planner.” he said with a bit of a condescending sneer “Waste of money if you ask me. This had better be perfect, or you’ll get docked, you hear. So everything ready?”

Gaige’s hand twitched slightly, only Jinx noticed, and a smile appeared on her face. “Of course, everything’s ready, we’re ready to start once everyone arrives.”

“Don’t lie little girl, I read the ECHO this morning, I know what happened. Dinner is supposed to be Tamtrol and there are none in the city, so what? You didn’t think I’d know? Were you going to try and serve something else and pretend it was Tamtrol? Ha, I’m onto you. Not only am I going to dock you for the wrong supper, but for lying as well. Let that be a lesson to always be honest to you customers. I’ve been in business for thirty years, and I’ve never once lied to a customer, you could learn something from me.”

“But sir” Gaige said with a thin smile “We are serving Tamtrol for dinner, just like planned.”

“What did you bribe someone for theirs? You expect me to pay the inflated cost for it then? No
way. I’m not paying any more for it, if you’ve got them at all. Or wait, did you manage to find
one and plan to serve something else to the rest of the guests? Is that it? Or did you find some
in a freezer somewhere?”

“No sir, four fresh Tamtrol are being prepped as we speak.”

Jinx noticed that Gaige’s hand was clenched behind her back, her knuckles white with frustration.

“And where did you get them, huh, every restaurant in the city is trying to get their hands on them
as we speak?”

“That is why she keeps a hunter on staff. Sir.” Jinx cut in dryly. Her lips where curled slightly but her eyes where narrowed predatorily. “If you have any doubts as to the quality of my catches, fell free to inspect them in the kitchen.”

The man swallowed nervously “Fine, I will, but just to make sure everything is satisfactory.”

As he stormed away, Gaige let out her breath slowly. Jinx watched him go “Are all of your clients that big of, what’s the term, asshats?”

“No, but you get ones like him every now and then. Always trying to pinch a buck wherever they can. I’m so glad you got here before him though. I don’t think I could have taken that smug ■■■■ without being able to rub his face in it afterwords.”

“Yeah, I can’t begin to imagine what kind of smug ■■■■ he would have spewed if he’d been right. That said I think I should get out of here before he gets back.”

“Awww, your gonna leave me with him, and run away while you can?”

“Sorry, not sorry. But I should get back to the ship anyway, need to get these fixed while I can.” She flexed her left hand, watching it move stiffly. “You need any parts or tools as long as I’m going?”

“Yeah, let me write them down. You should also change cloths before coming back.”

Jinx looked down at herself, the stains on her knees, her dirty boots, a couple leaves stuck under her chest guard “Why?” she asked with a straight face.

“I mean, it is a wedding.”

“Fine. Wait you want me to be around, at the wedding? Me?”

“The reception more of. Here take the list, and get outa here, go leave me to my fate, flee, go.”

Jinx took the list “Fine. Just try not to kill your client.”

“No promises.”

Chapter 4

Talion 6

Evening

The wedding had went smoothly, despite the old man’s constant threats, and the reception was proceeding. Jinx had taken the grenade back with her and after checking to make sure that it was not booby trapped, nor was it sending any signals, had hidden it on her ship to look at later. After repairing herself and changing, she had returned and helped Gaige fix her arm.

Gaige looked over at the other girl, sitting cross legged on a chair, she had changed into a dark purple shirt with its sleeves rolled up under an almost black, green sleeveless hooded top, same colored pants and heavy boots, a similar outfit to what she had been wearing when they’d first met, which got Gaige wondering, was that was her idea of dressing up? Jinx saw her looking and waved, her cheeks stuffed with their specially cooked Tamtrol. Gaige waved back and went back to making sure everything was running smoothly.

She had been pacing herself, but her second margarita was empty, and Deathtrap was off patrolling near the front door, so she headed to the bar. Bars where a pain, trying to get the bartender’s attention, always the wrong person hitting on her, always trying to buy her some stupid lewd named drink
and then there was the overpriced drinks themselves, usually fruity or watered down, or with an overpowering amount of tequila in them. No, that was why she had installed the margarita mixer
in Deathtrap in the first place, well that and so she could have a margarita whenever she wanted, not
just at the bar, and a properly made one at that. After all, not every wedding destination was as civilized as this.

She found the bar to be rather empty for a wedding, though she did have to wait for the bartender. While she was standing there, an attractive gentleman in his early thirties walked up.

“You must be with the grooms’ side.” he said with a sure smile “Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like some kind of cheesy pickup line, it’s just that I don’t really know all that many people here. Truth is my cousin asked me to come, just in case you know, but she’s hanging with the other bridesmaids so here I am, on my own, surrounded by people I barely know. And the grooms side seems a bit, I don’t know, bro-ish for me, so, sorry. Where are my manners, my name’s Steve. Pleasure.”

He held out his hand, Gaige not wanting to be rude shook it. “Gaige, I’m the wedding planner.”

“Wait, you designed this. Wow, you have a talent don’t you. Must have done a lot of research to get it this good. As a sign of my, appreciation, not the right word, admiration maybe, whatever, let me buy your drink so we can salute your success together.”

Gaige blushed slightly and looked away embarrassed, only to stop. Jinx’s plate was set on her chair, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. Scanning the room again, Gaige found her turning away from one of the windows with a dark look on her face. She strode toward the nearest door, which led to the serving prep area and went through. Something about her demeanor worried Gaige. Barely turning she said “I’ll get it later, I need to check something.” and hustled off leaving the gentleman behind.

Following her through the door, Gaige found she had lost the other girl. She continued toward the nearest door that led to the side that Jinx had been looking out. Just before she got to the door, she heard voices. Carefully she eased up to the wall and peeked out the closest window. She saw Jinx standing with her back toward the door, in front of her where four men in rough clothes, various weapons hanging off them.

“I’ll ask again, what are you doing here.” Jinx’s voice was flat, though Gaige could hear the simmering anger beneath.

“You know why we’re here, so help us out.”

Jinx just stared at the leader of the group, a tall muscular man with a sinister scar from his lower lip to chin, his head was shaved, all of which made his wispy goatee look ridiculous.

“We’re here for the girl, same as you, right.”

“And why should I hand her over?”

“Well, after you turned down old man Holloway, he told the rest of us that not only would he pay the original bounty on her, he would pay double, but that offer is only for those of us that where there, so if you hand her over we’re willing to cut you in for, let’s say a third share, which is way more than you’d get handing her in yourself.”

“That is a lot of money.” Jinx said stepping forward.

Gaige felt like her insides had suddenly vanished and a small ice block had been dropped in their place. She couldn’t believe that she was being bartered and sold out by someone she had started to
trust like that.

“But can we not do this here.”

“No way, we’ve got her and we’re not about to let her get away now.”

“Seriously, it’s a wedding.”

“So?”

“So? So, it’s their special day, don’t ruin it for them.”

“No way, we’re doing this, right now. So let’s do this.”

Jinx stopped in front of the leader, and cocked her head, “There’s just one problem. You’ve based everything here on two assumptions.”

“What’re those?”

“First, that I’m here for the bounty.” and with that her left fist was against his chest, the blade extended. Before anyone could react, she spun, drawing the blade out of his chest and spun leaving a glowing arc in her wake. The blade sliced cleanly through the neck of the second before she lunged spearing the chest of the third. Shoving him back, she withdrew the blade while spinning and sliced deeply into the arm of the last, causing him to drop the gun he was raising. As he opened his mouth to scream, she drove the blade into his chest, leaving only a small wheezing noise to escape his lips.

Turning back to the leader, who was on his knees hand pressed to his chest, she continued. “Second assumption was that I was talking about capturing Gaige, when I said we shouldn’t do this here. What I meant was me killing you. Should have done it my way, you’d have lived longer.”

“Why? We could have been rich.”

“Money isn’t everything.” and she stabbed him in the head.

Gaige was frozen when Jinx’s shoulders slumped, and she started shaking “Why? Why can’t you all just leave us alone? Damn it.” she whispered. Gaige watched as the other girl drug the thugs behind a nearby dumpster, so that no one would find them till morning. She moved back before the other girl came in, meeting her when she entered the main room.

Putting on a straight face she held up a hand “Hey, there you are, been looking for you. What have you been up to? You look kinda, idonno, upset.”

Jinx stared at her for a second before sighing “I just killed a group of bounty hunters. They wanted me to sell you out and then help take you.”

Gaige was taken aback, she had expected the other girl to lie, especially if she was after the money. “So why didn’t you take them up on it? Not that I’m not grateful that you didn’t.”

Jinx looked at her with a mixture of anger and hurt “You’re seriously asking that? I thought you knew me, or at least where starting to. I would never sell you out, not to those punks, not to Holloway, not to anyone. I… you’re…you’re special to me, you’re my friend, and you don’t sell out your friends. Ever. To even think such a thing…” She took a ragged breath and let it out slowly before continuing in a slightly calmer voice “Besides, if I wanted money I would’ve sold that THING on my ship, you know
which one.”

Gaige felt her face flush with shame. “Sorry, you’re right, I shouldn’t have said that, it’s just that, well, it’s gonna sound like an excuse, and I guess it kinda is, but, well I haven’t really had anyone to trust, well new to trust in like, about seven years, so… I screwed up.”

“I understand, it still hurt, but I get it. You’ve been looking over your shoulder for too long to trust someone who just showed up perfectly timed to help you. You should be suspicious, but I want you to trust me. I like you, I mean, I like having someone to talk to, or babble at in my case.”

“Truth is I saw what happened.

“What?”

“I saw everything, heard what they said, what you said too.”

“So why did you…”

“Why did I ask, donno. Maybe I just wanted to see what you’d say, if you’d tell the truth, or try to cover it up.”

“I see, let me just say that I will always try and tell the truth to you, I’m no good at lying, you should know that by now.”

“Yeah, my bad. But why did you fight them, why not just shoot them and get it over with, I mean I know you have at least one gun on you, right?”

“If I shot them it would have ruined the wedding.”

“That’s it?”

Jinx looked at Gaige puzzled “What do you mean that’s it? This is their day, and I don’t want someone else’s problem to ruin it. I know I may not look it, but I to have thought about marriage, if I could find someone to love, who loved me back. Besides, it would have had a negative impact on your business, and as you said, you’ve worked hard to make it this far, and even I can see you have a talent for it, and I don’t want to be the one who ruins it for you.”

“Awww you’re gonna make me blush, but thanks, truly. And once more, I’m sorry.”

They stood there staring at each other awkwardly when the song changed. Gaige looked like she just got an idea, “I wanna dance. Let’s dance, you and me.”

Jinx looked like she couldn’t decide between blushing and blanching, “I don’t dance, I mean I don’t know how.”

“You’ve never danced?”

“Never.”

“Then it’s time you learned, my dad taught me how when I was little, so I think I got this, though I haven’t danced in some time, but here goes, just follow my lead.”

“Wait, wait, can’t we just watch them for a minute, maybe learn from watching or something?”

“That’s a good idea, but no. Now pay attention, this hand goes here, and stays here, doesn’t go wandering, doesn’t go exploring around back, especially not down, just stays here nice and gentle. The other holds my hand, like so, then we take a step like this, then like this and like this and we repeat. Ow, that’s my foot, no it’s fine, just, yes like that, you’re getting it. Good, good see you’re a natural.”

As Gaige talked, Jinx had a look of fierce concentration etched into her face, struggling to take in every word. Soon the two of them where slowly turning at the edge of the room, Gaige smiling, Jinx starting to relax, when the song ended.

“Aw, I was just getting back into the feel of it, oh well, maybe the next song…nope too fast for us.” She said as an uptempo song started up. “So how was it? Your first dance I mean.”

“Um, good, I think I liked it, I… I wouldn’t mind trying again sometime.” Jinx replied blushing
to her ears.

“We’ll see, hey, why don’t you ask someone here to dance with you?”

Jinx looked at her with an odd look “I don’t know any of them.”

“True, but that’s what parties are for, and you need to get out more, tell you what they usually end with a slow song, if you haven’t found anyone by then, I’ll dance with you.”

They stood there watching the party, most of the people on the dance floor were a few drinks in and danced with a confidence they shouldn’t have had.

“So why did you?” Jinx asked suddenly.

“Huh?”

“Become a wedding planner, I mean. It just seems, I don’t know, kinda odd considering what you used to do.”

“Truth is, it just kinda happened. Someone I knew was getting married, and I’d just quit my last job. On rather bad terms let’s say. And I figured ‘Heck how hard could it be?’ so I took the ECHO courses and all that, and well I guess I also thought it would be something that wouldn’t keep me in one place for too long. Like you keep pointing out, I got a price on my head. And it was fun, a different challenge each time, something new to learn, new place to go and all that.”

“Well things were going, fine, not good, but fine. Had some mishaps, couple weddings turned into bloodbaths, rivals in love attacking, parents that didn’t approve and things like that. And then I did the wedding of Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs.”

“Wait you know both Sir Hammerlock and the head of the Jakobs corporation?”

“Yeah, known Hammerlock for like ever, and just met Wainwright, good guy. Anyway their wedding was, well, one for the books, and they must have posted about it or bragged somewhere or something, cause next thing I know, I am swamped with requests. And I haven’t had a moment to rest since. Course it’s only been about six months, but still.”

“So that’s why you do it.”

“I gotta admit, I do it for one other reason, well OK two. The second is that it keeps me afloat, financially I mean. But the main other reason is, there is this moment at every wedding, at least the ones that go well, where everything is perfect. The decorations, the locations, the guests, everything, and you can see it in the couple’s faces. It’s that moment that keeps me coming back.”

“You’re jealous of them.”

“WHAT! I mean what? Jealous? Me?” and she stood silent thinking a moment and then her shoulders slumped “Yeah, I guess I am. Is that wrong? To want one moment where everything is perfect? And you’re completely content, even if it is just for that transitory moment?”

“No. I think that’s normal, I think that’s what everyone wants.”

The two of them fell silent as the current dance came to an end and some bizarre regional dance started to much hooting and hollering as the guests raced out onto the dance floor to surround the couple.

Gaige turned away from the embarrassing spectacle occurring on the dance floor and a short while later noticed Deathtrap floating in their direction. “Hey babe, watsup?”

“Ururg”

“Good, good. But it turned out there was an attempt at the side door, Artemis took care of it though.”

“Ururgh”

“It was no problem, really. I just wish they would stop throwing their lives away for something as, I donno, meaningless as this, that doesn’t sound quite right.” Jinx struggled to find the right wording.

“Ururru”

“Yah that’s it, you get it.”

“Wait, I’ve got it” Gaige interrupted “Why don’t you dance with Deathtrap?”

“What!?”

“Ururagh?”

“Aw come on babe, I just taught her how, so she’s nervous. You’ll be great with her. Please.” She begged making puppy dog eyes at the robot.

“Um, I think he wants his first dance of the night to be with his bestie, so I’m good waiting.”

“Wait, is that true? Babe you should have said so, let’s go” she turned to the other girl “But you get the next one K?”

And they swept out as a new song started. And the rest of the evening was spent that way, the three of them enjoying themselves.

1 Like

Chapter 5

Hunters Moon

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.

“DT?”

“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?”

“Let’s go.”

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.

--------*--------

Jaka 4

Midday

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…”

“Professional?”

“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.”
she moped.

“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
flustered state.

“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
all that.”

“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.”

Chapter 6

Jaka 4

Gaige

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.”

“How so?”

“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.”

“Like Eista?”

“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.”

“Urargu”

“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.”

“Um, ew.”

“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?”

“Ururag”

“No your right, if they wanted to bargain they would have probably tried that first. I am not entirely sure.”

“Urar”

“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.”

“Whom.”

“What?”

“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?”

“Urrarg”

“I know babe but we gotta keep him safe, or Hammerlock is gonna hate me, so please. For me?”

“Rorrg”

“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.”

Chapter 7

Jaka 4

The Hunters

“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.”

“Expedition.”

“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.”

“Um…sorry?”

“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.”

“Subscriber?”

“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.”

Chapter 8

Jaka 4

Gaige

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.

She improvised.

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
the moment.

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.”

“Ururgu”

“You sure babe?”

“Uru”

“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?”

“Urur”

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.”

“Yes sir.”

“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
much appreciated.”

“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.”

Chapter 9

Jaka 4

The Hunters

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
about men?”

“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.”

“Afraid huh.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.

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Chapter 10

Jaka 4

Gaige

The doctor turned out to be a wrinkled old lady with short grey hair, who after a checkup, gave Gaige a clean bill of health, other than her being worn down and in need of a good rest. Gaige agreed with her and headed straight to her room. Though when she got there, she found that she couldn’t get to sleep. In the end it took seven margaritas and an hour of tossing and turning to finally black out.

She woke late in the next morning with a headache and hangover, not for the first time. She stumbled to the bathroom regretting her life choices, and then after getting dressed in a new set of clothes, made her way gingerly downstairs to the common room, to get something for her head and because she knew that she needed to eat, even if the thought of it made her want to return to the bathroom.

She found it to be deserted, not that it was all that busy at the best of times, and found a seat in a dark corner to rest her head when Deathtrap floated over to deliver a bottle of pills for her head and a seltzer tonic for her stomach.

After downing both she rested her head on the table, relishing in the feel of the cool wood against her cheek, until one of the staff came over to take her order.

“What’ll it be miss?” he said in a way to loud voice “The special of the day is a fine blood sausage, made with the finest cuts of fatty Diomos in jellied blood stuffed into natural casings made from fresh Diomos entrails, while the head cheese is…” Gaige couldn’t handle it and noisily threw up into a nearby plant pot.

The waiter stormed out in a huff almost hitting Wainwright as he entered.

“Breakfast not to your liking?” He asked snagging a bottle and a pair of glasses from behind the counter as he approached her table. “Little hair of the dog?”

“Couldn’t take blood sausage, not even on a good day, and this ain’t a good day.” she said taking the glass from Wainwright and downing it. “Oh, that burns.” she coughed.

“It is a bit of an acquired taste, I will admit. Made a new friend?” he inquired, indicating the pot being clasped to her side in case of a resurgence of regurgitation. She handed it over sheepishly and he gingerly took it and set it near the bar before wiping his hand on a handkerchief as he sat back down.

“Now then, while your friend whips up something for you to eat, why don’t you tell me what seems to be the trouble. And it ain’t the sausage.”

Deathtrap made a growling noise and set off to make breakfast, something he found himself doing a bit much for a combat capable bot.

Gaige looked up at Wainwright with tired ringed eyes. “Well first off, I got a hangover so if you could keep it down a little until the pills take effect. Second, why do we still need pills for this, we’ve got Insta-Health vials, but we still haven’t got a better cure for a hangover than pills? And third, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do, it’s what we were discussing yesterday before we got to the factory.”

“How are things there by the way?”

“Fine. Brandibarry gave everyone the night off to recover and should have everything up and running by this afternoon, so everything should be ready by the time our hunters get back. Which gives us plenty of time to talk.”

“Look I ain’t laying on the shrink couch for anyone. No offense.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. I had just thought we could have a nice polite conversation is all.”

“About what? Artemis? My dad again? What’s it gonna be today?”

“Do you want to talk about them? Probably not, so no, I was gonna talk about the future, and what you’re plannin to do. You see Alistair is quite fond of you and has probably given your little friend quit the inquiry while they’ve been out. Me, I like you too, in my own way. Didn’t get to talk to you much during all that hoopla around the wedding, what with me getting possessed and all. Not blaming you, the wedding was magnificent.”

“Hoopla?”

“Would you prefer ballyhoo?”

“I’d prefer a word that made sense.”

“And I’d prefer it if you quit trying to dodge answering the question.”

“And I’d prefer it if you asked a question, or actually didn’t.”

“Fine then, here goes. What is it that’s troubling you?”

“Fine, can’t really talk about this to anyone else anyway, and don’t you go telling anyone either, not even Hammerlock.”

“My my, askin me to keep secrets from my husband.”

“Not what I’m saying, you know what, fine, tell him. But only him, and he can’t tell. K?”

“Our lips are sealed.”

“Fine. Here goes. I’ve been thinking of quitting the wedding planner gig. Actually been thinking about it for a while now. Heck I was thinking about quitting it even before I did yours. But I don’t know what else to do, you know. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy it while I’m doing it, it’s just that, well, I donno, it’s like I don’t enjoy it when I’m not doing it.”

“Alright, few questions for you, might help, might not. Let us start with what do you like about it?”

“That’s easy, there’s this moment, happens every time, at least on the ones that go right, where you can see that THIS is the moment that they will remember, that one perfect moment, might be when they first see the hall, lots of times it’s when they take the vows, or when they turn and face the crowd as a new family, whenever but it’s always there. The moment of pure bliss, the moment that they will remember for the rest of their lives, one perfect moment, and I helped make that happen.”

“I understand. Truly that must be beautiful. So why do you want to quit?”

“Well there is the stress of it, the couples that can’t agree on anything, she wants a local wedding but he wants a destination, he wants a small wedding but she wants to invite everyone she’s ever met, to which kind of cake to have, it’s exhausting. And then there are the weddings that nothing goes right, the hall is double booked, the bridesmaids got food poisoning, bandits are attacking the wedding venue, they used butter in the vegan cake, and on and on it goes.”

“But most of all, have you ever felt like you where wasting your life? Like you weren’t in the right place? That you just wanted something and you couldn’t figure out what it was and that was slowly driving you mad? I mean I love mechanical engineering, I truly do, it’s one of my favorite things, right up there but behind Deathtrap and a triple chocolate and berry Arogolian cake, so good, oh god I can’t think of food right now. But anyway, there isn’t enough action and death in it, mechanical engineering, not the cake, though I would kill for a slice, later, not right now. But, well I can’t find the right job, you know. I mean, what combines mechanical engineering and destruction and death? If I could find that out maybe I’d have the perfect job, but until then I gotta keep paying the bills.”

“I understand, I think anyone would, so why do you want this kept hush hush? It’s not like anyone wouldn’t understand, and someone might be able to answer what job that is.”

Gaige looked sheepishly down “It’s Artemis. When we were going to Talion 6, she told me I should cancel, that it was a bad idea, and I said I had to, gave some excuse about my job and pride in doing it right and my reputation. If I turned around and told her that I had been thinking about quitting it just feels like an insult to her or something. Especially since she hurt herself defending me.”

“There it is, you don’t want to lose face in front of someone you care about.”

“Would you? I mean if it was you and Hammerlock, wouldn’t you not want him to think less of you?”

“True, but he’s my husband.”

“That’s true, so what about Brandibarry?”

“Nope, but if it where Clay, I would, so I understand your point. But what are you going to do about it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you continue to travel with her it will come up eventually, especially if you take a hiatus from your job, which incidentally is what I am recommending that you do. I took one myself, does wonders for clarity.”

“Well I do have a first meeting set for next week, but after that I am clear. Maybe deep down I was planning on taking a break to think about things anyway.”

“So what do you plan on telling Artemis?”

“Telling her?”

“Well if you keep traveling with her won’t she get suspicious that you have no more work? That you are taking a break?”

Gaige continued looking down as if she didn’t know what to respond with.

“How long are you planing to keep traveling with her anyway?”

“I donno, she’s probably got thing to do, so we’ll see?”

“Let me rephrase that. How long do you want to travel with her?” he asked as Gaige looked at him with a questioning shrug, so he continued “Until this is over? Until you get home? Until you’re tired of each other? Or until there are no more stars left in the sky? Once you know the answer to that, I think you will have figured out what you really want from her. That said it looks like your breakfast is ready, so I’ll leave you to it.”

And with that he got up and left Gaige with more than some perfectly cooked eggs to chew upon.

Chapter 11

Jaka 4

The Hunters

Morning had come and they had been moving for over an hour when they finally came to the crest of a ridge and stopped. They were overlooking a clearing, littered with bones and rotting meat, definitely a predator’s den. As they observed a smallish beast, definitely a Diomos based on Hammerlocks description, scamper out and start tugging on a strip of dark meat hanging off one of the corpses. As it tugged two more moved out to join it when all three heads snapped up, the strip of meat dangling from the mouth of the one, before they all took off running.

Out of a cave they hadn’t been able to get a look into due to its angle from their ridge, came a truly massive frame, easily topping seven meters at the shoulder, not counting the spikes that protruded even higher. Its head had sixteen eyes under a rack of antlers that spread over six meters, their tines pointing forward, and what appeared to be a number of smaller horns growing just behind them that transitioned into the irregular row of spikes down its back. It’s hands and feet looked like they had been dipped in rubies, in stark contrast to the greyish green of the rest, with dark stripes on the flanks. The sides of its neck rolled unnaturally, or natural for it, but wrong for what Jinx was used to, as it smacked its mouth.

It opened its triple jointed mouth in a great yawn, the rows and rows of teeth flexing and quivering.

Jinx pulled back from the ridge and muttered “If that vaulty beast had mouths like that on its tentacles, I wouldn’t be sleeping to this day.” before she turned to Hammerlock who was staring at the beast enraptured “That would be the Emperor I take it?”

“Without a doubt. What a magnificent specimen, I can’t wait to mount it on my wall.”

“So how we doing this?”

Hammerlock looked at her with a slightly puzzled look.

She sighed before continuing “Well it’s your hunt, so it’s your call. You’re going to be taking it down. How to you want to do this and what do you want me to do?”

“Yes, quite right. Thank you, not many young hunters have that kind of respect for the hunt, not many older ones anymore come to think of it”

“Well one method” Hammerlock continued slowly “which is unfortunately the best, would be to distract it. And then while it’s occupied with that, I shoot it until it falls.”

“Let me guess what it’s gonna be distracted by.” Jinx grumbled “So do I slather myself in sauce?”

“No no of course not, but how fast are you on your feet?”

A few minutes later

Jinx had left her rifle behind, along with her bag since they would just slow her down and get in the way. She was crouched at the edge of the clearing waiting for the signal. From where she was she could see the blackened, decaying viscera still attached to the skeletons littering the place. The air was buzzing with the sound of flies and other carrion insects, and the smell, well that was something hunters never talked about in their stories, and it was awful. It was so bad she could taste it. To distract herself from it she watched as Hammerlock moved into place and then gave her a hand sign to start when ready.

Sighing she whispered a hunter’s prayer “May your hand be steady, and your aim be true, and above all else, go for the eyes boo.”

Hammerlock fired hitting the beast just behind its front arm causing a small spurt of blood. It roared in surprised pain but failed to fall. Its head whipped around looking for what had caused it such pain with red eyes glaring.

Jinx proceeded with the plan and she whipped a rock at the beasts’ head before tearing out of the underbrush at full speed. Hearing it bounce off the side of the Diomos’s head which was followed by an earthshaking roar of surprised anger, she figured nothing before had the audacity nor the stupidity to throw anything, let alone a rock at its head. Glancing over her shoulder she saw that the plan was indeed working, oh ■■■■ it was working. And she sped up as the beast took its first great lumbering
step after her.

As it roared, she got a good clean look into its mouth. The teeth quivering in rage, its long tongue whipped out, ropes of saliva flying, she could even see that it was covered in spiny barbs. Then things took a nightmarish turn as the tongue split into three and each one seemed to unfurl, the central part splitting as they matched up with each of the jaws forming into three separate heads. She turned back to the front deciding that was not something she wanted to see any closer.

As she ran she heard shots being fired off and screams of pain that seemed to be getting closer each time. She kept one eye over her shoulder to gauge the distance. To her horror it was getting closer at an unexpectedly quick pace. Pushing every last bit of speed she could into her legs she ran straight for a large tree at the edge of the clearing, a tree with large roots that arched out of the ground.

As the beast got closer and closer she realized that just barely she wasn’t going to make it. Lungs burning, she pushed on and just when she was debating turning and shooting it herself and the beast opened its mouth to bite, Hammerlock drove another bullet into the soft wound behind its arm causing it to stumble ever so slightly. Taking advantage of the momentary stumble Jinx dove into a slide going under one of the roots, catching it with her left hand to turn herself she slid around the tree before popping back up and running on.

The massive frame of the Diomos prevented it from turning as fast as it lumbered around the tree, letting out another earthshaking roar. But now Jinx was in her groove. As the beast got close, she dropped into another slide, changing directions as she went, throwing it off momentarily each time. But as she got used to the timing, so was the beast, and she quickly realized that it wouldn’t be falling for it much longer.

“Hurry it up!” She shouted as loud as she could, though it came out as a loud wheeze more than anything at that point. Hammerlock finished reloading and didn’t respond only aimed and shot the beast again as Jinx dove around another clump of trees.

The great head of the Diomos was streaked with blood trailing down from its ruined eye sockets, he had managed to hit more than half, and its side was running enough blood down it to leave trails in the dirt, but the beast had become enraged and was moving with even more force, although that made it slower to react and change directions. But when it just smashed through a tree rather than going around it managed to throw Jinx along with the splintered detritus.

Landing hard she managed to roll with it but the impact had knocked her hard and she knew immediately that she would be nowhere near as fast on her feet. She let out a deep breath, she was going to have to go suicidal to survive this.

Turning she saw the Emperor glaring at her, it could sense that she wouldn’t be running as much and that it would soon feast upon this annoying little creature that had caused it so much pain. They eyed each other up, the beast seeming to be wondering what this little bite would be doing next. It quickly grew impatient and lined up and charged. Jinx stood her ground while twisting her neck to the side to crack it, thinking how much better it would be if it would actually make the cracking sound. As the beast neared the ground shaking intensified till Jinx could feel her teeth rattling in her skull. Just as it opened its mouth to bite, she took off sprinting straight at it and at the last second dropped into a slide going through the gap in its lower jaws before dashing past its back leg and jumping over its tail.

The beast spun around and stopped to stare at her allowing Hammerlock to line up a clean shot into the wound under its arm and fire. It roared in agony as one of its lower heads twisted around to fix a one-eyed glare in that direction. It scanned around trying to locate where the pain was coming from as the other two heads opened up at Jinx with screams of rage. She looked at it while slowly leaning down to pick up another rock. The beast hissed as it started forward slowly, whether due to exhaustion, blood loss or just to menace her she didn’t know but she tossed the rock up so it could see it before catching it and whipping it at its head, specifically the large upper one. To her horror its tongue whipped up and smacked the rock aside as its heads tilted at her in an almost mocking way. It was still moving towards her angling its body to try and fence her in, but Jinx was calm because she could see Hammerlock had finished reloading again and was lining up his shots as she kept the beast distracted.

He drove three more shots into it in rapid succession before it slowly fell to its knees and then with a crash that shook leaves from trees a mile away, fell over.

Jinx took a few steps back before doubling over with her hands on her knees to gasp for breath, her eyes though never left the Diomos, a lesson learned over many years of hunting, never trust your prey is down until you’ve made sure it’s dead.

Hammerlock came sliding down the slope cursing the plants and rocks as he went before emerging in the clearing.

“Splendid show, truly marvelous hunt, if I dare say myself.”

“What. Took. You. So. Long?” Jinx wheezed out as she took in great gulps of the stagnant and
putrid air.

“Well I was doing the best I could, especially since I didn’t want to miss and hit you by mistake.”

“Appreciated.”

Hammerlock nodded in acknowledgment and turned to the beast “One moment. Sorry old boy.” he said to the Emperor and shot it again point blank, when it didn’t twitch or make a noise, they both visibly relaxed.

Hammerlock handed Jinx her bag and rifle and she quickly unhooked a canteen and took a small sip followed by a great chug. Sighing she screwed the lid back on before shouldering the pack and gripping her rifle, turned to look at the downed beast. Its eyes had a glassiness to them that she associated with the dead. Its great tongues where sprawled out in the dirt. But its massive horned rack spread three meters on each side of its upper skull the tips of the horns dyed with the blood of the multitude of things that had been gored upon them over the years. Really nothing in the universe looked quite like a downed prey.

Hammerlock was also staring at the beast, though his expression was more enraptured. The distant growl of another predator, most likely a smaller Red Footed Diomos brought them back to the present and caused Hammerlock to say “We should get this ready for transport back to the town, then, onward your prey awaits. But first I must get a commemorative photo. What ho, what a glorious day for a hunt.”

Chapter 12

Jaka 4

The hunters returned near dusk, and split up to find their companions. Hammerlock found Wainwright in the hotel sitting room, in one of the tall chairs by the fire, going over a thick ledger. Spotting him as he came in, he rose and hugged his husband before signaling for food to be brought over, before they sat by the fire as Hammerlock began regaling Wainwright with tales of his most recent adventures. Jinx watched for a second before she went to the main desk to find out which room Gaige was in and headed up.

Gaige had spent the rest of her day, after Wainwright had left to go check on the factory, wandering the town. She had found that there were two bars in addition to the one in the hotel, one of which had a decently nice view from its open terrace, which faced out from the town and over the jungle, it also had fairly decently priced drinks, though it was mostly brands she had never heard of. She had also found that the general store stocked many weird items including dried animals, though she couldn’t figure out what they would be used for, as well as some of the worst flavors of soda she had ever encountered, including but not limited to Blood Sausage, which appeared to be some kind of local delicacy, Slag, and strangest of all, Beer, which had proven wrong on so many levels that she had bought one, it was still sitting on the side table waiting to be opened.

All in all, it had taken an hour or so of exploring the town before she was so bored, she couldn’t take it anymore, so she went to the factory. Finding that Wainwright was still occupied with meetings and business, and not wanting a repeat of their mornings conversation, she went exploring in the wing that they had originally been held in, eventually finding a few more of the awful inspirational posters and a volume of an old ECHO log serial, all of which she took. She had just finished it for the second time when the door opened and Jinx walked in with an “I’m back.”.

“Thank goodness” she moaned “I was sooooooo boooooored.”

“So why didn’t you go up to the ship?”

“Urk…I didn’t want to miss you when you came back, and uh, it’s rude to enter someone’s house when they aren’t home?”

“You didn’t think of it.”

“I didn’t think of it.”

“So other than bored, how are you?”

“Uh…fine”

Something about the way her eyes didn’t quite make it to Jinx’s made her wonder what was really up, but everyone had things they didn’t want to say so she moved on “So what was up with the factory? Is it up and running? Did you get permission to use it?”

“Yeah, about that, turns out that a bunch of bandits from off world, led by some ex-Hyperion dude, tried to take it over to make guns for their revenge against Hyperion if you can believe it. But we sorted it, no problem. Well, had to totally kill a bunch of goons and all, but it’s all good. Place is back up and running and should be ready for action.”

“Damn it” Jinx swore in displeasure “I knew I should have went with you to check it out,
you OK though?

“Totally fine.”

“Ururgh”

“BABE! Wait in the hall you rat.” she said pointing to the door.

“Ururu” he responded huffily before floating out.

Once the door was closed Gaige turned and saw Jinx staring at her “Fine! I got hurt a little bit, nothing major.” She fibbed hoping that the other girl would buy it or at least move on.

Jinx continued staring at her hard, like she was waiting for Gaige to brake and just when it appeared that she was about to ask something, Gaige quickly interjected “So how’d your hunt go?”

Jinx fixed her with a stare that let Gaige know that she knew what she was trying to do before sighing and letting her win this round.

“It went.” she sighed “Hammerlock used me as bait to get his Emperor Diomos. That thing had three tongues, like tentacles with teeth and the teeth moved on their own. Super gross, I hate those things. Tentacles I mean. But on a brighter note we got what we needed. And not just that but the nest turned out to be a super rare rainbow hive, so we got all kinds of colors that we can use to coat the cybernetics with, I mean like emerald and sapphire and ruby and even a really pretty purple…What?”

“So that’s why you’re so late? You had to collect the full set of the colors?”

“Whoa what? No, it’s not like I could just kill the ones I needed and just collect them and walk away, you know. Once a hive gets riled up, it needs to be dealt with before you can spend the time harvesting them, and we worked as fast as we could.”

“Fine, fine I get it, you’re out there playing and having fun while I’m stuck back here with nothing to do but sit around and wait and worry, right?”

“Smells like you found the bar though.” Jinx muttered.

“What was that?” Gaige said with rising anger in her voice.

“Nothing.” Jinx said dismissively.

“Nothing? Really? Cause it sounded like you said that I smelled like a bar to me.”

“No, I said that you smelled like you found the bar. How many drinks have you had today anyway?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but one, two, three, three drinks, oh and a little hair of the dog, and a couple of margaritas. But that’s it.”

Jinx sighed with a disappointed look on her face.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“No what was that sigh about? Am I not allowed to have a drink?”

“Let’s just drop it.” She said as Gaige looked at her with a near glaring expression.

When she didn’t get a response she continued “So, back to what I was saying, uh, right, with the different colored wings I got, I can make the new cybernetics outer armor in about any color or style. So do you have any requests or thoughts? I’m thinking of doing a really pretty one with the purple I mentioned and I could make one for you too.”

“I’m not a kid anymore.” Gaige snapped back.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounded like, I’m not six, I don’t want a pretty purple prosthetic.”

“What does your age have to do with what you like?”

“It means I’m an adult now and I act like it, unlike someone I could name.”

“You act like it? You? Really? Is that why you keep having to chastise yourself because you finally enjoyed something? That’s not being an adult, that’s just playing pretend.” It was like a dam had burst, and everything she had been keeping inside came pouring out. Even some of the things she never meant to say. “I mean seriously, you keep denying what you like and who you are to the point that I don’t think even you know who that is anymore. Do you? I mean every time you look like you’re about to have fun, you suddenly look like you’re ashamed of it, like you’re guilty of something. Why? If you like something, you like it, if you don’t that’s all there is to it. I mean tastes change and all that but yours haven’t, otherwise you wouldn’t keep thinking about these things longingly would you, you wouldn’t need to justify it to yourself like you don’t secretly want them. That’s probably why your drunk so much, because you loathe yourself, deep down, I mean, you really can’t stand the person you’ve become, and that’s the ‘adult’ way to deal with it isn’t it, to drown yourself in booze till you forget who you are and why you can’t stand yourself. And you wanted to know why I keep looking at you like that, it wasn’t disgust, or disappointment, it was pity. Pity, because you don’t even know who you are, not really. I mean you used to be a badass and now? What are you? After giving up all the pieces of yourself that you liked and that made you you, what was left? A pathetic little girl who’s pretending to be all grown up. In other words, the biggest child around. That really is the truth of it isn’t it, you’re just the kid at the gathering who desperately tells everyone around them that they’re an adult, when all their petulant whining is doing is convincing everyone that they aren’t. You want to think you’re an adult? Grow up.”

SMACK

Gaige slapped her. Hard. With her left hand. The force of it spun Jinx’s head around hard enough that she saw stars dancing in front of her eyes. Gaige was quaking with rage, so much so that she couldn’t even speak as she stormed out, slamming the door behind her, leaving Jinx alone in the room.

Jinx was numb, she couldn’t even feel the throbbing in her cheek, and as a trickle of blood traced its way down from the corner of her mouth, she muttered the one word that summed everything up.

“■■■■”

-----*-----

Gaige had stormed out in such a rage that she had even sent Deathtrap away, not being able to face him for fear that she would do something to take out all the pent-up emotions churning inside her on him. Alone she had stormed into one of the bars and had set up in a corner of the terrace to drown everything away, even as a small voice pointed out that she was acting exactly as Jinx had said. She squashed the voice down and proceeded to drown it in booze. Before long it had worked and the voices and emotions went silent as she passed out across the table in sweet, sweet obliviousness.

“Miss? Are you alright?” A soothing voice pierced through the fog.

Lifting her head from the blessed cool of the table, she turned it slightly and as looked up to see a handsome man looking down at her in concern.

“It is you.” he said with a kind voice and soft smile “I thought it was, but didn’t think I’d be running into you out here of all places.”

She looked at him through bleary eyes, ‘Do I know anyone this good looking?’ She thought, hastily whipping the sleeping drool off her chin with the back of her hand and tried to place him.

“It’s me, Steve, from Talion 6. We met at the wedding, remember? Though don’t feel too bad if you’ve forgotten.” He said with a kind smile, she liked that smile.

Gaige looked at him while trying to wrack her sozzled brain. A handsome man in his mid-thirties at the wedding? She had a vague memory of someone like that, but maybe it was this light, but he looked a whole lot hotter here. She also remembered Jinx at the party and that soured her mood a little. ‘Well screw her, bitch ain’t here to ruin this for me, and neither is Deathtrap’ She thought before fixing her gaze on the hunk before her “Steve?”

“That’s right. Didn’t think I’d see you again, especially not so soon, or in such a place. So what brings you to Jaka 4? Certainly you didn’t chase me all the way out here just for that drink I owe you?” He said with a laugh. It was a nice laugh, Gaige thought.

“Naw” She slurred out “'M ere cause I needed somfin for for for persnl raisons. Yew?”

“Business. Won’t bore you with the details.”

“Nonshenss, eit won bore me.”

“I’m sorry if this is a bit forward of me, but is everything alright? You seem kind of, hm, down?”

Gaige looked at him, the concern in his eyes, those pretty eyes and let loose “I ad a figh wif dis bish. Well na a figh relly, mor a she jus wen ov on me, like I shot we wa frens, bu she call me a chil, child an ■■■■, meen stuf, righ?”

“Wow, she seems like an unpleasant sort.”

“An ta tink I kinna liked er, pft, I got no tase.”

“Well, better to be rid of her then. Just be glad that you found out what she was really like when
you did.”

“True dat” She smiled sloppily, he seemed nice, handsome too, and he had said something about business. Had she hit the jackpot this time? Was he, just maybe, had she found the one?

“I still owe you a drink, so why don’t we drink to, hm, I know ‘The truth and new prospects’” He said while setting a drink in front of her.

Gaige clumsily picked up her glass “Ta truf an gnu proshpecs” and downed it.

Slamming the empty glass down she looked at Steve. Through the drunken haze, the small part of her mind that had kept her alive chimed in that something was wrong. Her head was feeling heavy and fuzzy so she lay it back on the table to rest and looked up at Steve to apologize. Maybe it was the booze, or the lighting, but it almost looked like something had flashed behind his eyes, like his smile had turned colder, and for a second she had the strangest thought that it looked like something was wearing his face, like a mask, and it had slipped. And maybe something was up with her eyes, either that or it was getting late cause it seemed to be getting darker suddenly, but she couldn’t hold the thought long enough to figure out which. Maybe a nap would help. Or would that be rude? Nah, Steve was so nice that he wouldn’t mind.

He had just set his glass down, which was still full, she dully noticed, when he suddenly looked to
the side, out of Gaige’s visual range and suddenly started twitching slightly, especially the corners of
his smile.

“H-hey, this is”

BOOM

His handsome face vanished in a shower of blood. Gaige watched as two drops landed in his drink and swirled away as they dissipated. ‘Waste of a good drink’ sloshed through her consciousness while in the fuzzy faraway place that he had been sitting, Steven’s body slumped out of his seat and thudded far, far away on the floor.

A firm hand grabbed her by the chin and pulled her head up, her vision swam and stuttered,
trailing behind the sharp movement, but eventually she was able to focus on the face in front of her. The bitch stared back with a strange expression, part of it Gaige could identify as anger, but the rest was unidentifiable.

“Oo bith” Gaige slurred around her thickening tongue “I lid im. E wuz nece un oo killd em.”

Jinx looked at the table and the empty glass in front of Gaige before grabbing the other girls jaw as she was slurring and holding it open, shoved her cold robotic fingers down her throat, even as Gaige tried to bite them. She quickly changed her grip to the scruff of her neck as Gaige violently and noisily threw up across the floor.

“Wha da fug?” She coughed out.

“That ‘nice man’ you were talking with?” Jinx hissed out through clenched teeth “That was ‘Suave Steve’, one of the worst pieces of vileness to crawl its way into standing on two feet.” She crouched down and tossed Gaige over her left shoulder while continuing in a slightly softer voice “I would prefer to carry you better, but I’m afraid that if I do, you’ll end up drowning if you throw up again. So bear with it.”

From her new vantage Gaige could see Deathtrap floating in the doorway holding a crate as locals swarmed behind him to try and see what had happened.

As the edges of her vision stitched the darkness together over her eyes, Gaige murmured as loud as she could “I ope I puk on yur butt.” And the she went limp.

Jinx let out a sigh and lugged her out.

Chapter 13

Hunters Moon

Gaige woke in a familiar bed with the worst hangover of her life, not only was her head pounding but her mouth tasted like a Skag had drunk slag, ate some small disgusting animals, threw them up in her mouth and then they’d died. Except that would have tasted better, but her head hurt so much that she couldn’t focus on a better description.

‘What did I do last night?’ she thought as she tried to sit up. Thankfully the room was dark so she couldn’t see it rocking and spinning. She fell back into the bed, resolving to try again when everything stopped revolving. Squeezing her eyes shut, she eventually managed to open them and slowly rolled to the edge of the bed, where she found a bucket and used it for what didn’t appear to be the first time.

Her head started clearing and memories of the night before came back in fragments. Her getting told off by Artemis, drinking, Steve. And she felt a heat rise in her stomach completely unrelated to the bile that was trying to work its way up.

“Bitch” she managed to mutter through her dry lips.

Eventually the roiling in her stomach settled enough for her to look around and she spotted a row of glasses on the nightstand, each with a numbered card in front of them with pills on them. All that was missing was a card that said ‘drink me’, she thought bitterly. But she did recognize the first pill so she dropped it into the water and after the seltzer tab had dissolved drank it, before moving on to the next.

By the time she had finished she felt well enough to stagger into the shower, and after a nice long soak, some of the pains she hadn’t even known about started to release.

She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel, to find that Deathtrap had been floating in the room, probably had been watching over her as she slept. Had he brought her back? She couldn’t remember, in fact everything from the time she met Steven was a bit blurry. He had offered a toast, though she couldn’t remember what, and Artemis had shot him in the head, scratch that, she had killed him. There was something about her jamming her fingers in Gaige’s mouth, then blank. Wait, if she focused, she could almost remember something else. Smug Steve? No that wasn’t it. But it was something about Steve. Scum? Suave. That was what she had called him, but not like he was suave. Like it was his name. Suave Steve.

Gaige looked at Deathtrap “I picked a real winner this time eh bud?” She whispered as loud as her head would allow.

“Urur” He replied softly, used to her hangover volume limits.

“I mean she seemed so nice, a bit, I donno, naive? But man she is a cold bitch, I mean what she did to Steve like that, and for what? Talking to me?”

“Ururag” Deathtrap protested almost angrily.

“You’re defending her? After what that bitch said? What she did to poor Steve. And he was so hot. And interested in me too.”

“Ururugu”

“What do you mean by that?”

Deathtrap indicated to her ECHO device. Gaige puzzled looked at it before typing in a search for Steve. Predictably she found more results than she could sift through in years. Puzzled by Deathtrap’s insistence she remembered what Artemis had called him and tried ‘Suave Steve’. A much more manageable number came back. But the first one grabbed her attention and caused the warmth in her stomach to turn to ice. She clicked on it and started to read before her legs gave out and she sat heavily onto the bed. Numb, she put the ECHO down and stared into nothingness as her brain tried to make sense of what she’d just read.

It turned out that Steve, not his real name, had allegedly been born on Evis 3, into a bandit clan. By the time he was sixteen he had become their warchief, and led them to some prominence, but by the time he was twenty he had grown bored with all the bandits, so he reinvented himself. He left the planet and Steve the bounty hunter was born. He quickly gained a reputation as an extremely violent and nasty hunter. Rumors about him spread, but have not been proven, but where compelling enough to have him banned in numerous systems, as well as having a number of bounties placed on him by families of his bounties. It was well documented that he only hunted young women, but if the rumors are true, he used his charm and innocuous demeanor to put them off their guard so he could slip something into their drinks, a trick he was believed to have learned back in his bandit days. Afterwords what he would do to them was beyond depraved, he would drug them and do things to them, sexually as well as torture, mutilation, murder, and if the rumors were to be believed, indulge in cannibalism, and not always in that order. He was also well known to only deliver the heads of his victims/bounties.

Gaige sat staring at the accompanying photo, which was of the same man she had been talking to the night before. She felt the bile rise in her throat again, but managed to keep it down as she numbly put her hand on her ECHO and read the next article, which was much the same as the previous. As she sat there it hit her, the look on Artemis’s face the night before had been a mix of anger and fear, an expression she had never seen on Artemis’s face before. ‘She knew’ she realized, she had recognized him and that’s why she had been afraid. And he had recognized her. Suddenly Gaige remembered the first time she had met Steve, at the wedding. She had been alone then, Deathtrap had been patrolling and Artemis had been off to the side, and when she had come back, he had vanished. She hadn’t even realized he was gone at the time. And then last night. He had shown up when she was alone again. She slowly turned to look to Deathtrap “I nearly screwed up really bad didn’t I?”

“Urrua”

She felt conflicted, on one side she was still pissed off at Artemis for what she had said, but she also felt that she should at least thank her for saving her from her own mistake. As she sat mulling her thoughts around, she slowly realized that the drugs had kicked in and her head no longer hurt, at least not as bad. And upon realizing that, she realized that she was hungry. She glanced over at the clock and saw that it was past three in the afternoon.

“Well that explains it” she muttered to herself. She got up and headed for the door when she stopped, this was Artemis’s ship, so obviously she would be somewhere on it. And Gaige was not ready to confront her.

She turned sheepishly to Deathtrap “Um, babe? Where’s Artemis?”

“Urgr”

“On the bridge? OK we should be able to use the kitchen without running into her. I hope.”

“Urara”

“Whatever.” She replied and opened the door stealthily only to find a piece of paper stuck to it. Pealing it off, her first thought was ‘This would make really nice wedding invitations, maybe a bit light for that, but it’s really nice paper.’ Her second was ‘Aw man, I’ve started thinking of everything in terms of weddings, haven’t I? I really need to find a new job.’

Opening it up she found a letter written in a strange cramped cursive of someone not used to writing.

It read.

Gaige

I am not good at this so I’ll skip any pretenses.

You were right to hit me. I was wrong. I had overstepped my bounds, and for that
I am sorry.

I do not ask you to forgive or to try and put it behind you.

I do not make excuses, I will be spending the rest of the trip in the cockpit, the rest of the ship is yours, so you do not need to worry about running into me.

Deathtrap knows where the finished armor is. Feel free to use any tools you need in making the changes. You know where to find them.

Once more I am sorry.

Jinx / AR73M15

Oh and we will be arriving on Pandora tomorrow morning at about ten

Gaige looked at the note and thought ‘damn right you were out of line’ and considered crumpling the page, but instead tucked it into a pocket and headed to the kitchen to stop her stomach’s complaining.

A short while later, having filled her belly with a hearty sandwich she followed Deathtrap to where the crate was. Inside she found a small bundle for her, which when she opened it found the replacement outer plates for her arm. Looking at them she was amazed at the craftsmanship. At a glance she couldn’t tell them apart from her existing ones, they had been replicated down to the scratches. Every detail was there, from her red spike on her knuckle to the paint chip missing from the bicep. Underneath she found similar pieces for Deathtrap, but these were designed to go under most of his decorative parts, but they were also of excellent quality.

After doing a few tests on them to try out how electric and magnetic proof they were, which turned out to be as advertised, completely, she spent the next few hours carefully replacing parts. When she was finished, she felt a little bad that she couldn’t really tell the difference, but realized the genius of that. If Holloway and his agents saw that either her arm or Deathtrap was different, they would know that they had not just encountered the EMP grenade, but had found a work around for it. If they didn’t suspect anything, they would undoubtedly use them with confidence and thereby give her a brief opening. And in a life or death fight, any opening was enough to turn the fight around.

After cleaning up and getting another meal, Gaige found herself in a surprising place. She was bored. Not that she couldn’t do something with Deathtrap, nor was it that she couldn’t find something to read, or an ECHO to watch, but as she looked around, she found that she didn’t want to do any of those things. Eventually it hit her, she wasn’t really bored, she was lonely. She wanted someone to talk to, to laugh with, share stories, or even sit in silence as they each read, a comfortable presence in the room. The knowledge hit her like a gut punch, why would she be lonely with Deathtrap there. But deep down she knew, it wasn’t that she was tired of his presence, far from it, she loved him and nothing was better than having him around. No it was something else.

She missed Artemis.

The thought made her want to punch herself in the head. She wanted to smack herself and yell ‘After what that bitch said? You still want to talk to her?’ but it was the truth. Before that mess, she had really enjoyed talking with her, and talking to Wainwright had made it painfully clear that it wasn’t just her needing a stimulating conversation. While she had enjoyed her talks with Wainwright, well except for his insistent prying, but she hadn’t felt as at ease with him as with Artemis, and she didn’t think that it was that they were both girls either.

Conflicted she nearly went to the cockpit to talk to her, she also almost went around wrecking the place to punish her for last night. Since it was obvious that she would regret either of those things, she instead spent her time looking around the ship, examining the trophies. Both the ones that had been hunted and the ones she had collected. In the end she found herself staring at the carefully hung equines, feeling a mix of envy, sadness and loss.

Unable to take it anymore she turned in early, despite not being tired since she had slept away most of the day. But she soon found herself drifting off, especially after Deathtrap brought her a mug of hot cocoa. ‘Hers’ was better’ she thought tiredly and drifted off.

Once she started snoring softly, Deathtrap tucked the blankets in around his mistress and then settled in to recharge. Looking at the bed, he did the best equivalent of a sigh he could and sincerely wished that this mess between the girls would be resolved soon.

Chapter 14

Pandora

Jinx, true to her word, didn’t leave the cockpit until the ship was in orbit around Pandora. Gaige had woke early, in no small part to her having gone to bed early as well as rising late the day before, and after a hearty breakfast, had found herself with nothing to do. She eventually settled in the chair in the lounge with one of Hammerlock’s books, she had made sure to pick one where the pages where already falling out so that if it did get damaged as she was looking at it, she wouldn’t be responsible for replacing it, and had spent the time reacquainting herself with the wildlife of Pandora.

Eventually ten rolled around and very shortly after the door to the cockpit opened and Jinx emerged, giving Gaige her first encounter with her since she had carried her back. Gaige was surprised to see that the right side of her face was discolored from a bruise where she had been slapped. Other than that, the only thing that seemed off about her was the dark rings under her eyes. Seeing Gaige look at her she drew the hood of her outfit, which was grey and taupe. As she did Gaige got a passing glance at her new cybernetic, ‘Of course she would make herself a pretty purple one’ Gaige thought sarcastically, even as she remembered that the other girls favorite color was also purple.

Even as she thought that, she had to admit to herself that it was a truly beautiful shade of purple, on that, Jinx had been telling the truth. While the arm itself was thinner and sleeker than Gaige’s spiky retrofitted one, it looked nice. The purple seemed to change color as it moved through the light, going from a nearly black in the shadows, to almost magenta on the highlights. Coupled with the fact that she had coated her thumb, first and fourth fingers in a gold, the effect was striking, even though or maybe because it was finished in a matte coating.

‘It matches her hair.’ Gaige realized before shaking her head and grabbed her things to proceed down to the surface.

Pandora had always been a ■■■■■■■■, and the years hadn’t changed that, the first impression it gave was a desolate wasteland that would drive anyone who couldn’t flee it insane. It was only after you spent some time on it that you realized that first impressions where sometimes right.

The two girls stood at the edge of the platform looking out over the dusty, cracked earth, towards the mesas and mountains in the distance. Far off Jinx could see dog-like creatures running and strange things flying overhead. She readjusted the rifle strap on her shoulder and after mentally bracing herself turned to Gaige.

“So now where?”

“Huh? You mean you don’t know?”

“You where the one who said that we needed to come to Pandora. I mean if you want to take your time and catch up with someone here, that’s fine, just let me know and I’ll find something to do.”

“Who the hell would I catch up with here? There is literally no one else in sight. Come on, I need to see if I’m still registered in the Catch-A-Ride system.”

She started walking toward the back of the building to where a small stand emerged from the dust.

“I suppose you’re already registered.”

“No”

“What.” she said in the most fake sounding surprise she could manage “Something else I’ve gotta take care of, wow, who would of thought.”

The other girl didn’t respond, just following along in silence, which caused Gaige to snort derisively and move on to the console. Tapping the buttons, she found that not only was she still registered, but all her favorite presets where still saved. ‘Bless you Ellie’ she thought.

“All right, I’ll Digi-struct us two vehicles, I’ll need a Technical so that Deathtrap can ride in the back, so I guess I’ll get you an Outrunner… What.”

“I, uh, can’t drive.”

Gaige laughed “What? You can’t drive? How have you gotten around?”

“Well, it’s, that wasn’t quite right, I can drive, I’m just really really bad at it.”

“Like how bad we talkin?”

“Uh…I can usually keep two wheels on the ground?”

“Oh this I have to see.”

----*----

Two minutes later Gaige was driving them away, not even laughing, just in shock.

“I’ve never seen anything like that. That was…I don’t even know what to call that. I feel a little bad just seeing that. I mean, thirty feet. And I didn’t even see a rock there. So how?”

She continued to ramble on to herself as she drove the Technical across the dusty landscape while Deathtrap patted Jinx on the shoulder trying to comfort her as she sat huddled around her rifle in the back with him.

It wasn’t long before she started looking out through the armor plates in the sides at the wildlife, as they drove past. The Skags howling and trying to chase after, and the occasional thump as one got in front. The circling Rakks, and the occasional other vehicle, being driven by psychos and bandits in the distance, which they tried to avoid.

Recent events had left scars on Pandora, ones that Gaige could clearly see, and not just that Elpis was gone, replaced with a burning image of the Firehawk, there were smaller things here and there. Old posters and signs for the C.O.V., images of the Callipso twins all of which could be left from their time on Pandora, but some were newer. Replicas of the Firehawk image painted on walls and signs, with an almost fearful reverence. She saw images of Tyreen Callipso with an almost angelic visage, and signs saying things like ‘The God Queen Watches Over Us’ and “She Will Rise And Devour All’ that made Gaige believe that even in death, the Callipso’s where still starting cults and spreading crazy, making her wonder what would happen if someone mad or foolish enough claimed to be one of them reborn. She shuddered at the thought.

But the most unsettling thing as they drove through the wasteland was the lack of bandits. As Gaige followed the map on her ECHO, they only had one encounter with them, which after a short pursuit they gave up and went back to whatever bandity things they had been doing. In fact they had more encounters with Skaggs than bandits. Jinx had been watching out the back when she heard the howling cries, and saw the dog like creatures emerge from their dens. There jaws hinged open as they yowled and took off in pursuit. As she watched the vehicle thump thumped and she saw one of them rolling dead having been under the wheels. The rest continued pursuit for a little ways before turning back.

Truth be, it was a boring trip. So much so that Gaige was beginning to consider striking up a conversation with Jinx, when she saw their destination come into sight. Along one of the rock walls was an opening, well-fortified and next to it a sign reading ‘BOOMTOWN’ with two of the O’s being bunny heads. To both of their surprise no one had graffitied the sign.

Gaige parked in front of the well-fortified door and noted that there was another CatchA-Ride station across the ‘road’. She turned and led the way in, past the large barricades designed to keep vehicles from ramming their way in, and through the round doorway. Inside they found a small ramshackled town of sorts growing out and around what appeared to be a mix of building and shipping crates. The haphazard design spilled out over the cliff edge with some of the buildings appearing to be hanging on for dear life, and others standing on top of them. Near the top of the tallest mess of a building was another sign declaring BOOMTOWN. Behind the building Jinx could see something that looked like the pedestal and feet of a statue.

Gaige casually started to wander off throwing an offhand “Immana find someone I know.” that felt like a ‘Don’t follow me’ as the town’s residents seemed to be giving them the evil eye. Jinx stood there for a moment feeling a bit lonely, before heading around to look at the statue. What she found was a giant bird made out of bronze. As she went to look for an inscription, she sensed something moving on her peripheral. Spinning she drew her back up piece as a psycho landed on a crate near her.

“Don’t move lest you go B to the OOM.” The psycho rambled at her. Jinx looked at the crazy over her gun, not having much experience with the psychos of Pandora, she didn’t know if this was, well, normal for here. But the psycho was wearing armor, as well as bunny ears, and lots and lots of bombs. The last part was normal for psychos from everywhere.

Just as she was about to squeeze the trigger she caught movement on the other side of her and as fast as she was didn’t quite get her other pistol up before she heard the familiar sound of a sniper rifle cocking and a gruff voice say “I wouldn’t do that if I where you.”

She shifted slightly so that she could see the man with the rifle. She was genuinely surprised to see a skinny man with a long curved beard sticking out of what appeared to be a Truxican wrestler mask. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was holding a very well maintained rifle, and that he spoke in complete sentences, she would have thought that he was also a psycho.

He looked past her without his eyes leaving her and called to the crazy “Yo Tina, you good.”

“Damn it Mordi, we supposed to use code names.”

“We’re in town Ti…I mean ‘Boom Bunny’, seriously can’t you come up with a better name, I feel ridiculous saying that.”

“Shut it Mordi. Nnng, this barrel, so big, I wanna put my finger in it, I wanna I wanna Iwanna.” she said while her finger inched towered the gun aimed at her.

As she did, Jinx tensed and as she did so did the wrestler, just when it seemed that it would end badly for everyone involved, a massive shadow stepped around the building. Jinx took one look at the towering mountain of scars and muscle and slowly raised both guns while uncocking the hammers.

“Why’d you react that way to him but not us?” The bearded man, Mordi grumbled.

“Because I get the impression that shooting him would just piss him off.” Jinx replied matter of factly.

The big man laughed “Hell yeah it would, you seem smart. You must be Gaige’s little friend.
Names Brick.”

“That makes sense, names Jinx”

“Wait Girly Gaige is here?” the rabbit nearly shouted happily reaching up and sliding her mask to the side revealing a young woman, who still looked fairly crazy.

“Right hear.” came the reply from behind Brick. Gaige stepped out before seeing Jinx with her guns out and glaring at her “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What? Someone wearing a psycho mask drops next to me and you think I’m gonna
react differently?”

“Hey, psychos don’t wear bunny ears like the great Boom Bunny Tina does.” came the reply
from Tina.

“You’ve obviously never been to the Mynas system, both the Jugger clan and the Puff Puffs wear bunny ears.”

“What! Oh tha’s it, we goin there an straightinin them ladies out, no one copies Boom Bunny,
no one.”

“Calm down Tina we got”

“SHUT UP MORDI, I AM HAVIN A MOMENT!”

“Yah, quiet Mordi.”

The sniper tossed his hands in the air and walked a few steps away. As quickly as it began Tina turned to Gaige “So girly, haven’t seen you in a hot minute, what brings that fine ass to Boomtown? I still wanna see which finger fits in that barrel, by the by.” she said as one of her eyes drifted toward Jinx who quickly holstered her guns.

“We need to get in touch with Sanctuary, thought you guys might know how.”

“Us…Guys? Does this sweet ass package look like guys to you? Nah I just screwin wich you playa, it’s good, though not so good for you.”

“What Tina’s trying to tell you is that while we might be able to get in contact with Sanctuary, we won’t be able to help you for a little while.” Mordi said.

“Why not?”

“Oh oh, let me tell, let me let me let me come on come on please pleasepleaseplease.”

“Fine, jeez you can get annoying.”

“Shut it! We can’t cause, it take time foo. An we got this super totes important thing we be doin. B-TEAM! So we can helpz ya when we back, or you can come wich us an helpz us out.”

“I think we’ll pass.” Jinx replied dismissively

“Wait, you can do that?” Mordi seemed genuinely surprised “I just, I don’t think anyone’s ever turned one down before.”

“We’re in a bit of a hurry, so if you can’t help us, is there anyone else who can?”

The big man stroked his chin “Hmmm, you could try Vaughn, he should be at Roland’s Reach, he might be able to contact them.”

Gaige’s eyes narrowed in concentration “Vaughn? Rolands Reach?”

“We’ll ECHO ahead to let him know you’re on your way, and let me mark it on your ECHO” Mordi said “Man, it’s been a while since I last got to do that.”

Gaige nodded “Thanks you guys, and Tina, was great seeing you again. I’ll need to come back some time and catch up. You still down for tea and crumpets?”

“You know it boo.”

Gaige nodded and turned to Jinx her voice and look cooling considerably “Let’s go.”

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Chapter 15

Pandora

“So Boomtown was a bust” Gaige was talking to herself in the driver’s seat. They had piled back into the technical and were following the map across the wasteland.

“Rolands Reach, bet Lilith had a hand in naming that one, you remember her eh babe?” She called back to Deathtrap.

She turned slightly and threw back to the other passenger “Seriously though, why would you pointing guns at Tina and Mordecai?”

“Is that his name? The Truxican wrestler looking guy, with the beard. Huh, everyone just called him Mordi. And the reason I was pointing a gun at Tina, was it, was that she was dressed like a psycho.”

“Psycho’s don’t wear armor. Or bunny ears. Or have masks like that.”

“What do the Pandora psycho’s masks look like anyway?”

“ Like every other psycho that I’ve seen, usually a white mask with a yellow vault symbol on it.”

“All of them look the same? I’ve been wondering something, where do they get them from?
I mean is someone out there just mass producing these things? Is there a store for them? I’m really kinda curious.”

“Really kinda? But now that you mention that, where are they getting them from? Wait you’re not distracting me with this, Boomtown, Tina, talk.”

“Fine, like I said someone dressed like a psycho drops down next to me, I’m gonna at least draw on them. She should count herself lucky that I didn’t just shoot.”

“You should count yourself lucky you didn’t, Mordecai would have killed you, and then Brick would have killed you, super painfully, I should add. And then I would have killed you again.”

“I could see that.”

They fell into an uncomfortable silence as the rocks grew larger and it soon seemed like they had entered into a valley when Jinx cocked her head listening to something.

“What” Gaige said noticing the change behind her.

“We’ve got incoming, lot of them from the sound of it.” Jinx replied while readying her rifle.

No sooner had she said that then the first Outrunner sailed over the nearest cliff edge and slammed into the ground behind them. Fishtailing around it started pursuing them.

Gaige tightened her grip on the steering wheel as she yelled out “Hold on, this is about to get bumpy!”

Jinx examined the vehicle behind them, the masked driver with his hands tightly gripping the wheel, the psycho with a mask exactly as described in the gunners’ seat with a buzz-ax waving above his head. It was just like she’d always dreamed Pandora would be like.

As she was getting misty eyed the sky started raining vehicles. Another half dozen Outrunners and half as many Technicals, many with extra passengers hanging from the sides. The vehicles themselves where covered in blood and she could make out what she presumed was the clan symbol on their hoods, an ugly red mechanical fist crushing the Firehawk symbol, not that it meant anything to her or changed what she had to do.

She stretched her left leg out and curled her right near her bracing her elbows against her knees while adapting to the swaying of the ride as Gaige started evasive action. Everything slid and shifted as the ride became more chaotic with bullets pinging off the armor around her and barrels exploding after being launched from the chasing Technicals, Deathtrap did the best he could firing electric blasts at their pursuers, but instead of worrying about it Jinx focused on her breathing. Slow in, slow out and the world seemed to slow down. She opened her eyes and focused in on what she needed to hit. She could make out the sweat trickling down the drivers face the slow-motion shifting of his hands on the wheel, the flexing of his mask as he yelled, none of it mattered and she waited, waited, even as in the far off distance she could barely make out Gaige yelling at her and then with a steady exhale, she fired.

She shifted even as the bullet hit the driver’s skull, exploding it and causing the wheel in his now limp hands to spin, she shifted to the lead Techincal, watching as it landed, skidding and bouncing and just as it came down, she fired again.

Everything seemed to speed up again as her second shot tore into the strut holding the Technical’s front wheel on just as it hit the ground. The tire collapsed inward throwing the vehicle into a roll just as the Outrunner with the dead driver slammed into it from the other side spinning both vehicles onto their sides and causing the following vehicles to slam into them launching the others into the air and filling the canyon behind them with explosions.

Gaige glanced behind them and seeing the wreckage of burning twisted metal said the obvious “What the hell happened back there?”

“They had and accident.”

“Well that should make it easier, we’re almost there. Smooth sailing from here on out.” she said before her grin slid a notch and she thought ‘What was it that Wainwright said about things like that?’

“Look out!” came the cry from behind her and a shadow flew in from her left, slamming into
the Techincal she was driving with enough force that the last thing she remembered was the
world spinning.

—*—

The pain brought Jinx around, she had only been out for a few seconds but everything hurt and it took almost everything she had to keep her eyes open. Squinting them back shut she focused on what had just happened. She had just clogged up the path behind them and as they exited the canyon, she had seen a shadow approaching from the side at high speed, just as she had tried to warn Gaige about it there had been a sharp impact and she had went flying. She had landed in the rocks around the edge of the canyon and had blacked out.

Opening her eyes again she tried to push herself up only to be met with searing pain in her side. Looking down she could see a shard of the vehicle running through her, just above her hip. It wasn’t too far into her side so she figured it had missed all the vitals, still she couldn’t ignore it for too long, but first things first. Gritting her teeth, she drug herself to where she could see the wreckage of the Technical that she had been riding in and what she saw froze her insides.

They had been hit by a bandit Technical that was now parked near the wreckage, which was swarming with bandits and psychos, four of which were facing off against Deathtrap, though he was just floating looking displeased because two of them had drug Gaige from the wreckage and had her on her knees before a third, who had a great slab of a shield on his back and seemed to be in charge. Jinx couldn’t hear what was being said but before she could get her rifle ready, they had drug Gaige into the back of the Technical and Deathtrap floated up into it as well before they took off.

Just as they did Gaige looked back and Jinx swore their eyes met for a brief second, and Jinx could tell that she would be doing everything she could to stay alive long enough to get away.

As the vehicle tore away in a cloud of dust Jinx slumped back down, her back to the rocks. She didn’t have time, she needed to hurry, so she got out her med kit and got to work. She ripped the shard of metal out with a grunt, slapped a patch over the wound and let the self-healing technology within get to work, she augmented it with an Insta-Health vial and tightened her belts around it with a wince.

She stood carefully, having made sure there weren’t any bandits remaining, before pulling out her canteen, only to find a great hole in it. ‘It must have been ruptured during the crash’ she thought bitterly tilting it as best she could to get the last drops out, then turned and adjusted her rifle before setting a course for Roland’s Reach.

-----*------

Vaughn was having an average day, well as average as a former warchief and current Crimson Raider on Pandora ever had, especially with what had been going on recently, when one of the spotters came running up to him. As they tried to catch their breath, Vaughn looked at them with anticipation.

“What, what? Is it a bandit attack, please tell me it’s another bandit attack, I knew they couldn’t stay away from these pecs. Which clan is it? Oh, oh, maybe it’s my invite, maybe I won’t have to call another BLOOD FEUD, though I was kinda looking forward to it, five and 0 baby!”

The other man looked at him tiredly, used to his bosses eccentricities, he missed having Vic around,
at least when she was there she could smack some sense into Vaughn, but she was out taking care of things right then, so the runner waited for Vaughn to take a breath before giving his report.

“Sir, someone’s approaching, alone and on foot.”

“On foot? Nice.”

“They’re wearing boots sir.”

“Oh” The disappointment was audible “Well what do they want, they’re not a bandit are they?”

“Does not appear so, and we have no way of knowing what they want until they get here, I’m just letting you know so you can greet them if you want.” “Humm, might have to do with what that ECHO was about earlier, let’s go! Bandit Life! I still can’t get used to that, Crimson Raider Life! Just doesn’t have the same ring to it, ah well.” and he jumped off the roof of the building he was on and made a looong circuit of the area on his way to the front gate. The spotter sighed and walked the thirty or so feet and waited. It didn’t take long before he heard the familiar cry of “CARDIO” and Vaughn came running up to him.

“Well where are they?”

“There.” the spotter pointed to a figure approaching, they would be at the gate in just over a minute at their current pace.

“Wait wait, should I make a more dramatic entrance, I should shouldn’t I, back to places, let them in when they get here.” and he ran back around to the top of the building.

The spotter sighed, wondering where Vaughn got all that energy from, and signaled to open the gate as he went back to his post.

-----*-----

Jinx hurried toward the sheet metal walls ahead of her, over which she could see a large statue of a man, but not much in the way of details. ‘What is with these bases and their statues?’ she wondered ‘wouldn’t those resources be better spent on defenses?’ She realized that she was getting a little delirious from heat and dehydration as she approached the gate.

“State your business.” someone called down.

Jinx looked up at the ramshackled wall and the gate which appeared to be made of something pried off of a spaceship, like a fin or something. She looked in the direction of the voice and let out a wheeze and gave a rather short and rude gesture to open the damn door already.

She heard voices inside and the gate split open creating enough space for her to stagger in through. As she did, she could get a better look at the statue, but didn’t care enough to bother.

“Bro, welcome to Rolands Reach, current home of the Crimson Raiders. Oh guess I should’ve said Bro-nette. Vaughn in charge, yes that Vaughn, former warchief, still searching for a new clan to lead, but that’s not important, so what brings you to our little casa? Oh oh let me guess”

“Water” Jinx cut him off

“I’ll be honest, not what I was gonna guess. Who are you anyway, don’t seem to remember seeing you before, and you defiantly do not fit that ECHO description I just got, no giant robots around? I mean how cool is that? Not so cool if you worked for Hyperion, which I did, so…”

Jinx looked up at the speaker, and found herself seeing things she never wanted to see again, a dirty man wearing a pair of boots, a cape and grungy underwear. He was looking down at her from on top of what was probably another Catch-A-Ride station.

“Water” Jinx replied.

“What is that like your name? Water? OK Water, what brings you to Rolands Reach?”

Jinx groaned in frustration, took a deep breath and with a cracking voice managed to get out “I need water. Now.”

“Oh, over there. But before that…and she’s gone.”

Jinx staggered over to the pumping station and turned the spigot and to her immense relief clear cool water began to emerge. After a few small sips she took a long draw and stood up with a sigh, turning to the crazy man leader and looked him in the eye, more so she didn’t have to look at him anywhere else.

“I need a canteen, ammo, Insta-Health vials, and information.”

“Whoa whoa, bro-nette you can’t just roll up into someones camp and start demanding things, it’s not how it works. I mean first you need an introduction, and then”

“Names Jinx, Brick told us to come here.”

“Us, man I thought I was crazy.”

“Don’t interrupt me” Jinx said icily “We were attacked by a group of bandits on the way here, my friends…traveling companions, where taken by them, I am going to get them back. So I need a canteen. I need ammo. I need Insta-Health vials. And I need information. While someone is getting me the first three, you can provide the last. K? Good. Bandit clan with a symbol of an ugly red cyber hand holding a bird like that one” she pointed to the burning Firehawk in the sky “Who are they, and where can I find them.”

“Ugh, the ‘God King’s Acolytes’, they’re half the reason that I’m still a Crimson Raider, can’t even start a good clan up again with them around, I mean we had rules and then”

“Don’t care, where are they.”

“Yeah, you should give up on your friends, if they’ve been taken, they’re probably going to be part of the wedding, as either food or a wedding day sacrifice for whatever, luck, kids, meat showers.”

“Where. Are. They.”

“Like I said, they’re holding a wedding today, their chieftain is marrying the chieftain of the ‘Children of the Destroyer’ at their hold, and like they’ve invited bandit clans from all over, I didn’t get one, nearly called a BLOOD FUED on them for it, but, it’s like a wedding, kinda ■■■■■■ to kill them over not getting an invite on the day of their wedding.”

“They’re not killing her. I will stop them, do whatever it takes, so don’t get in my way. Just get me what I asked for, show me where they’re at, and get me a vehicle to get there in, and I will do what I have to too get her out of there, no matter what that is.”

The look in her eyes told Vaughn all he needed to know, there was no dissuading her, he had seen that look in the eyes of the Vault Hunters, and others so he signaled the others to bring what she had asked for, while she took another drink. Within a minute she was sitting in a new Outrunner ready to go.

Jinx tightened her grip on the wheel and let out a breath, didn’t matter how bad she was at driving, this had to be done. She flexed her hands and floored it. And promptly hit the wall.

Swearing she spun the wheel and got loose and launched over the door, landing with a bounce that nearly flipped the vehicle she managed to get it under control for a second, before hitting a rock and ricocheting off down the road.

Vaughn watched her go, amazed at how bad a driver she was, and in a moment of clarity went to call the B-Team to let them know what had happened.

-----*----

The Outrunner bounced and shook down the road hard enough that Jinx feared she would end up with whiplash. She was already sure that something had fallen off, and considering the noise coming from the suspension, was wondering what would go next when a convoy of bandits came roaring in from a side canyon.

The first slammed into her form the side, sliding her into another rock, ricocheting off she bounced just as a Technical slammed into her Outrunner, flipping it onto its side. The screeching metal and smoke that was billowing out told her that its time was truly up, so she grabbed the rollbar with both hands and launched herself out of what had been the roof and using centrifugal force, shot across the Technical’s hood, driving her boot into the drivers’ head. She slid in next to him and pitched his body out the door just as her original ride exploded. The rest of the bandits didn’t seem to take her hijacking of one of their vehicles very well and started pelting it with bullets.

She swerved and felt the truck rock, almost going over before hitting another Outrunner. Swearing she tried to figure out how to fire back, when from under the hood a shower of sparks and smoke told her that her time was almost up.

“How ■■■■■■ do they make these things?” She groused as she jumped onto the Outrunner that was ramming her from the side.

The psycho that was driving looked at her and yelled “Only I can pilot the poop balloon!”

“Uh. Good for you?” she said in confusion before slamming his head into the rollcage and chucking him out.

The bandit in the rear weapon ring saw what was happening and started to take aim as she slid into the drivers seat, but just as he was about to squeeze the trigger the whole vehicle lurched sidewise knocking the gun from his hand. The next lurch slammed him into the ring, bruising his ribs. Suddenly fearful he did the smart thing and tried to bail only to be slammed back and forth as the Outrunner bounced, nearly snapping his spine. Dazed he slumped back just as the entire vehicle hit a rock and launched into the air before slamming down at a bad angle and pitching into a roll, ending his suffering.

Jinx swore as she came out of the roll only to be hit by another Technical. This time the entire front of the Outrunner pitched up and the front wheels snapped off against the hood of the Technical, so she scrambled up and leaped just as the Outrunner slid off. Managing to catch the door to the truck she swung freely for a second before slamming into the side with a rib bruising crunch. Winded she looked up as the driver stared at her. Jinx smiled and punched the driver causing them to swerve, which lifted Jinx out again only to slam her back into the door. Gasping she looked ahead only to see they were going straight for a cliff edge. Swearing profusely she looked around and saw that another Technical was fishtailing near the rear of hers, so she swung herself onto the hood of the one she was on before running over the cab to jump into the back. Landing among the passengers, who stared at her in shock as she ran past them and just as they got their wits about them, she leaped out and caught the side of the fishtailing truck.

It turned out that the truck’s driver was almost as bad as Jinx because there wasn’t even enough time for her to pull herself up and take it over before it crashed. She rolled free from the wreckage before it exploded and was on her feet only to find that the last of the convoy was out of range for her.

Swearing again she started running after, before she came out of the canyon and saw that she was in sight of their destination, a massive fortress stretching from the cliff edge to the rock wall. It looked like a cross between a giant robot, a city, and a junk yard, so pretty typical for the Pandoran sights she had seen.

As she ran towards it, the gates slid up to allow the remnants of the convoy in. As the last vehicle entered and the gate crashed shut, she saw that the front way in was heavily guarded. Taking a second to examine the fortress she saw a side way in and started heading for that while fervently hoping that Gaige was OK.

Switching her rifle to her back, she rolled her neck, still wishing it would crack for effect and declared to herself “It’s time to crash a wedding.” before starting to climb the rock wall while wishing she could come up with a better attack phrase.

Chapter 16

Pandora

“No! Bloody skull, rib cage, bloody skull. You’re totally ruining the aesthetic.” Gaige yelled at the bandit while cold sweat trickled down her spine.

The crash had knocked her out for a brief moment, but in that time the bandits had descended upon her and had managed to surround her. Their leader had used the threat of bodily harm to her to stave off Deathtrap, and then had used the threat of destroying him to keep her in line while he had leaned in to examine her. He was a large, foul smelling bandit dressed in dark leather coats and hood, with a massive shield strapped to his back. He had grabbed her chin in a large meaty hand and painfully pulled her up to look him in his beady eyes.

“Little Mecromancer turned into a wedding planner.” He growled at her through a broken smile “We got a job for you little wedding planner, play nice and the robot doesn’t die first.” He turned to Deathtrap “Hear that? Chain it up, and throw her in the back, and no biting, we need her intact.” He told his clan as they had scuttled to obey. Which was how she had found herself in the middle of their fortress yelling orders to the bandits and psychos.

It had turned out that the first bandit Technical that had spotted them had recognized her and Deathtrap and had reported back to the clan chief, whom had realized that she was just what they needed and sent word to all the clans in the area to capture her or risk his displeasure. Which had been why they had attacked with such numbers and ferocity.

After her capture, she was taken on a truly unpleasant ride surrounded by drooling males, a scenario that she had thought she would have liked, but as with all things recently, it turned out that like anything, it could be turned into a nightmare scenario. When they had arrived, she had been drug in front of the clan warchief and her capture had announced that he had captured ‘the wedding planner’ and the leverage to get her to work, i.e. Deathtrap.

That was her first encounter with the warchief of the ‘God Kings Disciples’, a gargantuan brute wearing leather pants, that may or may not have been made from the skins of his rivals, no shirt over his rippling abs, a dark beard, beady eyes, twin mohawks and a great spike encrusted slab of a tower shield. He also had skin the color of Eridium, which was a first for Gaige.

As much as she liked the color, she had to admit that a full body that shade was a bit off putting at best, and in truth, it creeped her out. She wondered if he had been swimming in slag or if his mom had been drinking it while pregnant, no wait that timeline didn’t line up, but she kept thinking along those lines to distract herself from her predicament.

He had looked at her before smiling, reveling black teeth and declared in a voice that seemed to echo within itself “Welcome to the God Kings Acolytes, you have the great pleasure to kneel before Castor, great warchief and one of the blessed annotated of the great God King himself. Glory be to him and may he rise again.”

“May he rise again” came the reverberating chant from all those present save Gaige and Deathtrap, who both looked around with rising certainty, these people where nuts.

The chief continued after a brief prayer like pause “You have been brought here on this most auspicious day to serve as counsel to the great clan as we prepare for the most sacred of events, for on this day the chief of the ‘Children of the Destroyer’ shall become my bride and with her I will fulfill the grand prophecy. And we shall birth a child who will call back the great Gods and return this corrupt universe to their divine will.” ‘Scratch that’ Gaige thought ‘This guy is full blown rakk ■■■■ crazy.’

“Now you shall be brought to the grand temple to prepare it for the coming ceremony.”

“So, you want me to, what? Do your wedding planning?” she ventured.

“In short, yes.”

And so, after they had fitted Deathtrap with a collar that would short him out if she disobeyed, she had been led to the ‘Grand Temple’ which had turned out to be actually pretty impressive.

The room was the size of a small Colosseum and was shaped in a large half circle that had been stretched out, so more of a two thirds oval. At the flatter end there was an overhang with extra room, and a control room for technical stuff that she was not allowed into. At the other was what she would’ve described as a alter. On either side was giant pictures of the Callipso twins, Troy on the left and Tyreen on the Right, both made up from a collage of masks from various psychos and bandits, as well as pieces of vehicles and cutouts of them. The images had a holy vibe to them, with the twins having halos made out of bones and guns. In the middle over the alter itself was an ugly metal arm, disproportionately large and rather crude looking, one that Gaige recognized.

It was Troy Callipsos cybernetic.

The alter itself was beautiful in its own horrific way, made of twisted metal with different patinas, twisted around bones and buzz axes.

The growling of psychos drew her back to her situation and she found herself having to deal with the brute whom had captured her to find out what his boss wanted and to get help to organize the wedding.

She got to work, while her mind had went back to just after the crash, she was sure that she had seen Artemis among the rocks, but she could only hope she had survived. As she worked, she started thinking about the fight they had had, if it could be called that. In truth it had been more of a dressing down on Artemis’s part, and Gaige getting pissed. And while she was still sore about that, she felt that Artemis had overstepped her bounds since they weren’t close enough to talk like that yet, deep down she had started to question whether or not she had been right. The Gaige of old would never have let herself be captured this easily, so what had changed? Was she holding herself back? And it wasn’t the first time in this past week that she had felt this way either. She really wished she could talk to someone about it. She really wished she had someone to talk with.

Sighing she continued to try and buy time, hoping that someone would rescue her before it was too late Not that she didn’t have a really bad back up plan formulating in the back of her mind, but that was absolutely a last resort. She questioned whether or not Artemis would even be willing to come after her after the way she had treated her over the last day. No, she would, Gaige realized. Even if it was suicidal, for some reason she was sure that the other girl would come. No matter what, she would find a way. And that thought gave her a warmth in her heart that someone would go that far for her, and a cold sense of dread that she would be leading the other girl to her doom.

-----*-----

The preparations were complete, and the macabre room was done up in glorious gory bandit style. With rib cage wall scones and bloody skulls, an actual fountain of blood and skin bouquets. In a small disturbed way Gaige was proud of how it had come out, at least the clan seemed happy. Plus it had kept her distracted from the sinking predicament she was in.

And then the clans started to arrive.

Gaige found herself drug up to the alter and chained up off to one side as the room started to fill.

First came the grooms’ side, ‘The God King’s Acolytes’. The clan was comprised of a fair number of males, though it did have quite a few females mixed in. Most of the clan was on the large side and were dominated by ritualistic scaring on their right arms as well as frequent purple tattoos. Over a third of them where psychos, but out of the rest their were an abnormal number of Brutes and Nomads. There were a lot of them, nearly filling one side of the room with their noisy rabid clamoring.

Then what she guessed where the brides side came in, snapping noisily at the Acolytes.

Where the Acolytes had been on the larger side, this clan had an abnormal number of Hags and Tinks in their ranks, or at least more than the Acolytes had. Their psychos where an even mix of the sexes, but they had a number of badasses in attendance, and not just psychos. She saw nearly a dozen heavily armored Tinks, as well as twice that number of bandits and others she couldn’t identify. The clan’s motif seemed to be tentacles, with a large number of them appearing as tattoos as well as a number of the psychos having what appeared to be imported limbs of some creature wrapped around them, or outright stitched onto them. The leadership all seemed to be wearing long coats stitched from various hides with fur collars that had been tossed over their shoulders, which she guessed that the colors and level of decoration of the coats denoted some kind of hierarchy, though she had no clue what that was.

Eventually other clans started arriving, some showed up in force, including one that all had facial scars and pins like Troy Callipso, and others sent only representatives, snarling badasses and slavering psychos. Even a few other all purple ones arrived.

Many of them had eyed her up, and even a few had tried to approach, only to be turned away by some of the Acolytes top lieutenants. But even with that reprieve, Gaige felt the bad situation getting worse by the second and her really bad back up plan getting more and more tenuous at best, suicidal being more likely.

She was really getting worried when a giant pipe organ that must have been on the second story started playing and the ceremony itself got started.

Castor and a few of his top lieutenants took their place on one side of the alter and the music paused before shifting to what Gaige could only guess was the brides march. She was right as the rear doors to the temple opened and the brides procession started in. At the start of the procession was a pair of Tinks, the first female ones Gaige had seen, both attached to leashes being held by a one-eyed Hag. As they proceeded, they were scattering what she could only assume where scabs.

Following them where a line of psychos, also female and many with dyed hair, alternating with bandits, between them they were carrying banners, except that the symbols where carved into the backs of still living people strapped to the poles. Occasionally the bandit would lash the captive to elect a scream from them and it appeared that there was some kind of competition between them to see who could get the best from their captive.

Next where what Gaige guessed was the equivalent of bridesmaids. All females and all naked save for the tentacles and organs that had been ‘tastefully’ draped over them. Each one carried a bouquet of a mixture of flowers, organs, bones and buzz axes in both hands as they solemnly marched forward. One step, pause, one step, pause, as if their slowness was the point, which considering how they usually moved may have been, though it did nothing for Gaige’s nerves.

Finally the bride came into view, accompanied by another of the purple bandits, this one twitched and crackled as if being electrocuted. The bride herself was somewhere between the size and build of a regular psycho and a badass, so taller and more muscular than normal and with two great arms one of which was looped through the purple mans and in the other she held a bouquet much like the bridesmaids only larger. She had a band covering her chest and a skirt made out of the faces of many people. Over her face she wore a mask behind a veil that was probably made out of tendons. On her back Gaige could see the handle to a massive buzz ax.

When they had at last arrived at the altar, Gaige was nearly hyperventilating. ‘This is bad bad bad bad’ her mind repeated and then the officiator of the wedding came out of a hidden door behind the alter. He looked as if a Nomad and a Goliath had a child, after beating each other up. Large in every way he strained against the robes he was stuffed into, reminding Gaige of those revolting blood sausages from Jaka 4, which caused her to want to laugh and puke at the same time. She settled on an eye twitch and swallowing her bile. His head was obscured in what looked like a cross between a bandit mask and an old executioners hood.

He waddled up to the alter and set a great book upon it. He opened it to the bookmarked page, which Gaige was mildly surprised to see wasn’t covered in crayon drawings or made out of skin, instead the page was covered in writing and the ‘priest’ found his passage and started to read.

“We are gathered today to bind these two willing participants together, to form one clan, to shatter the fires and wake the stars. The blood of the Gods shall shine upon them as they take their rightful place at the feet of the Twin Gods and bow to the only beings more than themselves.”

“Let the Twin Gods watch over them and bless us all with their return. May they rise again.”

“MAY THEY RISE AGAIN” came the chant from the entire crowded room sending shivers up Gaiges’ spine.

“As they are our witnesses, let us commence. On this most holy day we test the resolve of these two to join together. Bring them forth.”

As he spread his arms paired members from both clans moved forward, each carrying a large bucket of glowing coals between them, which they passed to the bridesmaids and groomsmen who in turn placed them next to the couple. Each reached in and drew out a glowing bar of metal and simultaneously chanted “My resolve, proven. My strength, proven. My blood, proven.” or at least Gaige thought they did, the bride’s voice was a bit garbled. Finishing the chant they then pressed the glowing brand into the chest of the opposite. The smell of burning flesh caused Gaige to gag, even as the rest of the wedding party cheered.

The coals where taken away and a laughing psycho came forward throwing his fists in the air in triumph, before dropping to his knees between the couple and extending his arms straight out.

“Your resolve has been proven, now you must share with each other that which is most sacred.”

The couple each grabbed one of the psychos arms and when the ‘priest’ nodded yanked, tearing the limbs from the psychos body in fountains of blood. Each held their respective arms up to the growing cheers of the crowd.

“The most sacred of thing has been shared. Now take your rings and place them on the others fingers to demonstrate your commitment to giving to the other what you have, so that all know that what is one clans, is both clans.”

They took the arms that they still held and each pulled the ring off its finger. They slipped them onto their partner and then both raised their hands to show the icons of the Twin Gods their commitment.

The crowd went ballistic with cheers.

“You have completed the trials, and in the Twin Gods eyes I now pronounce you to be married.”

The ‘priest’ declared as if calling an end to what could charitably be called a mockery of a normal wedding. But then he turned and called out “You may now kill the sacrifice.”

And all eyes turned to Gaige.

“Well ■■■■.”

Chapter 17

Pandora

The ‘priest’s’ head exploded, spraying the feet of the Twin Gods with blood and brains. The entire procession froze, staring in shock as the body slumped over. Gaige, whom had been backing up, was the first to turn and spot the person standing on the second floor, her foot against the rail and her smoking sniper rifle in hand.

“Artemis” she whispered, but as she did so she noticed something glinting as it fell into the crowd, as if it had been tossed just before she had shot. Gaige’s mind pondered what it could be, and just as she realized what it was and the crowd itself spotted Artemis, the grenade detonated. The initial explosion tossed something into the air while unleashing a nova of fire, lighting many unfortunate nearby bandits immediately, and then the rain of fire started, as the part that was tossed up split into three and started firing burning fireballs into the crowd.

Artemis leaped into the ensuing chaos, driving her blade into the head of a burning badass and using his body to cushion her fall before rolling to her feet and sprinting up the center isle as fire rained down, creating a dramatic backdrop. She dodged past the bandits and psychos stumbling around her and leaped over the last row of chairs, as Gaige popped the lock on the chain around her neck, which had been part of her bad idea all along. Artemis shot one of the groomsmen that had the sense to try and attack her, and scooped his gun up and tossed it to Gaige.

“Where’s our friend?’ she yelled only to be met with a “Urara” from off to the side as he smashed two of the bridesmaids heads together.

“You came for me.” Gaige called out, realizing how cliched that was but smiling anyway.

“We gotta get out of here.” Artemis cut her off.

“Not so fast” came a roar from the side. It seemed that Castor had got his wits about him rather quickly, he wasn’t the warchief for nothing, and held out a control “Say goodbye to your robot.” he snarled while he pressed the button, sending enough volts from the collar around Deathtraps’ neck to fry a small ship.

Deathtrap cocked his head and casually reached up and snapped the collar, tossing it at the stunned Castors feet.

“How?” Was all he could get out as he stared in horror between the collar and Deathtrap. Deathtrap shrugged and fired a beam of electricity back at him, and would have hit, if the bride hadn’t tackled her husband out of the way.

With them at least temporarily out of the way, the three interlopers made a break for the hidden door, as the clans started roaring for blood and just as she was crossing out of the temple, Artemis turned and pitched another grenade at the chasing crowd, causing them to dive for cover even as the fire spread amongst them.

They ran down the passage with no idea where it would lead them, just knowing that it was away from the bloodthirsty crowd. They turned this way and that when they came to intersections, figuring that one way was as good as any other when you didn’t know anything about them.

It wasn’t long before they cleared the temple building and emerged into the sun, Artemis did a quick glance at it to orientate herself and started leading them around, when the bandits started to catch up. The first ones raised shouts of alarm and soon the area was swarming with them.

Artemis spun and snapped off a shot, taking the lead ones head off before spinning back to follow Gaige, whom had snapped off a few shots of her own taking out two psychos that had emerged in their path.

Dashing up to the corner of a building she crouched and turned it, spotting a bandit running for cover and took him out while yelling for Artemis to move. She did, dashing around the corner while switching her rifle to her left hand and simultaneously drawing her pistol before leaping a small barricade to slide up to the next corner.

They continued this way, clearing corners and covering each other as they made their way across the complex. Unfortunately for them the numbers that the clans held, vastly out stripped the amount of ammo they had and it wasn’t long before Artemis holstered her pistol while swearing.

“I’m almost out” she declared “I’ve got like two more reloads on the pistol and one for the
rifle, you?”

“Yeah, this thing’s almost dry.”

“■■■■, cover me.” and she dashed out making a bee line for the nearest bandit, whom had just stepped around from his cover. He staggered back in surprise while bringing his rifle up only to have it knocked aside and a blade stabbed into his throat. As he fell, Artemis spun his rifle up and motioned for Gaige to join her.

She turned the corner and pulled the trigger, only nothing happened. Swearing she pulled back as the corner disintegrated in a hail of bullets.

“What the hell is wrong with this thing?”

“Oh, that’s a C.O.V., you need to start their engine first.”

“Engine?” Artemis said turning the gun and pushing the button. After a second it sputtered to life and a steady putting could be heard and felt from it.

“You’ve gotta be careful about them, they tend to overheat if you fire them too much, but you never have to reload them, so…”

Artemis nodded and continued pressing forward snapping of short bursts as she went and snatching up a DAHL SMG as she went which she immediately switched to, while Gaige grabbed a C.O.V. Pistol and managed a good find when she killed a bandit with a Vladof assault rifle, they both also grabbed any ammo they could see as they ran.

“Gotta ask” Gaige puffed as they went “Why’d you come for me?”

“Huh?” the other girl looked genuinely confused.

“I mean we did kinda get into it.”

“What, just cause of that I should abandon you to this? And besides that was my fault, so why wouldn’t I be here?”

“I don’t…” Gaige couldn’t figure out a retort for that, when something that had seemed wrong suddenly clarified in her brain “Wait how did you get here?”

“I met Vaughn, dude needs to wear pants, yeck.”

“So he’s here?”

“Naw, got him to Digi-struct me a ride.”

“Wait, you drove? You?”

“Kinda sorta, I mean, I got here didn’t I. Oops incoming.” she said as another wave came running at them as they crossed onto a series of catwalks.

Gaige turned and shot a large tank standing to one side of the path coming in from the left, causing it to explode tearing the walkway off and sending burning chunks of metal onto the bandits swarming below. Artemis nodded and turned to the tank near the right-hand path but stopped. Just as Gaige was about to shoot it herself she heard “Wait for it, wait for it, gotcha.”

Artemis fired detonating the tank just as a badass psycho charged past it killing him and then as the entire catwalk in that area fell with a screech, she saw it land upon another group that had just rounded one of the buildings. She smiled triumphantly and turned only to get knocked forward as her shield absorbed a spray of fire from behind.

Swearing she spun and snapped off a short burst at the bandit running forward, catching him in the leg causing him to pitch forward, slamming his head on the rail. His unconscious body rolled off the walk just as a psycho leaped over him, and another bandit followed along. The two girls looked at each other and took off running again. They crossed off of the catwalk and the industrial buildings that it went over and back into the ramshackled maze of buildings that jutted up.

They turned the corner just as a badass Tink dove into a pile of scrap, Gaige cursed and turned to the nearest door, which was to a large building like a cross between a factory and a home, and shouldered her way through the door. Staggering up, she quickly slammed it as soon as Artemis had cleared it, and while holding it shut yelled for the other girl to find something to barricade it with.

After heaving a nearby table against it, they stepped back panting as they could hear the Tink’s turret start firing at the building.

Safe for the moment they took the time to examine their surroundings. The inside of the building was typical bandit aesthetic, usually whatever had been on the wall before they had liberated it from its home, then pile lockers and tables and barricades around, which always made Gaige wonder how many stubbed toes that led to. Other than that, the room they were in opened into a larger area with stairs leading to higher floors.

Moving cautiously in Artemis cast a sidelong look and asked “So, you holdin up?”

“I’m” Gaige was going to say good, but she realized this wasn’t the moment for bravado so instead she sighed and answered “I’ll make it. Thanks. Really.”

“Yeah, well, thank me when we’re out of here. But we’re doing well, I mean we’re getting low on ammo, but I think we’ve killed a couple hundred of them so far.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m positive that I’ve got nearly two hundred, but that does include the ones I got on my way to the wedding as well as those that got caught by the grenades.”

“Speaking of which, what where those?”

“Huh, oh I found a rare MIRV Firestorm a while back, I really like it, but it just isn’t that useful on a hunt you know.”

“Never seen one before, didn’t know they came in MIRV’s, you got any left.”

“Just one.”

“Wait you came with only three grenades?”

“Well yeah, I mean I’m a hunter not a fisher.”

Gaige starred at her not sure if she was joking or not.

“By the way, I haven’t seen Deathtrap since we got out, you don’t seem to concerned so I figure you know where he is.”

“Oh yeah he flew out over the cliff edge to throw off any pursuers and is now looking for a way out for us.” she replied while riffling through the lockers “Nice, got some shotty shells, and here a few sniper rifle rounds.”

“Wait they keep ammo in these things?”

“Well yeah, where did you think they kept it?”

“In an armory, or at least in an ammo crate.” she said while popping open the lockers on her side.

“Money, money, oh, rocket shells. Nothing useful here.”

“Yeah no pistol or assault rifle rounds, never can find what I’m looking for.”

“Well, we need to get moving, they’ll be coming around very soon, and I for one don’t want to be trapped here. The way I figure it, if I’ve got our position right in my head, if we leave out the third floor and head that way, we should be getting close to where the base meets the wall, which will put us somewhere near where I came in.”

“Sounds good, if nothing else it’ll limit the directions that they can come at us from.”

They hurried up the stairs as they heard crashing coming from the far side of the building. Coming to the third floor they raced down the metal sided hall only to come to a halt as twin Nomads stepped in, closing the narrow hall off with their shields. The shields screeched as they scrapped down the hall completely blocking it except for a small space at the top and bottom. Gaige swore and spun around only to have to duck back as bullets flew up the stairs, but not before she got a good look at the mass
of psychos swarming up. She ran her hands through her hair before giving her pigtails a tug and turning to Artemis.

“Looks bad, sorry I got you into this.”

“Shut up and shoot at their legs” the other girl snapped tossing her head in the direction of the nomads. Gaige turned and dropped to her knee and opened fire, hitting one of them before they brought the shields down against the ground. Artemis smiled as if she had been waiting for that and chucked her grenade through the space between the shields and the ceiling. There was a brief pause then loud yelling from the other side which was cut off by the nomads screams as they were incinerated in
the firestorm.

Artemis yelled for Gaige to follow her and ran at the shields, before jumping and kicking one knocking it loose and running over it and the smoldering remains it landed on, before sprinting down the hall and out the door at the end. Not pausing she placed a foot on the rail and jumped onto the roof of the next building over and hearing the thud of Gaige landing next to her continued on.

As they dashed across the roof, bullets started whizzing past them as bandits emerged onto the roofs of the next buildings, and the emergency door kicked open as more started emerging from it.

They jumped over the edge and landed on the next roof, surprising the bandits on it. The first one to react brought up a Maliwan and started firing from a good distance, causing glowing blue-white orbs to fly towards them. Artemis reacted instinctively and swung her left arm up to protect her face and to everyone’s surprise the orb vanished on impact. The poor bandit looked at her gun in disbelief and casually pointed it at the psycho near her and after he yelped in pain as he fell over twitching, she looked back at the fleeing pair before just shaking her head and letting them go.

They quickly made it to a metal grated walkway that would lead them to the cliff wall and the buildings built up next to it. As they ran out onto it, a swarm of psychos emerged ahead of them. Artemis swore again as she switched weapons from her now dry SMG to her assault rifle and started the motor. Yelling like she was trying to intimidate them, she let loose a fire hose of lead as she ran at them mowing them down. Gaige tried to warn her that the gun would overheat just as it made a grinding click. Artemis didn’t stop, instead she swung the white-hot gun up and caught the last psycho by the throat and held him against the wall as his flesh sizzled against the gun.

He salivated at them while yelling “I smell delicious.” causing her to drop the gun while she stabbed him in the head.

“What the hell? Did he just say he wanted to eat himself?” she asked aghast.

“Welcome to Pandora, where that won’t be the weirdest thing you hear today.” Gaige replied taking the lead.

Coming off the end of the walkway, they emerged into a large open space, on one side was a sharp drop off with only the most minimal railing imaginable, ahead buildings grew up against the rock wall and on the other side buildings led down towards the front of the complex. It was from the steps that led down, that two figures emerged from a small crowd of bandits. The first was the twitchy purple member of the brides’ procession, the other was the large man whom had captured Gaige.

“Well well, little wedding planner, twice in one day, I’ll be getting another promotion for this, though I must say I don’t know if I’m surprised or disappointed with you.”

“Yeah well, get used to disappointment.” Gaige said while Artemis was trying to change her gear on the sly.

“And you. I don’t know you, you were not invited, yet you crash our sacred event. A wedding is supposed to be a joyous event, and now you went and killed many of our brothers and sisters. This is not right. So I must ask, why? Why would you do something so terrible as to ruin our great leader’s day? And how do you plan to make it right?”

“Well you failed to settle your bill.” Gaige replied in Artemis’s place.

“Tell you what” Artemis chimed in “I’ll make it up by letting you walk away. Right now. Turn around and just walk away. I’ll let you go. That’s my generous offer, take it or leave it.”

The large man laughed “Ah you do amuse me, I think I’ll take you both back, you can enjoy watching each other die.”

“Pass.”

“Yeah, hard pass from me as well.”

“Oh, so you plan on trying to fight back, how cute.”

“Of course we plan on fighting back, now give us a minute.”

Artemis leaned in and asked “So how you wanna do this?”

“I wanna kill the big guy, you can have the other one.”

“Gee thanks”

“What, I thought purple was your favorite color?”

“Yeah it is, but I gotta say, seeing someone who’s all that color is a bit off putting.”

“I can’t argue with that, I’ll give you a hand if you need.”

“Good, you set? Here take this.” she said passing off the DAHL SMG “I think mine will be more use against twitchy here.” she said unstrapping her Maliwan off her back and thumbing the switch to corrosive, causing the gun to light up green.

“Wait if you had that why where you carrying the DAHL?”

“Eh, the charge time is a little iffy during some of those shootouts, plus electro-caustic isn’t the best against these punks. Though this guy makes me want to melt him.”

“Fair enough.”

“Oh, it looks like you want to go one on one, very well, Sig, that one is all yours, try to have fun and if possible, try to keep her alive, your queen would certainly like to finish her off herself.”

“The current flows and I see Lieberman at the end of the rib.”

Artemis looked like she was about to say something, Gaige just shook her head to tell her not to bother trying to understand what the psycho was saying and moved to the side circling the large man.

“The queen feeds” the Psycho yelled and threw his hands forward with a crackle and a blast of lightning jumped from his hand arcing towards Artemis, who again instinctively threw her left hand in its path. The lightning crackled against the surface of the cyber prosthetic and vanished.

“Hah, field test proves that the new armor works.” she said with a smile as the psycho looked from her to his fist and then started slamming it into the ground.

Meanwhile Gaige was sprinting around trying to get a clean shot around the large shield. But the large man kept turning, keeping the shield between them while firing his rifle around it, a technique that, while it was obvious that he had practiced, still was terribly inaccurate. They were both getting frustrated with their lacks of progress when Gaige remembered what had happened in the hall minutes before and while running, dropped into a slide and sprayed with her SMG. Swearing as bullets tore into his feet the large man slammed the shield down just as Gaige popped back up and spun around it letting loose with a clean burst into his side. Yelling in pain the man swung his shield and while Gaige had expected it, his range still got the best of her and he managed to clip her, sending her sprawling.

They both recovered and slowly got to their feet glaring at each other and started circling again, only this time the large man held his shield closer to the ground.

Artemis watched the purple psycho hit the ground in frustration as she charged up her gun in short bursts letting off just before it fired, weary of what was coming. As she expected the psycho stopped and looked at her, cocking his head.

“When does the meat dance with the shadow?” he yelled and leaped at her. She sidestepped his move and point blank unloaded the SMG into his head as he landed. He yelped in pain as the rounds started sizzling and to her surprise there was a small shock wave around him and he was suddenly fifteen feet away bubbling and dripping.

“Well that’s new.”

He looked at her and popped again, she spun knowing where he would be, only to feel her shield buckle under the impact of him punching her in the back, rocking her forward. Stumbling she heard him laughing and as he moved forward, she hit him with another clip of caustic bullets.

Gaige watched out of the corner of her eye as the psycho started teleporting around, but her main focus was drawn by the roar from behind the shield as the large man charged. Gaige dove forward past the side of the shield as he dashed past and rolled up to get a good shot in on his back. He roared again and spun holding his gun out and sweeping it across the field not caring whom he hit. Gaige threw herself onto the ground as the spray went over her head.

But Artemis wasn’t so lucky, not knowing what was happening as she dodged back from the psycho she caught the blast in the side, which staggered her just enough that the punch connected. She felt the shield go and the fist hit her stomach knocking her back. She managed to roll with it and came up in a crouch but the psycho was charging her with a look of triumph when a red laser hit him from the side and an explosion rocked him, throwing him into a painful pile.

As he started to rise woozily, Artemis point blank fired her last back-up gun round into the base of his skull, and to her amazement he didn’t die, but instead turned into a strange purple crystal.

As she holstered her empty gun she did a quick scan to see where the shot had come from and spotted Deathtrap floating in from over the edge of the structure, the strange crystal in his head giving off a red steam as he gave a short wave. She touched two fingers to her brow in a return salute and drew her pistol while turning back to the ongoing fight.

Both sides had grown increasingly frustrated, leading Gaige to waste ammo spraying her opponents shield, which while it caused him to stagger back, wasn’t doing any real damage. When suddenly a spray of shots hit him in the back of his knee, staggering him. Not missing the opportunity Gaige charged him and did a flying kick into the shield, trying to unbalance him. He took the unexpected hit and stumbled back, catching the back of his leg on the small lip and went tumbling over the edge.

She cautiously approached the edge and looked over to see the dust cloud way down where he had impacted. Only as the dust cleared, she saw that the ground had given way where he had landed and revealed a dark hole. As she wondered what it was, something impacted her from behind, knocking them both off the ledge.

As she fell, she felt the arms that had wrapped around her and realized that Artemis must have tackled her. As they fell tumbling so that she saw sky, dirt, sky, dirt, she spotted Deathtrap diving towards them and just before they impacted, she felt his strong hand grab onto her shoulder and slow her decent. Even so, they hadn’t stopped falling completely by the time they entered the looming hole created by the large man.

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Chapter 18

Pandora

They fell into darkness as they passed below the ground, only coming to a stop in what felt like a void. Looking around her as her eyes adjusted to the gloom, Gaige spotted old machinery and in the light coming from the broken ceiling she realized that they had broken into an old DAHL mine, made all the more clear by the large stenciled letters on the wall.

Deathtrap set them down gently, near the fallen bandit, and after a quick glance Gaige determined that yes, he was in fact dead, totally dead, like his shield had landed on his head, dead.

She turned to the other girl and demanded “What the hell? Where you trying to kill us?” But she stopped her rant upon seeing how pale the other girl was. She smiled with a wince and pulled out an Insta-Health vial.

“Sorry about that, I’ll explain in just a second.” she managed.

“Turn around” Gaige flatly demanded.

The other girl started to protest, but seeing the look on her face just sighed and complied. Turning, Gaige saw a cluster of wounds on her back where she had been shot.

“What the…”

Artemis smiled thinly and used the vial, sighing as it took effect and the wounds started closing before Gaige’s eyes. Straightening Artemis turned to her and said “Sorry about the whole falling thing, I was trying to hit you sideways, but the impacts kinda threw me off.”

“What?”

“You didn’t see those bandits then? The ones that came up with those two, shield guy and purple dude, as soon as their bosses died, they were about to open fire on you. Still this was not what I expected to happen. So sorry.”

“You apologize an awful lot you know, but thanks, I guess, and thanks for the assist with that guy.” she thumbed over her shoulder at the shield still stuck in the ground like a grave marker.

“Well I had help in mine as well” she turned to the floating robot “Thanks for that by the way.”

He held up his hand and Gaige chastised her “Well, don’t leave him hanging.” so she slapped her metal hand against his.

“Well now what?” Artemis asked looking around.

“First we should find the foreman’s office, you need to sit down. How many of those things have you used today anyway?” she asked indicating the discarded vial.

“I donno, five? Six? Something like that.”

“You need to sit down, take a minute, those things take a lot out of you, don’t they? Always have for me. I think it’s something in how they work, but I always feel worn down after I take to many of them.”

“That probably has more to do with why you had to use them then what they do to you, but yeah, I am feeling a bit ragged. Few minutes to catch my breath and I’ll be fine.”

“Babe?” Gaige said turning to her floating buddy, he nodded and started floating into the dark. The two girls started following him when suddenly there was a crash behind them. The spun, weapons up to see the shield laying flat, with a dead psycho on it.

“What the…”

And then another psycho splatted onto it. And then another. Falling through the hole in the ceiling psychos where throwing themselves in.

“Are they…are they trying to get to us still?” Artemis asked slightly horrified.

“Let’s get out of here.” Gaige said turning back to follow Deathtrap to a door in the wall. Pushing through they were greeted by a solid wall of darkness.

“Damn it’s dark in here” Gaige muttered flailing to try and get the lights to turn on

“Hmm, power seems to be out.”

Between Deathtrap’s glow and the light from their ECHO screens they were able to find their way through the room, though when Artemis banged her shin into a desk, she was secretly glad it was her left leg.

Eventually they found the power station through a door in the back of the office and Gaige pulled up a chair and ordered Artemis to sit while she went to work on fixing the generator. After a few minutes of silence other than telling her to adjust the light here or there she sat back.

“Well the good news is that everything seems to be in working order, gotta give it to them, they really made these things to last. The problem is that to get it started back up, we need to give it a kick. Usually there would be a small starter motor that you would get going and use that to kick start the power system, but it seems fried.” She turned to Deathtrap and cocked an eye.

“Urru” he replied sadly.

“No dice huh, well I guess you haven’t had a chance to recharge for a while now so don’t worry about it, keep what you’ve got left for an emergency.” she said patting him in the arm. “But what to do.”

“Why not use that pistol?” Artemis said.

“As much as I want to sometimes, I don’t think shooting it will solve our problem.”

“No, the C.O.V. one. Isn’t it engine driven? Can’t you use that to start the generators?”

“Wha…yeah that should work, have to destroy the gun to do it though.”

“Better than sitting in the dark.”

Gaige nodded and took out the gun. She worked quickly and within a few minutes had the engine sitting on top of the generator ready to go.

“Well, here goes nothing.” she said pushing the starter. After a few worrying seconds of wheezing it took off, and after a few moments of waiting and eying some dials, she flipped a few switches and pushed a button. There was a loud, long grinding noise and then the engine chugged to life.

The lights blinded them as they came on, even as they flickered in intensity while the power stabilized.

Blinking against the light Gaige led the way back up to the foreman’s office and took a seat on the desk with a sigh. Artemis joined her after making sure that the doors where closed, taking the chair.

“So we’ve got power, now what? And where are we anyway?” she asked looking around.

“It’s an old DAHL mine. Whole planet is littered with them. Well the place was settled by them, so it does make sense, but this place seems to have been abandoned and not even the bandits knew about it, which is odd, since most of them where DAHL employee’s way back.”

“You seem to know a lot about this.”

“Learned a lot in my Vault Hunting days” she said in a mix of pride and sadness “But enough about the past, looks like we’ll have to make our way through the mines to get out of here.”

“We could just wait until enough of the psychos throw themselves in to climb up the mountain of bodies to get out.” Artemis snarked.

“First, ew that’s nasty, and second by the time there are that many they may not die on impact, and also they’ll stop long before that and I don’t want to be in here that long, so at best we’ll use that as a backup plan.”

“Jeez, I was just kidding, no need to give it such serious thought.”

Gaige stuck out her tongue at the other girl before laughing with her, shortly they returned to the topic at hand.

“Urrgur”

“No babe. I mean, yes you could fly us out, but the place would be swarming with bandits, so we’d just end up back where we were. But it was a good idea. Now then, we should wait here a minute to gather our strength, then search the room for anything useful, speaking of which, what do we have for weapons?”

“Well first off…” she drew her canteen and took a sip before tossing it to Gaige, who eyed it like she had just been handed the most precious thing in the world. Cautiously taking a sip she sighed, and took a good drink before restraining herself and closing the canteen.

“Hoo, I needed that.” she said leaning back with a smile.

Taking back the canteen Artemis slid out of her chair and sat cross-legged on the ground before she placed the canteen on the floor in front of herself and started emptying her bag.

“Let’s see, I’ve got my sniper rifle” she said placing it in front of herself “and seven rounds, my pistol, and let’s see fifteen rounds, my back up gun and no rounds for it, an electro-caustic SMG and forty four rounds, five assault rifle rounds, huh had one more than I thought and nine shotgun rounds. Other than that, I’ve got a half full canteen, two more Insta-Health vials, some tools, a shield, and an ECHO. Might have something else in one of these pockets, hey a mint, but that’s about it. You?”

“Why nine shotgun rounds?”

“I snagged them at some point and must have reflexively pocketed them.”

“That makes sense, as for me, let’s see, I just used the C.O.V. pistol, but I still have ten rounds for it.” she said laying her bullets opposite Artemis’s “The DAHL SMG and twelve rounds. A Vladof assault rifle and twenty-seven rounds, I dropped the other assault rifle when I got this, it was out anyway. I also had a shotgun at one point but I dropped it.”

“Why”

“Wasn’t like I planned on it, I used it to parry a buzz ax and it went out of my hands and over the edge. Speaking of why’s, if you had the Maliwan, why where you using the DAHL? Seems like melting someone would have been better.”

“It’s the charge up time, kinda hard to pull off snap shots with it.”

“OK then why carry it at all? And why not a fire? That would’ve been really useful.”

“Cause I’m a hunter. Most things go down if you shoot them with a regular bullet, right, but armor and shields interfere, hence the elctro-caustic. And the charge time is less of an issue in the wild,
for one, you aren’t getting shot at, and for another, you can usually get a longer stretch to line up
your shots.”

“That makes sense, but the way you handled yourself, this wasn’t your first firefight was it?”

“No. No it was not.”

“Yeah you seemed pretty good at it.”

“It’s no different from hunting, put down your prey as quick and clean as possible. And don’t think about it.”

“So who was the first?”

Artemis looked at her quizzically.

“The first person you killed. Everyone’s got a story about it.”

Artemis looked at her for a second and then down at her hands “It was a short time after I had become a hunter. I was on some planet, I don’t even remember which, truth be told, but it was a craggy muddy planet. I was going down some canyon and turned a corner. Right there” she held her hand up like she could see it “This, like half a bridge or something, with sheet metal houses on it and the next thing I know this psycho jumps off it screaming, this large ax or cleaver held over their head. I didn’t even think about it, I just shot her out of the air. One shot and her head was gone. Didn’t even have time to register cause the next thing I knew there where psychos pouring out and before I knew it there where a dozen of them dead. And the worst part is, I have never felt bad about it.”

“Course there were others after, bandits, bounty hunters, trophy thieves. All of them dead now, and I still, I don’t feel bad about it. No sleepless nights, no tears, nothing. And I don’t know, does that make me a bad person? Am I a monster?”

“No. You are not a monster, nor are you a bad person, you just killed bad people who would have done the same to you given the same chance. It’s like that for me to. The first person I killed, well that was Marcie, which you know about. Well that’s the first that I’m responsible for, and truly the only one I feel bad for, I mean she was a bitch and all, and her dad cheated like mad for her, and she was a bully and I hates me some bully’s. But she didn’t deserve to die like that.”

“That wasn’t your fault. That wasn’t Deathtrap’s fault. It wasn’t even her fault. It was an accident. As they say '■■■■ happens”

“I know, and I keep telling myself that, but I still feel responsible.”

“Well, if we ever meet Mr. Holloway, don’t hesitate because of that.”

“Ouch, I mean, you have a point, but that was a bit harsh don’t cha think?”

The other girl shrugged “I did tell you I wasn’t a people person didn’t I?”

“You weren’t kidding. Wait, what where we talking about anyway?”

“Urrug”

“Right, first kill. I guess my first in person kill would have been…you know I don’t rightly remember. I had just arrived on Pandora and the train I was riding on crashed, damn you Jack.” she shook her fist at the memory “That’s where I met the other Vault Hunters, as well as CL4P-TP, we killed some Bullymong, which contrary to what Hammerlock says, is too much fun to say. Actually we met him right about then, and then we encountered some bandits. That’s right it was a psycho, he jumped off this roof and ran at me. I nearly froze up, I mean the others all had combat experience and Deathtrap was kicking ass, but this one came for me, and I reflexively squeezed the trigger and he took a shotgun blast to the chest. Like you, I didn’t have time to process what I had just done because someone was shooting at me, and I killed him, and the next and the next, and by the time it was over, I didn’t feel anything. I guess it helped that they were only human by a technicality at that point, but when I started fighting solders and Hyperion technicians I didn’t feel anything for them. I think it was Axton who once said ‘It’s them or us, it only becomes a problem if you start enjoying it.’ or something like that. Or maybe it was Maya who said that, I don’t remember. Anyway that was my story, I think we’ve rested enough so let’s get back to getting out of here shall we?”

She stood up and stretched before starting to riffle through the lockers and drawers through the room.

“Nice” she declared holding up an old Jakobs shotgun.

In the end they found the shotgun, two boxes of ammo for it and another two boxes for the pistol, as well as an old DAHL SMG that was far inferior to the ones they had so they stripped it of rounds and tossed it aside.

“Hey, what’s this?” Artemis said pulling something out from behind one of the drawers in one of the desks. Holding it up she saw it was an old ECHO log.

“Play it, better to know.” Gaige said with the exasperation of experience. She slid it into her ECHO and they listened as it started up.

Damn thing bit me.

Stevenson had been keeping it as a pet apparently, and the damn thing got out. Don’t know what it was, only that it’s got teeth. Apparently Raffe knew, let him have it, thought it would improve moral or some ■■■■. Idiot.

I think that’s what’s been responsible for the disappearing ore. Boss will probably call me crazy for it, but I saw that thing’s teeth.

We’re gonna have to put it down. Stevenson’s not gonna be happy about that but screw him, he wasn’t the one that got bit. Boss is gonna have to get a few more guys from the morning crew to help and then we’re going after it.

I’m gonna kill that thing myself just you wait.”

The girls looked at each other, puzzled.

“Look around, see if you can find anything else, useful or related to that.” Gaige said.

In the end they found an old accident report that detailed one of the shift leaders getting bit in the leg by an unknown creature and a rough map of the mine.

Gathering their stuff, they redistributed equipment, Gaige took the DAHL and Maliwan SMGs, the shotgun and the assault rifle as well as the ammo for them, while Artemis took her rifle and pistol and their ammo. Gaige offered her more weapons, but she declined.

They slowly exited the room, checking their environment now that they could see it, and found that other than the pile of dead psychos, the room looked much like they thought it would. A large cavern had been hollowed out and metal supports had been put in, mine cart tracks led off down the tunnels and dim lights illuminated it all.

After a minute, Artemis declared something while heading to the pile of bodies under the hole in the ceiling. “Looks like they’ve stopped, probably means someone in charge showed up. Which means that they’ll be looking for a way down, and or another way in.”

“What are you doing?” Gaige asked as the other girl started digging in the pile.

“Here we go” She declared with a grin holding her prize aloft before tossing it to Gaige

“A working shield, a spike roid one, not what I prefer but better than the nothing you’ve got now.”

“Yeah, they took all my gear when I was captured, didn’t have time to grab one, didn’t even think about it actually, thanks.”

She strapped it on and fired it up as the two girls and the robot headed into the tunnels.

Chapter 19

Pandora

The two of them had barely started down the tunnel when they found a massive concrete and metal security door blocking their way, and the dust covered control panel was being decidedly unresponsive.

“Don’t worry, I’ve so got this. Old DAHL tech, pfft been playing with this stuff since I was a kid.” Gaige said popping the panel and getting to work. “What is it, I’ve been around you enough to recognize that silence, so just spit it out.”

“Well, it’s that guy with the shield.”

“Ugh, that guy, what a dick, amiright?”

“I didn’t really get to talk to him, but yeah, he seemed like a dick, but that wasn’t what I was thinking, it’s just that, and please don’t get mad but”

“Hold it, any time someone says something like ‘don’t get mad’ they’re about to say something they know will be irritating, I mean it’s right there in the subtext.”

“O…K…? Do I? Do I continue or not?”

Gaige sighed “Say it, I’ll try to hear you and get what you meant, not what you say, that what
you’re asking?”

“I guess so.” she took a breath and sighed before continuing “It’s just, well, why are you still holding yourself back, ■■■■ that came out wrong let me start over.”

“I donno, that was pretty close to a deal ender right there.”

“Just try to hear me out, let me…let me try it this way, when you were a Vault Hunter did you ever encounter shield carriers?”

“Well yeah, I mean there where nomads and some of the Hyperion guys had these really cool energy ones, why?”

“Did you have difficulty dealing with them, no let me rephrase that, how did you deal with them?”

Gaige sat back and thought about it “Well most of the time someone would keep them distracted and the others would circle around and take them from the back, or Deathtrap would kill them from above or you’d try and blow something up next to them, why?”

“What if you were by yourself? No back up, how did you do it?”

Gaige thought about it, ‘Now that she says it, I didn’t have a problem back then, I just shot them in the back. Ricocheting bullets and Anarchy tore them apart. Wait why could I do that back then and not now. Am I holding myself back? Oh crap is that what she was trying to say.’

“It looks like you’ve got it”

“Hum, maybe, but how did I do that back then, you’re right, I was doing something different back then so what changed? I need to think about this for a minute.”

“No I was meaning the door, but take your time thinking about it.”

“Bitch” Gaige said while sticking out her tongue before switching to a friendly smile and connected the wire she was holding. The door gave a shake and dust and debris fell as it screeched and ground open a few feet before stopping.

“Well the bypass only works so far, but that should be enough to get through. What?”

Artemis stared through the gap in the door at the dead piled against it. “I think they were trying to get out.” she whispered unslinging her rifle and stepping through, scanning her surroundings as she carefully stepped over the dead. Once she made sure there was nothing waiting, she examined the scene with more care.

“Looks like they got locked in” She said pointing to the scratches on the door, mostly it was just the blood left from panicked pawing but a few had managed to leave a mark

“Seems they weren’t alone.”

She crouched next to the torn-up bodies as Gaige turned away with a gag.

“What did it?” she asked trying not to look.

“Let’s see, if I remember right, this area of Pandora has Skags, Rakks, Varkids and Spiderants right? Well these wounds wouldn’t have been made by mandibles, so that would leave the Skag. But while it’s hard to tell with the amount of time that’s passed, I can’t see a Skag doing this. Which would mean it’s something else.” She sat back and thought about it. “I have an idea about that, but, no.”

“What?”

“It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s probably a foreign species that got brought in, either by accident or on purpose, quite possibly Stevenson’s pet and whatever it is, it probably mutated somehow, radiation or sometimes a species will react to a new environment by changing its patterns, lack of predators and all. Whatever it is or was, I would guess that it got loose in the mines and the company shut the place down to bury it.”

“Well the documents in the office made it sound like the place was running dry anyway.” Gaige said “But still to leave these poor workers to die like this.”

“Didn’t you say most of the bandits used to work for the corporations? And that they abandoned them? I mean this wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case.”

“Yeah but I guess abandoning them and dooming them to be eaten just feel different to me.”

“They were doomed either way.”

“I guess, but let’s get out of here, this place is giving me the willies.”

“Willies?” Artemis said with a laugh.

“What?” Gaige got defensive.

“No no I always liked that term, and to be honest all the other ones that mean that, you know like cobllywobbles, and screaming mimi’s.”

Gaige looked at her with a straight face for a full second before snorting and cracking up. “Ah, I needed that.”

“Good, let’s get going then, and keep your eyes peeled, I think this may be turning into a hunt.”

“But wait, if this gate was locked to keep something in, then there wouldn’t be another way out would there? I mean if there was, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of locking this one?”

“True but look at the map.” she said spreading it out and pointing “There was another exit here, near what looks like a factory and some mildew. Now the hope is that they locked that gate as well.”

“Why would we hope that?”

“Cause if they didn’t, they would have collapsed the tunnel.”

“Right, in that case I hope they did lock it.”

The two girls and a robot started down the tunnel, keeping a close eye for signs of life when suddenly Gaige sputtered and started flailing.

“Gack, cobwebs.” she said whipping her face.

“Good.”

“Good? How is that good? I might have spiders in my hair or down my shirt or something. Yuck, spiders.”

“It’s good because if spiderwebs means life, airflow and bugs. Think about it, if there was nothing to eat in here, they wouldn’t build webs, that’s why you wouldn’t find any in sealed places, like tombs and the Vaults.”

“OK point, but you didn’t run into it. Every time I do, I feel something brushing my neck for the next hour or so and freak out a bit thinking it’s a spider.” She grumbled.

“I hear ya, but try and keep it down. Don’t know what’s out there.”

“I really hope nothing’s out there.”

Artemis stopped “That depends.”

“What do you mean?”

“It depends on whether they locked the door or not.”

“Huh?”

“Think about it. If they sealed the door, then yes, finding nothing else alive in here would be fine. But if they collapsed the tunnel, then we would want something to be alive.”

“Why would we want that?”

“If somethings alive, then it’s getting food. If it’s getting food, then there has to be a way for something to get in and out. If it was a sealed environment then they would have run out of food decades ago.”

“Didn’t think of that. Still let’s hope it’s sealed.”

They continued on for a ways, trying to follow the map as best they could when they came to another collapsed tunnel. But what made this one of note was the corpse huddled against it.

It appeared that they had died from whatever was in the tunnels, with the bones being scattered around and the jumpsuit being torn. Near the body they found another ECHO log.

'They locked us in here. Oh god we’re doomed. They locked us in here with it.

I saw it, when the doors closed, I was just coming out of B-14 when it attacked. They had no chance. I saw it get Davison, sunk its fangs into his neck and then, oh god.

Don’t know why I’m recording this, but if you find it, I’m sorry. I…I’ve gotta confess before it finds me.

I cheated at cards. I wasted my money on cheap women instead of sending it home to my family. I didn’t live my life well, but I thought I was a good man.

Well except that one time, I’m sorry Roy, I slept with your wife. And not just once. I, I think that Stephenie might be mine. Of god I’m sorry, I’m sorry I won’t see her grow up.

Oh ■■■■ I think it heard me shitshitshit.’

The girls looked at each other. “Well that confirmed it, DAHL locked them in.”

Gaige nodded “Still, didn’t contain anything useful.”

“Well we learned that Stephenie wasn’t Roy’s kid, and that his wife was cheating on him.”

“I meant useful to the present situation.” She said flatly as the other girl grinned.

Gaige was about to leave when Artemis dropped down using her ECHO to illuminate the ground.

“What are you doing?”

“Look at these tracks.”

She crouched down and looked at what she was pointing at.

“What am I looking at?”

“Those aren’t Skag. In fact, they kinda resemble those from a Babosear. It’s a two limbed creature from the Elderos system. They’ve got these snake-like bodies with long grasping arms, though they mostly use poison from their fangs to paralyze their prey.”

“And you think that’s what did this?”

“No, it’s just that the prints look like theirs, and the tail drag is similar. But no, they don’t do this to their prey, they paralyze and then swallow their food whole.”

“Then why give me the entire creepy lesson on them?”

Artemis blinked “Ah, good point.”

She stood up and led the grumbling Gaige back to the last tunnel split and tried a new way. In a short amount of time they came to a large cavern.

“Oh damn, what is that smell, it’s smells like…I don’t even know what. What does that smell like?”

“That’s slag” Gaige said confidently “Haven’t smelled that ■■■■ in years. Back when I was a Vault Hunter, corporations where trying to use it in weapons and all kinds of other ■■■■. And I always thought it was like piss and nachos myself.”

They moved cautiously up to the edge and got a good look at the room. The cavern was large, though not entirely in a single room. There were pillars and large chunks like mini mesas around the room that stretched and curved out of sight. The machinery that had been left was sunk into pools and rivers of toxic looking purple ooze that reflected the light and gave the room an eerie feel.

Around the room they could see large three-legged creatures covered in shining crystals slowly moving around and as they watched one sank straight into the floor leaving only its top rocks showing.

“Crystallisks” Gaige groaned.

“They’re beautiful”

Gaige looked at the other girl in disbelief before looking back. She watched as one of the Crystallisks thudded slowly across the room, the light refracting and dancing off the growths on it and had to admit that just on sight, it was pretty. Especially these ones, which had violet crystals, probably from the slag.

“We’re gonna have to make our way across” Artemis said consulting the map “Our exit should be just beyond that thing, the one with the big drill on it.”

“I think it’s called a borer or something like that.”

“You’ve faced these things before, anything you’d like to share?”

“Yeah, don’t fight them, we’re low on ammo, and these things can only be hurt by smashing those crystalline growths on them.”

“Duly noted, and that slag stuff, what’s it do?”

“On its own, not much. If you coat something in it though, it does become more susceptible to various elemental attacks. That and don’t drink it, like I said corporations where using that stuff in some pretty weird experiments.”

“What is it though?”

“It’s like, run off from Eridium processing, I think?”

“OK, well let’s go.”

They started down the ramp leading to the floor moving with caution, and while trying to avoid the noxious pools of slag, they slowly made their way from one piece of cover to the next. As they crossed, they had a number of times that they had to circle around and backtrack to avoid the lumbering Crystallisks as they rose and moved about on their own business. A few times they had to hide as one of them got too close, each time the smell of the slag seemed to get worse till they could hardly breath. Finally after what seemed like hours, they got to the other side, and just as they were about to be in the clear, Artemis stopped.

‘What are you doing’ Gaige mouthed to her in a near panic, only to be meet with a shooing motion telling her to keep going. She glared at the other girl and slipped up to the wall and moved towards the borer when she froze. She could see the tunnel that they needed, and in front of it was a large mound, one of the Crystallisks. She silently mouthed her litany of curses and turned back to Artemis, only to find that the other girl wasn’t behind her. Scanning the area, she eventually found her after taking a few steps back. She couldn’t see her right away due to the fact that she was moving deeper into the room, away from the way out.

‘What the actual hell is she doing’ she groaned inwardly, whatever it was, she obviously didn’t know that the way out was currently blocked, so it would probably end badly. As she watched Artemis slithered up onto a narrow barrier and shimmied across the narrow bridge it made over the slag till
she was next to what appeared to be a small island with a control panel sticking up. She slid onto the island and started cautiously moving things that Gaige couldn’t see around. It seemed that she must have found what she was looking for because she started stuffing something into her bag before heading back.

She made it off the rail bridge before things went wrong. Just as her feet touched the ground one of the Crystallisks emerged from under the slag pool to her side, Artemis turned as it sent a spray of sludge over her causing her to swear reflexively and start coughing at the stench. The Crystallisk turned and let out a bellowing noise from somewhere and started stomping towards the intruder.

Throwing all pretenses at stealth out Artemis took off in a dead run while wiping her face to try
and get the slag off. She easily outpaced the Crystallisk until it gave a great shake and flung a shard
of crystal at her. While she managed to dodge it on pure reflex, the shard immediately began to grow
in size.

“Dodge!” Gaige yelled recognizing what was about to happen.

Luckily Artemis had good reflexes and threw herself over the edge of a nearby mine cart just as the crystal exploded throwing tiny fragments like some kind of natural grenade. The other Crystallisks were answering the first ones call as Artemis leaped out of the cart as it fell over and took off running to where Gaige was waving at her.

“Run!” she yelled as she neared her, causing Gaige to turn and start towards the exit only to see the Crystallisk that had been blocking the path start to emerge. Not pausing she ran straight at it and leaped onto it, using it as a springboard to land in the tunnel where Deathtrap was waiting. Just as Artemis rounded the corner of the borer Gaige lost sight of her as the Crystallisk burst from the ground with an irate bellow.

“Get out of my way!” She heard yelled from the other side of it and then saw Artemis running straight at its legs before dropping into a slide under the creature. It obviously hadn’t been expecting that because it froze up, not knowing which way to turn. As Artemis came up she caught the rear leg and used it as a pivot to throw herself into the tunnel, only to have a chunk snap off in her hand, so instead of gaining momentum for a sprint, she found herself stumbling into the wall.

Gaige grabbed her and drug her around the bend just as a large crystal shard slammed into where she had just been. They dashed a ways in silence before collapsing to catch their breath once they were sure that they were clear.

“What the hell where you doing.” Gaige snapped glaring at the other girl “You nearly got us
both killed.”

“I thought we could use these.” Came the reply as Artemis held up a bundle of explosives “Besides you didn’t tell me they could fire off exploding crystals.”

“I thought you were the hunter. Didn’t you research what was on this planet before coming here?”

“I did, I just kinda forgot they could do that, and when you told me about them I was like ‘Yeah that sounds about right’ so I didn’t think too hard on remembering.”

“Well you at least got something to remember them by.” Gaige said indicating the chunk that had broken off that was still in the other girls’ hand.

“Huh? Oh yeah it is kinda pretty, guess I’ll keep it.” She said tucking it into her bag before pulling
an ECHO log out “Oh yeah, there was a dead guy by that consul and he had this with him, so I thought I should take it and give it a listen, might have something useful on it.” She said while popping it into her player.

'Orders came down today to close shaft B3.

Knew it was only a matter of time. Ore’s been drying up for weeks there.

Luckily, we got a new shipment of recruits to start on the new tunnels. Now if we could only get these damn Varkids under control, blasted things keep trying to eat the wires.

One of the new guys, Stevenson I think, brought some kind of pet with him, said something about it being a hunter, might let him keep it if the damn thing will clear out those bugs.

Don’t know why I record these damn things, I guess it’s to keep myself sane down here.

Got three years, four months, two days and thirteen hours left but who’s counting.’

“Well that was a waste.” Gaige grumbled.

Artemis crouched there thinking “Maybe not” she muttered “I need to check something, rather I want to check something. But if I’m right then it’ll defiantly be worth it.”

“How far out of the way we talking?”

Artemis spread the map “Here” she said pointing.

“B3, didn’t that guy just say that it was closed?”

“Yep.”

“And I don’t suppose you’ll tell me why?”

“I’ll tell you if I’m wrong, come on.”

She started walking, causing Gaige to sigh and follow. Gaige found nothing of interest on the way, no signs of life, not even a corpse. In fact, the only thing she noticed was a smell of rot, once the stench of slag evaporated from Artemis.

It didn’t take long for them to find their way down shaft B3 and after a short walk they found a collapsed dead end.

“Wow, totally worth coming down here, now you wanna tell me what this is…what are you doing?”

Artemis was making her way into the debris of the collapsed tunnel and after a little scrambling she crouched down and shifted aside some rocks. Gaige examined the area and spotted a boot sticking out, which she had missed and would have continued to do so if the other girl wasn’t digging next to it.

“Aw geez, how can you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Dig through bodies like that, I mean I’ve gone through a number of pockets on dead guys in my time, but when they start getting all rotty and slimy, yuck.”

“Eh, this is nothing compared to having to check scat. Especially on creatures like Skags. Or having to check a creature’s larder, some of those can get pretty ripe, especially on a jungle planet. Anyway, found it.” She held up an ECHO recording and hopped back down.

Just before she slid it in Gaige stopped her “You need to blow that out.”

“Huh?”

“What, it’s like full of dust and crap from laying their isn’t it?”

Artemis looked at the ECHO a second before blowing across the open end and then coughing at the cloud that emerged.

“See, that would’ve went into your ECHO and messed it up but good.”

“Why didn’t you say something about the others?”

“Eh, they weren’t buried, so what’s on it?”

Artemis coughed once more and slapped the old log in.

‘I’m gonna need to slow the shipments down. Boss is getting suspicious.’

‘That’s not my problem.’

‘Well it will be if I get caught.’

‘You where compensated well, and you’ve made commitments.’

'Look I can’t move that much ore, alright I’

Gaige sighed “Really, that’s it, what a waste of time.”

She was shocked to see that Artemis was smiling triumphantly.

“What?”

“Just as I thought, the creature wasn’t eating the ore. This poor schmuck was smuggling it out, probably had an escape tunnel set up in this shaft and was using it to hide the ore. He was no doubt heading to his tunnel when the mine collapsed on him, probably management knew about it, but that’s just speculation. What’s important is that the creature wasn’t eating the ore, that means that the Crystallisks aren’t its food source, which also means that I know what it is.”

“Wait, how’d you get all that from some garbled recordings?”

“OK first was that the foreman had got bit, right? He commented on the creature’s teeth. Now there are only a few species that can eat ore, and out of them most have flat grinding teeth, like an herbivore only harder. Which leads to the second log, he talked about how it bit into someone’s neck and tore the head off. If it had flat teeth it would have crushed the neck, not torn, meaning it had sharp teeth. That was backed up by him talking about its fangs and by the way the bodies looked. Now there is only one species that can eat ore as well as meat and has anything like teeth that could tear flesh, it’s got these bone plates that form points around its mouth. But anyways, if it isn’t eating the ore, then it couldn’t be that, and we know that the missing ore was being smuggled out by this guy so that eliminates that, which means that the creature that was brought here was a Vadosarin.” She finished with a triumphant smile as Gaige stared at her with her jaw hanging open.

“Well that sounded like a load of ■■■■■■■■ to me, but hey you’re the expert. But wait, why do you keep saying that it is, like you know that it’s still alive?”

“Uh, because it obviously is, you haven’t seen the tracks? Smelled that charnel house rot from its waste pile?”

Gaige looked at the other girl a second before realizing something ‘Is she bragging? No, that’s not it, she’s trying to show off. Well this is what she does, so she would want to show off what she is good at, can’t blame her for that. Still kinda odd hearing it from her, what do I do in this case’. “You seem to know a lot about this.”

“Eh, it’s my job, I keep telling you I’m a hunter.”

“OK miss hunter, what can you tell me about this thing, a Vadosarin I think you called it.”

“The Vadosarin is a native of the Silventaria system, are omnivorous, though they prefer meat, and are usually between three to six feet in length. They have six legs, and a cream-colored hide that feels rubbery to the touch. But what’s really weird about them is that they have no skeleton, instead they’ve got these small plates of cartilage that are supported by a series of sinew and muscles. This allows them to fit into holes and crevices, they’ve been seen to emerge from holes as small as six inches, though some claim to have seen as small as four. What that means is that as they emerge from their holes they seem to reform like some kind of reverse melting. Let’s see, they don’t have that good of a sense of smell, instead they use taste and thermals to locate their prey. Oh and they are sometimes kept as pets usually to keep pest problems under control.”

“So your saying this thing could be slipping out of some crack to go get food?”

“Yes, but if it’s dragging it back to its den, then the prey would need to fit through the burrow, so we might still be able to use it. But the real problem is that while the largest recorded one was eight feet two inches, the one we’ve got here is at least twelve, if not fifteen feet long, and seems to weigh a bit much even for its size.”

“Oh crap, but you have hunted them before right? So how do we kill it?”

“What? No, I haven’t hunted one before, didn’t you hear? People keep them as pets, they aren’t a challenge, I mean you wouldn’t hunt a dog or a cat would you? Of course not. But as for how to kill them, they can be a bit tricky due to the lack of bone structure and their ability to slide into impossibly small places, they can be a bit of a pain to capture, and due to their unique structure they have long thin brains, making clean shots to it a bit challenging. But like most things, put a hole in the right spot and it dies.” She started sketching a rough lizard like outline in the dust and then pointed to a few spots “Here, here and here should do the trick.”

“Got it, I need a drink, then we can move on. Babe margarita me.”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No you are not having a drink.”

“Excuse you?”

“Um OK, but you’re still not having a drink. Do you know nothing about survival? Alcohol is a diuretic, means it prevents the body from retaining water, well it means something a little different from that but close enough. We have half a canteen of water to last us till we get out, and not just from this mine, but across who knows how much distance. Plus alcohol dulls your wits, which is compounded by dehydration, and we need all the wits we can get. It also lowers inhibitions, but I don’t think that’s that much of an issue right now.”

“You are a giant killjoy, and a bitch. Babe, margarita.”

“Ururg”

“Whatdaya mean no?”

“Urru”

“Et tu? Traitors, I’m surrounded by traitors. How’d you get Deathtrap on your side, brainwashing?”

“You drink too much anyway, but tell you what, when this is all over, I’ll share a drink with you.”

“Oh I’m gonna get you drunk, and then you’ll talk, yes you will.”

“One, I’ll share one drink with you.”

“Whatsa matter, afraid to loosen up?”

“No, I just know my limits, besides I don’t have anyone to keep me from making bad decisions while I’m drunk.” she said nodding to Deathtrap.

“I don’t make bad decisions while drunk.”

“Urrru”

“Traitor.”

They headed on and before long found themselves nearing where they exit should be. Following Artemis’s lead, they moved as quietly as possible, which left Gaige wondering how the other girl could seem to make no sound, when they came to an overlook of the area.

As they both looked down upon it Gaige whispered “Well good news bad news.”

“Yeah, I got the same, what’s yours?”

“Well the good news is that they didn’t collapse the tunnel.”

“Same”

“Bad news is see that panel?” she pointed to one side of the closed door. “The controls to reopen it are on the other side of that. Which means we need to get through it somehow.”

“Well, good news, I’ve got explosives.”

“Right, that would work, just got to not damage it too much, so what’s your bad news?”

“That’s its den.” she pointed to a side tunnel where Gaige could just make out bones and blood.

“Maybe it’s out hunting?”

“No, it’s in there. I’m guessing it just got back with its meal, not gonna leave for a while now, and no way it doesn’t notice us blowing a hole in the wall, so we’re gonna have to deal with this thing. Wait, shhh it’s coming.”

The girls flattened down as the creature emerged. It was quite a bit different from what Gaige had imagined, it had the same vague outline that Artemis had drawn, but something was wrong about it. First it didn’t have rubbery looking skin, but instead it seemed to be covered in small cream colored plates, second something seemed off about its eyes, they were sunken in oddly, and third it seemed to be vibrating, the plates seemed to move differently than they should have as it moved.

As she stared at it, she watched as the creature yawned reveling rows of sharp teeth and stretched. As it did, she watched in horror as the plates twisted and stuck out. She nudged Artemis and moved back as quietly as she could.

When she got what felt like a safe distance she whispered “That doesn’t seem like what you described.”

“Yeah, no ■■■■. I wouldn’t have even recognized it as a Vadosarin looking like that, but that’s what it definitely is. Looks like it mutated over the years, but what could cause that?”

“The slag. It’s probably been drinking that stuff for years. But that’s not really the problem here, did you see those plates?”

“Kinda hard to miss.”

“And how are they connected?”

“Looked like they were raised a bit above the skin muscle and cartilage, why?”

“That’s gonna be a problem, how much do you know about physics?”

“Enough to survive.”

“Right, this is my area of expertise, but I’ll try and keep it simple, those plates are going to redistribute kinetic energy. Put another way, um, let’s say you punch something, if it’s ridged it’ll take quite a bit of damage right. But if it can flex, you lose a lot of energy and it remains mostly intact. Follow me so far? Good. Now this things plates will be like hitting a large leaf, even something like a bullet will lose quite a bit of force and might not even pierce the skin underneath, so how do we fight this thing?”

“Get rid of the plates. Fire would be good, but we don’t have any, but we do have caustic, so you’re gonna have to melt as much as you can before you run out of SMG rounds, then we’re gonna have to hope that we have enough rounds left and that enough damage has been done to kill it, or at least drive it off.”

“Yeah I was afraid you’d say that.”

“Ready?”

“No, but when has that ever made a difference.”

They moved back to the ridge cautiously and spread out. Once they were both in position Artemis tossed a rock to draw the beast out of its lair.

It emerged again tongue flicking the air, plates puffed out as Gaige took aim and after triple checking to make sure she was on the right element, fired.

The beast let out a yelp of surprise as the rounds splashed its flank with harsh chemicals and the armor started melting with an audible sizzle. It tried turning and thrashing but the rain of acid continued until Gaige had to change clips. While she did the beast homed in on her and let loose a fearsome roar and started in her direction, which was when Artemis sprung up rifle leveled and fired. Her first shot went into its sunken eye socket causing a spurt of blood as she blinded it on one side, she then emptied the rest of the rounds into its still bubbling side, shattering some of the plates and hitting the muscles holding others on.

The beast turned to the new source of pain and started thundering that way when Gaige popped back up and let loose with another clip. This time when she was out Artemis had switched to her pistol, but other than that she proceeded exactly the same.

This continued for a full minute as the beast became more and more enraged, but at the same time lost more and more of its armor plating. It only stopped when Gaige ran out of SMG ammo with a yell of “OUT!” She switched over to her assault rifle as Artemis nodded, she was out of pistol rounds and was low on sniper rifle, so she was holding back.

This gave the enraged beast enough time to decide that Gaige would be the first to go and charged her, blood and steaming melting chunks sluffing off its sides. Gaige swore and tossed aside her empty rifle and switched to the shotgun, unloading at almost pointblank range into the beasts mouth, which at least caused it to twist its head aside and not bite her but instead threw a raking attack with its claws. Gaige swore unable to get out of the way when the beast yowled in surprise.

Leaping back in shock it glared at her, which allowed her to put another blast into its head as she wondered what had just happened. As she watched fire spread up from its claws causing it to slam its paw into the ground and rub it in the dirt to put it out, then it hit her, she was carrying a spike shield.

“Nice” she whispered and moved towards the creature, which backed away slowly newly weary of the strange thing in front of it. As she went Gaige continued to fire the shotgun, tearing off plates, but she got careless. She didn’t realize that she was backing the creature into a corner.

It suddenly reared up and roared while swinging with both of its front claws, ignoring the pain as its paws burst into flame as Gaige felt the shield break. The beast glared down at her with its one good eye and opened its mouth wide. She raised the shotgun and aimed down its throat before pulling the trigger only to hear a heart freezing ‘click’.

Everything slowed, her hand patting her pockets, desperately searching for a non-existent shell, the decent of the open mouth, Deathtrap, whom had been told to reserve his batteries and not fight moving in anyway and a shadow moving in from her side. Then something collided with the side of the creatures’ head sending it sprawling into the dirt. Time snapped back to full speed as Artemis rolled to her feet, having thrown herself from where she had been to kick the thing in the head. She managed to recover before the beast and as it let out a noise of angry pain, she slammed her rifle into its side and fired. The creature let out one last rasping cry and fell to the ground dead.

Chapter 20

Pandora

As they sat on the ground catching their breath Gaige eventually turned and said “Thanks.”

“Huh?”

“For saving me, again.”

“Don’t mention it, I mean I was using you to draw its attention so I could get a clean shot off, still how did you set it on fire there at the end?”

“That shield you gave me.”

“Spikes, right, still probably shouldn’t have got that close. But wait, why didn’t you punch it?”

“What?”

“After it broke your shield, it’s also a roid shield isn’t it?”

“Aw damn it, I never use roid shields so I didn’t even think about it.”

“Yeah me neither.”

“So what kind do you use, shields I mean, what’cha carrying?”

“I prefer an adaptive myself.”

“Huh, kinda figured you for an amp girl.”

“Eh, I’ve got one back on the ship, but it’s more for hunting, on a place like Pandora, where you don’t know what’ll be coming at ya and it what numbers, I find the adaptives to be more universally useful.”

“Fair point.”

“Well I guess we should get going, and on that note, you got any ammo left?”

“No, you?”

“Same, let’s just hope we can find some more before too much ■■■■ hits the fan.”

“Probably shouldn’t have said that.” Gaige muttered thinking ‘Aw crap, I am turning into Wainwright.’

They moved to the door, where Gaige led the placement of the explosives against the cracked and aged concrete and after realizing that they lacked a detonator, quickly dismantled a nearby bit of machinery and cobbled together something.

Holding the wire, she muttered “Well here goes” but she really wanted to shout out a ‘Meedly-meedly-mowww’ when she connected the wire causing the bomb to go off. Instead she coughed and allowed herself a “Ah, Mr. Torgue would be proud.” as she waived away the dust.

She moved up and quickly proved once again that the old DAHL tech was no match for her and the door groaned and shook as it opened a few feet, causing a rain of dust and sand. Brushing themselves off, they made their way cautiously to the opening and after a quick glance, moved through to what appeared to be some kind of loading area.

They moved cautiously around the rusted vehicles sitting on their rims, their tires having long since rotted off, and ignoring the rusted catwalk on the second floor, in no small part due to how it was precariously hanging off the wall and instead went to the door set near the back of the side wall.

It took a bit of hitting to knock some of the rust loose, and then they two of them managed to pry it open. On the other side was the remains of a facility. They were probably still underground since the walls where made out of some kind of concrete like substance, with ancient metal fixtures where lights had once hung. Down the sides of the hall were doors, some of which had been knocked in, probably from seismic activity, and reveled the ruined remains of rooms.

They made their way cautiously down, checking each of the rooms they could, some of the doors refused to open, and one side of the building had apparently collapsed at some point, as was evident by the cracked ceiling and partially collapsed frames of the doors. They found nothing of use as they went but eventually found a door that led to a hall with light at the end.

They approached the near blinding light slowly and with a hand up to shield them as their eyes adjusted. As they acclimated, they realized that they had indeed found a way out, a cage like vertically sliding door that had been propped open with a metal bar, through which light was streaming.

On the other side they could see a concrete sloped sided gully that had undoubtedly been built with the facility, but was now filled with sand and shipping containers and any other detritus that had accumulated over the years.

It was also crawling with bandits.

Neither one of them could figure out how ‘The God Kings Acolytes’ had beat them to the middle of nowhere, but the crests they wore left no doubt about who they were. Artemis slid up to the door and peered out examining the situation and listening to the nearby bandits conversing before sliding back to where Gaige was sitting nearby with her head in her hands.

“OK no good news, just bad news this time” Artemis whispered “From the looks of it they’ve got a good number here and they’re spreading out. So what we’re gonna need to do is head back to the maintenance bay or whatever that was and try and find a way out from the second floor.”

“But won’t they be searching near that exit to?”

“Yeah probably” she said standing up and moving to look cautiously out the door at the upper edge of the gully “That’s why I’m gonna be distracting them.” She said stepping through the door and knocking the bar out.

“Sorry about this, but take care of her big guy. And don’t worry, I got this.” She said with a sad apologetic smile as she turned her back on the cries coming from behind her and turned to look at the clan who had froze and where staring at her in a mixture of shock and hunger.

She inhaled slowly and twisted her neck to the sides before slowly exhaling and narrowed her eyes. The first psycho must have taken that as his cue to attack because he leaped off the nearby container with his buzz ax held high.

Coming down at her, he started to swing, only to be met by her stepping forward and spearing him through the head with her blade. The nearest bandit opened fire as she used the blade to hold the psycho up as a shield and charged. Feeling the meaty thunks of the bullets she closed the distance
and when the bandit paused to reload she quickly retracted her blade and as the psycho’s corpse
fell she spun around it snatching his buzz ax from his hand and let it fly, solidly burying it into the bandits head.

Without pausing she finished closing the distance and dropped into a slide snatching the bandits gun as it fell from his limp fingers and popping up in a crouch slapped the receiver closed and let loose a short bust at the next nearest bandit before spinning around to gain cover behind one of the containers.

Dashing down the length of it she snapped off another shot at the psycho that rounded the corner and leaped over his body before dropping into another slide as she left the end of the container, feeling the bullets wiz over her as she did. She rolled over and shot the shooter before hopping back up and running full out to the next piece of cover. Rounding the corner, she shot the bandit there point blank, and dropped her now empty gun, while snatching the shotgun that her latest victim had been carrying. Hearing the clang of footsteps above her she spun out from the side of the container and put a shot into the bandit running across. As he fell she continued her spin and pumped another round into the psycho that had rounded the corner.

Tossing the empty shotgun she snatched up the bandits SMG and charged around the container only to come face to face with a large man with what looked like a car door held in front of him. Artemis ducked reflexively and slid between his legs before popping back up and slamming her gun into the back of his head before pulling the trigger. Even as his head vanished she was running away. From one side she saw a psycho with a bundle of explosives laughing and running at her, so just before he passed where two bandits were crouched for cover, she shot him in the knees.

Without bothering to watch the explosion take out the threat on that side, she turned to the other side and fired off the last few rounds into another bandit. Grabbing whatever he had she ran on, only to find a badass with a rocket launcher sliding down the side towards her.

Swearing she charged them and threw herself to one side when they fired the first round. It whizzed past and exploded somewhere behind her. Artemis wasted no time closing the space and unloading her gun as close as possible. The badass staggered back even as the gun clicked empty so Artemis didn’t stop, instead she sped up and slammed her blade into them at full speed.

She hit with enough force to knock both of them down, only the badass didn’t get back up. Shaking herself Artemis grabbed the rocket launcher with a maniacal smile and turned to where she could see a huge guy with a tower shield leading a small group of bandits forward. She braced herself, aimed and pulled the trigger only to be knocked on her ass by the recoil. Sitting up she saw the rocket lob up and fall short exploding shy of her target, who slammed his shield down to absorb the blast.

Cursing she adjusted and fired again. This time she got it just right and the shell landed just to one side and a little behind the shield, the resulting explosion killed the cluster in gloriously chunky fashion. She tossed the now empty rocket launcher aside and ran forward to grab one of the dead’s assault rifles. As she did she felt her shield take a hit and the instant she had the gun in hand turned and ended the shooter.

She slid behind a small box and brought the rifle up and shot two more bandits running across the lip of the gully, and as she watched she could see a few more returning from where they had been searching. She snapped off a few shots and dropped a few more, causing the rest to slow down and take cover allowing her time to move.

She leaped over a small barrier and suddenly found herself flying. She hit the ground hard and rolled before getting her feet under her. She turned to see what had happened only to have to throw herself around the nearest container as a grenade landed nearby. Leaving the explosion behind her she ran down the length of the container and leaped up catching the lip before pulling herself up. She ran across the top and jumped off, coming down hard on the Tink who had been throwing bombs. As she retracted her blade from his skull, she turned to see what had hit her in the first place and found a pair of armored bandits wielding shotguns coming towards her.

She swore and fired at one of them only to watch as her bullets pinged off. They continued their slow advance as she quickly glanced around and spied one of the Tinks bombs. She grabbed it and ran behind the same container only this time she stayed on the ground the whole way around to emerge behind them and threw the bomb at them before bringing her rifle up and shooting it just as it passed their heads. The resulting explosion killed one of them and threw the other off his feet. Wasting no time she dashed over and put him down for good before switching to his shotgun.

Taking a moment, she scanned the area to find to her surprise that she had made it nearly to the other end of the gully where she could see another of those metal doors, this one closed. Turning back she saw a new set of bandits sliding down the edge and went to greet them.

She fired twice as she neared them, killing two in rapid succession and just as she was about to kill the third one of them, his head exploded on its own. Confused Artemis looked around only to find herself face to face with something scarier than the whole bandit clan. A very pissed off Gaige was huffing while glaring at her. Artemis sheepishly looked to where she had closed the door only to find Deathtrap holding it open. He looked at her and shrugged apologetic, as if to tell her ‘Sorry’ and ‘You’re on your own.’

“What. The. Hell. Was. That. About.” Gaige managed to get out past her clenched teeth.

“Um, what are you doing? You were supposed to be escaping.”

“I am not running away while you stay here to sacrifice yourself playing hero.”

“What? I wasn’t going to die, I had it under control. I was going to join up with you when I found a minute to get out of here.”

“Bull. ■■■■.” Gaige’s face was glowing red with rage, so much so that her eyes seemed to be throwing sparks as she glared at the other girl.

“No really.” She managed to squeak as she slowly backed away.

“If that really was your plan then you should have let me fight with you.” Gaige retorted as she continued to close the distance.

“Yeah but if it went wrong, I wanted at least one of us to survive.”

“Hah so you were planning on dying.”

“What no, just if it all went wrong, but it didn’t.”

“Oh we are gonna have a nice, long, painful discussion about all this when we get out of here, but for right now, I think I’m gonna take it out on them.” She said turning her wrath to the bandits.

As if in response to her declaration the bandits pulled back and from the rim a loud voice
boomed down. “Well, well, so the sacrifice has been found. The Twin Gods truly bless us for now we can complete the ceremony and usher in a new dawn.”

“Aw crap” Gaige muttered looking up at the source of the declaration.

Castor stood with his bride next to him, dramatically posed with the sun behind him against the rim of the gully. He spread his arms wide and continued “Many of our children have fallen nobly today at the hands of you non-believers, but their sacrifices will not be in vain, for we now have before us not one, but two sacrifices. Now I see, this was the Twin Gods chastising us, for we were about to make one sacrifice for two of them. But in their infinite compassion, they have led us to a second glorious sacrifice to bestow upon their alter.”

“May they rise again.”

Artemis leaned in and whispered “This guy loves the sound of his own voice, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t completely insane.”

“So which one you want.”

“What?”

“Well, two of them, two of us. I just figured that we’d each take one, or what’s your plan?”

“No, that’s about right. I guess I’ll take the crazy one.”

“Which one’s that?”

Gaige stopped and looked at the couple “Yeah, good point, I’ll take the one on the left.”

“Your left or mine?”

“Mi…we’re facing the same way!” She looked over at the grinning face of the other girl and realized a bit belatedly that she had been joking. “Bitch”

“Yeah well, purple is also your favorite color.”

“Touche, you ready?”

“No, but I don’t think we really get a say. I’m as ready as I need to be.” She said patting the shotgun.

They turned back in time to see the couple making their way down the incline towards them. One of Castor’s attendants had produced his shield at some point and his bride had unslung her massive buzz-ax and was holding it in one hand like it weighed nothing.

“Hey” Artemis whispered.

“What?”

“Just remember, don’t get in your own way and you’ve got this.” She said it with a soft smile to let Gaige know that there wasn’t any malice intended and held out her left fist. Gaige bumped it with her own and nodded before moving a ways away and turning to the groom.

“Oi did you get yourself that color by drinking slag or just bathing in it.”

“This is proof of my blessing by the”

“Yeah, don’t care, seriously are you trying to bore me into submission? I mean we do have other plans for today, you know.”

“Such impudence, though I see through your poorly veiled attempts to rouse my anger. And the only plans you need are to be on the alter, the sacrifices must be made.”

The couple started to move towards Gaige when Artemis whom had been circling to one side yelled out “Hey I’ve got a question, do you psychos hide your face’s cause you’re so ugly, or so that your victims can’t see you crying like the little bitches you are?”

“Bluxigrexx” came the reply from under the brides’ mask.

“Sorry, didn’t catch that, oh ■■■■, sorry, do you have a speech impediment? Wow that was thoughtless of me.”

The couple stopped as the bride continued to glare at Artemis, at least she thought so considering the mask in the way, and the groom placed his hand on her shoulder. “Go, have fun with that one, make her suffer before you send her to the feet of the Twin Gods.”

“Bluxixxil”

“Yeah defiantly some kind of speech impediment.” Artemis yelled backing away with a condescending grin.

The couple charged at the same time. Gaige let out her breath and ran, leading her follower towards one of the containers. She let him close the gap between them and at the last moment leaped up and pulled herself onto the top. Hearing a loud clang as the entire container rocked from the impact she spun around and fired down at his exposed head only to have him raise his shield with a horrendous screeching noise as the spikes coating the front of it tore through the side of the container.

“It was a nice try little sacrifice, but weak and transparent.”

“Great, now he’s mocking me.” She grumbled as she jumped off the back side of the container. ‘Focus’ she thought to herself ‘How did I used to do it? What did I do? I just did it didn’t I, I didn’t think about it so how did it work?’ all ran through her head when she suddenly heard a soft voice repeat ‘Get out of your own way’. Was that it? Was she over thinking things? Analyzing the how and why of how things worked till she couldn’t understand that some things just did? Hell, it was worth a shot.

She cleared her mind and thought back to when she was younger ‘What was it I felt when I was a Vault Hunter? And not pride or arrogance or any of that ■■■■, what was I feeling? Anger. For one. Anger at Marcie and her dad and the whole world. But it wasn’t just that, was it? There was something else. Once I got in a fight there was a kind of warmth, a clarity that I’ve been lacking lately, find that again and I’ve got this.’ She turned and fired off a shot which pinged off the container and went nowhere.

“Damn it why isn’t this working?” she growled in frustration.

Artemis watched the psycho bride charge her with a smirk, watched as she brought back her great buzz ax and swung with all her might. Artemis pivoted and slid to the side bringing up her shotgun as the ax fell in slow motion, and when the large hand holding the ax passed, she pulled the trigger. Both barrels boomed and unleashed point blank into the psycho’s fingers, shredding them and causing the ax to fly out of her now ruined hand.

As the psycho howled in pain and rage, Artemis continued her spin, tossed her now empty shotgun to the side and took off running. She immediately heard the sound of the now enraged psycho giving chase. Knowing that she had no time to spare Artemis booked it towards her goal, and quickly dropped into a slide sending both of her arms out, her left caught the edge of one of the concrete barriers littered around and used the centrifugal force to whip herself around while her other latched onto the assault rifle that had been dropped nearby.

As she popped back up to her feet and continued running, she spotted Gaige looking frustrated and yelled out encouragement to her “Trust yourself, your body knows what to do.”

“You think I don’t know that!” Gaige yelled back as she fired off a shot while focused on the other girl and to her surprise she saw it ping off a crate and slam into Artemis’s shield.

“Aw crap.” She grumbled, that was it, that was how the bullets were supposed to behave. Now how had she done it?

She fired off another round only to have it slam into the ground. ‘Remember, you did it once, don’t concern yourself with the bullet, let go of logic, let go of figuring it out and just let it happen.’

And then it did, more to her surprise than anyone’s, the bullet bounced and hit Castor in the head, causing him to stumble and shake his head for a second. He continued to move forward in an unperturbed way, no doubt chalking the shot up to blind luck.

Gaige smiled and looked at her gun before snapping it back up and letting loose a short burst, and to her complete joy, a number of the shots struck Castor in the back. This time when he staggered, he looked a little concerned, he was obviously not used to bullets not behaving according to the laws of physics. And this was too many to be mere coincidence. He narrowed his eyes and started to get serious as Gaige put a brave face on even as she realized that at her current rate, she would need a lot of ammo.
As she glanced around to spot where there were other guns laying around, she caught Artemis’s eye.

Artemis flipped the switch on her new DAHL assault rifle from burst to full auto, she would have preferred a semi option, but she had what she had, and at least on full auto she could control the
bursts better.

She ran, leaping over a short barricade and trying to put some distance between herself and the psycho bride. Only she was keeping up remarkably well so far, smashing through things that Artemis had to dodge. As she ran Artemis was formulating a plan, it was risky, but it should work, she just had to get all the pieces in the right place first.

So for the first thing, she jumped and pulled herself onto one of the containers and the instant the psycho followed, she jumped back down. As the psycho spun, Artemis fired a short burst into her leg before taking off running again. The bride roared in frustration and jumped back down to follow her. As she did so Artemis took a second to glance back at Gaige and assess her situation and to her relief she watched as she bounced bullets into the warchief’s back. Unfortunately she was at best getting one in three to work, but it was a start.

Realizing that Gaige would need all the bullets she could get Artemis sent her a hand signal.

As Gaige watched, the other girl pointed to her own gun and gave a thumbs up, probably trying to tell her that she was good with just that one and that Gaige could have the rest. Relived that she didn’t have to worry about sharing, especially with her learning curve, she was still worried about how the other girl would manage with only one clip of ammo against a raging psycho. But she didn’t have time to figure it out because Castor let loose a bellow and charged again.

Gaige spun and ran, sidestepping a corpse and placing a foot on a barricade before using it to launch herself onto one of the containers. She ran its width before spinning and firing off a quick burst and with much satisfaction listened to the bullets bounce into their target. And even better, this time she got a better percentage of them.

She waited until she saw the top of the shield round the container before leaping off the side that she had come up on and snatched up the dead guy’s gun, slinging it over her shoulder as she went. She then headed straight away from the container and positioned herself behind a low concrete wall just as Castor rounded the container. She could tell by the way he was moving that he was getting pissed, which caused her to smile.

This time when he charged, she unloaded the assault rifle and was satisfied to hear him make a pained noise from behind his shield. But then he must have had enough because he pulled a gun from around his slab of metal and started firing at her.

She swore and ducked, switching to the shotgun she had grabbed and waited while he charged. Peeking out she spotted his shield getting close so she threw herself out onto the ground and unloaded. This time she hit what she was aiming at and the shots wove between the ground and the shield to slam into his feet.

As he cursed and slammed the shield into the ground, she sprung up and closed the distance and with a swing of her trusty hammer, smashed it into his exposed hand as it reached around the shield to shoot. He let loose a rather undignified squeal of pain and dropped the gun, but instantly retaliated by shoving the shield forward.

This time it was Gaige who took the brunt of the damage, but her own shield held and managed to do some damage back, but the impact sent her flying and when she landed, she lost her gun, not that it was too concerning since it was almost out anyway. She managed to pull herself up using a nearby barricade as Castor recovered and started moving towards her again.

Gaige sighed and took off looking for another weapon. As she did she continued to hear the sound of sporadic gunfire.

Artemis continued to run away from the bride, pausing whenever she got enough space to slide into a crouch and fire off a few shots, always aiming for the psycho’s knee. It was starting to work as the bride was starting to hobble ever so slightly.

As she ran Artemis checked the readout on her gun, she was getting low on ammo. Soon she would have to move on to the next stage in her idiotic plan.

Gaige was running out of guns, and to make matters worse, at this point she was losing track of which ones still had bullets in them and which where dry, so she was going to have to end this rather quickly. She tossed aside what she figured was the last of the SMGs and pulled what she thought was the last shotgun off her back.

‘Time to go nuts’ she thought ‘All or nothing, here we go.’

And she ran at Castor holding the shotgun loosely and prepping to attack. Castor seemed to be expecting her to try something, but instead of playing along, he just thrust his shield in front of himself and charged, willing to take the retaliatory hit from her spike shield.

They collided with enough force that even though she was prepped for it, it still nearly winded Gaige. Castor pulled his shield back and slammed it forward again, this time successfully shattering her shield.

With a roar of triumph, he slammed the shield forward a third time only to hit nothing, as Gaige spun around it and brought the shotgun down. She had specifically saved this gun for now due to the large chopping blade attached to it, which now was boosted considerably by the roid effect from her shield, and slammed into Castor, tearing deep into his chest. As he fell back in shock, she leveled the gun and fired point blank into his head. He turned into crystal one hand up to try and protect himself and the other forever holding his shield.

Artemis tossed aside the empty gun and ran around the container with a smile on her face as the psycho bride angrily limped around the other way to cut her off, everything was moving into position. Artemis ducked down and grabbed the weapon that had been left here and as she rounded the corner, found her mark and let the buzz ax fly.

The surprised bride, hampered by a hurt knee didn’t have time to react as the ax spun and buried itself into her wounded limb with a meaty thunk, knocking the leg out from under her.

Artemis didn’t slow down as she chased the ax, swooping down and coming up with the brides’ own massive buzz ax held in both of her hands. With a grunt she spun around in a full circle to build momentum and then let her feet leave the ground as she turned and brought the ax around in an arc carrying her body with it, she used all that force to drive the ax deep into the bride, severing her head.

As she lay panting next to the dead bride, she rolled her head over to see Gaige fall to her knees next to the crystallizing form of Castor. Gaige looked over at her and gave a weary wave, or at least a hand flop that was meant to be one.

Then as if to tell them their fight wasn’t over, they heard the clattering of one of the gates being raised. Artemis wearily lifted her head and looked at the other end from where they had entered to see a dozen of the black armored mercenaries poor in, led by a massive heavily armored man carrying a Gatling gun nearly the size of Artemis.

She looked at them as the spread out into a crescent and held out her hand and waved it side to side while shaking her head as if trying to tell them ‘pass’ before flopping back down in the dirt. She looked sideways at Gaige who was moving slowly over to her and let out a sigh before pulling herself to her feet with a low groan. She grabbed the giant buzz ax and after a few tugs managed to pull it loose, and holding it in front of herself turned to the group and with a weary sigh stated “OK, who’s first?”

And then from behind the mercs came a soft thump, followed by an odd meeeh noise, like a dog toy. The back row turned confused, only to be more so when they saw a pair of stuffed rabbits sitting there wearing what appeared to be suicide vests.

The rabbits exploded in a shower of pink smoke, glitter and shrapnel, tearing the back row apart. The rest of them started to spin to find where their attack was coming from when their heads started popping into clouds of gore in rapid succession, quickly leaving only the leader remaining. He sensed more than saw a large shadow land behind him in the cloud of smoke, but whatever it was landed hard enough that the girls felt the ground shake where they were standing. The lead merc spun around while bringing his gun up only to find its progress suddenly halted as a massive meaty hand closed around one of the barrels.

He managed to get out a “What the?” before Brick’s fist took his head clean off.

“Hell yeah!” The big man yelled “Aw yeah, I’m keeping this gun.” he said with a crooked smile as he tore the huge gun loose and casually tossed it over one beefy shoulder as he walked to where the girls where standing stunned by his sudden arrival.

“Brick?” Gaige finally got out “What’re you doing here?”

“It not just The B man who be here Gaigey-Gaige.” Tina pipped in as she slid down the embankment “And you, shorty, you cray-cray, I like. Ain’t seen anyone kill a bitch wich her own ax in like, forevs, you keepin dat right? You totally keepin dat, Brick! Carry the ladies buzz ax for her pore-favor.”

“Jeez Tina, no one’s gonna know why we’re here if we don’t tell them.” Mordecai came walking up from the other end of the gully with his sniper rifle over his shoulder.

“Shut it Mordi!”

Artemis turned to Mordecai figuring he would give the most intelligible answer and asked “So what are you guys doing here?”

“Ooh, ooh let me tell let me tell, comeon prettyplease” Tina started begging causing Mordecai to sigh.

“Tina, it’s Mordecai’s turn to explain.” Brick said patiently.

“But. I. Wanna.”

“Tina”

“Boooooooooooofine”

Mordecai gave an exasperated look before turning to the girls and answering them.

“Well you know that job we had, the one you turned down? It was to investigate this weird bandit activity in the area, so we do our thing, ya know, and we figure out where they’re all going to. The Cathedral of the Twin Gods or whatever their calling it, it was this old C.O.V. base that the Vault Hunters never ended up having to deal with when they were on Pandora, so it survived mostly intact.”

“Your boring Mordi, get on with it!”

“Geez Tina, let me tell this, anyway we end up getting there and it looks like a war zone. I mean bodies everywhere, fires and smoke and”

“Don’t forget about that trail of parts.”

“What? Oh yeah there was this strange miles long trail of parts and wreckage that we found, that may not have had anything to do with it, Brick.”

“Hey, just trying to help.”

“So anyway, we get there but whatever happened was already over, so we tail some of the stragglers who are leaving and they seem to be searching for something so we asked them”

“Bitches, What Are You Upta”

“Come on, can I tell this story?”

“No your doin a crappy crap job.”

Mordecai threw his hands in the air and just gave in “Fine you can finish it.”

“Yeah shoulda just let me from the start, so we was all like ‘Yo what you bitches doin’ an their all ‘Oh crap its Crunk Bunny’ an I’m like ‘Talk or go BOOM’ an they all like ‘Have mercy great and wonderful Bunny Goddess’ an I’m all like ‘No, you didn’t bring cupcakes, so you will suffer’ an Bircks all ‘Hell Yeah!’ an Mordi’s all ‘Talon Talon Talon’ an they all tell us nothin so they went BOOM.”

“But then we hear their ECHO goin all ‘We found them sacrifices and things’ an we all like ‘Whaa’ so we come and we find a robot waving us down and he leads us here and that’s where you were and we were all like ‘Yo we gotsta like save them’ but then you go all crey-crey on them and then these losers showed up an we was like ‘Now we gotta save them’ an then we do and it all good.”

The girls stared at Tina for a second trying to translate what they had just heard and eventually Gaige spoke up “Thanks for the save.”

“So who were those guys?” Mordecai asked nodding to the black armored dead.

“I’ll tell you about it back at Boomtown. I don’t suppose we could get a ride?”

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Chapter 21

Pandora

They had rode back to Boomtown slumped together in the back of the Tecnical and when they arrived, had split up, to resupply, rehydrate and in Gaige’s case, to send a message off to Sanctuary. Which was how Artemis found herself sitting alone on an old couch in the shade.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey shorty, hey, hey, hey shorty” suddenly came from behind her, as she slowly turned, she saw Tina leaning forward hopping from one foot to the other, knees together, toes pointed inward behind her. “Sup. Gaigey girl’s over there. Go gogogogo.”

Artemis wandered over to where Tina had indicated to find Gaige sitting looking out over the
desolate wastes.

“Hey” was the best she could manage

“Hey yourself, how you doin?”

“Had some really nasty coffee, or maybe it was engine stripper, but I’m a bit more alert now, other than that I’m restocked and ready to go whenever. You?”

“Yeah that coffee is bad. Have a seat, we need to talk.”

“I was afraid of that.” She muttered while plopping down in the dirt next to Gaige

Gaige stared at her, then turned and looked out over the expanse for a moment, then back at her in silence.

“Well? Not that I want a dressing down, but what’d you want to talk about?”

“I…don’t know where to start.” Gaige replied in a small voice.

“Well just start somewhere and I’m sure that the conversation will wind its way past most of what you wanted to say.”

“What?”

“It’s something I read once, speaking of which, I want to apologize again for what I said, on Jaka.”

“You already” she stopped as Artemis raised her hand.

“No, well yes, I mean I did, but what I’m trying to say, and what I was trying to say, well it was also something I read a long time ago, what I was trying to get at on Jaka I mean. I don’t remember it exactly but it was something like ‘The most difficult part of growing up is in the sacrifices you make. Every choice is the loss of something, a path not taken, a friend not made, you don’t know what is down the road not taken. But the hardest part is to make the choice that will lead you to the you that you want to be without sacrificing the you that makes you who you are’ or something like that.”

“So you’re saying that I sacrificed the me that I was?”

“Not entirely, I mean I didn’t say it quite right, there was more of an implication to the sacrifices, like they were things you had to give up with each choice or something. You know, like you became a wedding planner and in doing so gave up other life options, maybe you would have taken another job and met someone else and been happy with them or something. I became a hunter instead of, I donno an engineer or something. It’s more about that, making sure that the option not taken isn’t the one that keeps you you, or something like that. But anyway, I don’t think that you stop being you if you choose wrong, I think you can find your way back, you just have to know that you’ve stepped off the right path or whatever.”

“And that’s what you were trying to do, lead me back to the path?”

“No, well maybe, but when you say it, it does sound kinda presum presom”

“Presumptuous?”

“Yeah that sounds right, presumptuous, I guess what I wished I was trying to do, is to show you, no that’s not it, let you know you seemed to be losing yourself down the wrong path and at best help you see where your path used to be.”

“That’s pretty heavy stuff.”

“And that’s why I failed so spectacularly.’

“Well, you succeeded in the end, so not a complete failure. Honestly? I think I’m kinda glad for all that. Not what you said, or were trying to, it’s just that I think that was the first time you really talked to me. I mean it always felt like you where tiptoeing around me, or like you were holding me up to this idolized version of me. But that, that felt like you were finally talking to me, not the past me, but the current me, even if what you were saying was how messed up I’d become, and you weren’t wrong, much as I hate admitting that, you weren’t. And in the end, I guess that did help me more than any amount of sweet talking would have. I mean, I ain’t there yet, but I think I feel a bit more like the old me, and I can’t say that it’s a bad feeling.”

“So you were able to find a way out of your own way in the end.”

“But if you were trying to help lead me back to myself, why did you try and kill yourself back there?”

“I told you, I was sure that I could handle it.”

“And what if you couldn’t? You also said that if something went wrong you wanted at least me to live, right?”

“Well yeah.”

“So you considered that you might die, and you were willing to sacrifice yourself for me.”

“Well something could always go wrong, and if one of us could live, it should be you.”

“Why would you say that?”

“If you die, your dad will be sad, and your mom, and all these people” She made a gesture towards Boomtown “and the people on Sanctuary, and probably a lot more, oh and Hammerlock and Wainwright. They’ll also be sad. But me? No one will be sad.”

“What the crap? I’ll be sad. Don’t I count?”

“Really? But that said, I’d also be sad if you died, so one counter balances one, more people would be sad if you died. Besides who’d take care of Deathtrap?”

“You leave him out of this, and just cause more people would be sad if I died, doesn’t mean you can sacrifice yourself! Did you think about how that’d feel? How would I feel if you died for me? How rotten that would make me feel? Having to carry that with me? How would you feel if I died for you?”

“I guess, that would suck.”

“Exactly, everyone seems to think that it’s all noble and ■■■■ to sacrifice yourself to save someone, but what about how they feel. I mean, hell, I didn’t think about it before, not until that gate closed, and I was furious, that and scared. I mean same with Deathtrap, if he died for me, I’d be devastated, heartbroken. I wouldn’t know how to keep going. It’s not noble, it’s greedy.”

“Sorry, but like I said, I planned on winning. It’s not like I want to die either.”

“I thought about that a lot on the way back here, and I can honestly say that you fought like you did, like you didn’t care how hurt you got or if you lived or not.”

“Yeah, I get that, really I do, but there’s a story behind that. Hammerlock, sorry Sir Hammerlock told me that I should tell it to you, I just didn’t have the right time, but here goes, and just so you know this is the abrig… shortened version, I’ll tell you a longer more fleshed out one later if you want.”

“I was on this ice planet, cold as hell, well it was a moon actually, but that’s not important. But anyways I was there for a hunt. And I’m going across this freezing ice ball, when I fell through the surface, and I mean fell. Went down like at least a hundred feet in total. Not all at once mind, I hit these tunnels and slid and bounced down. Broke my gun and my leg, my good one, the non-cybernetic one. Anyway I land in a pile in the middle of a nest of these things, the things I was hunting, and I realize I’ve got no way out. I’m injured, lacking in firepower and in the middle of their nest, and I realize I’m about to die. In the middle of nowhere, and I’m all alone. And what scares me, I mean really truly scares me, is not that I’m about to die, well not just that, that’ll happen eventually, not that I want to, die I mean. Anyway, what really scares me is that no one will know. There won’t be a search party, no one will find my ship, no one will find my body, no one will morn. But what really gets me is that no one will even know I’m gone. I’ll just vanish. I’ll be gone. That’s it. Just poof, no more me. And nothing and no one will be any different. No one will ever even know that I lived.”

“Anyway I manage to get out, willpower and ■■■■, but that night, I have trouble sleeping. And I usually sleep well, but I keep waking up in a cold sweat. And the next night. And the next. And then I go on a hunt and I nearly die. Not because I was hunting out of my class, it was an easy prey, easy hunt. No, it was that for the first time, I was scared of dying, of vanishing, and it overshadowed everything, like a cloud in my brain, so I held myself back, and it nearly cost me my life. But I kept hunting, and eventually I started throwing myself at the hunt, started fighting like I didn’t care if I lived. Let myself go blank, and made myself not hold anything back. It was the was the only way I found to survive”

“It’s not like I stopped being scared, the truth is, deep down, I’ve been scared ever since. Until I met you, and then I knew, someone would remember me, even if it was just in passing. And that’s why I fight like that, not because I want to die, but because it’s the only way I can live.”

She hung her head, exuding loneliness. Gaige sat stunned before quietly asking “But you fought some legendary monster, didn’t you? You found a Vault key and killed a Guardian, and your still scared after that?”

“I fought them to try and prove to myself that I wasn’t scared. Didn’t work, in fact, I was kind grateful to them because it gave me an excuse to not go hunting for a little while and not feel like I was running away. Truth is, on lonely nights, in my most, well, let’s call them honest thoughts, I’ve actually been considering a change of career. Silly right?”

Gaige looked at the other girl for a second and then started laughing, slow and soft, and when the other girl flinched slightly, she spoke up “Ah, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing because of me. I can’t believe I was afraid to tell you this but, I was thinking of at least taking a break from being a wedding planner, if not quitting outright. I mean, I even canceled the introductory meeting for the next job I had scheduled. The truth is, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now actually, I just didn’t think you’d like it.”

“Why would I dislike it? If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Like I’ve said before, you be you, and don’t let yourself get in the way of that.”

“Now I feel like a proper fool, I really thought you’d be mad. I mean I drug you to Talion because of my job. I mean, I used it as an excuse, made this big deal about my reputation and all, and here I was thinking of quitting. And then you got yourself hurt, and I felt like an even bigger, I donno, idiot? But I felt like ‘if I quit now, all that will be for nothing’ so I said nothing. Wainwright was right, I should’ve just told you.”

“It wasn’t for nothing. We found out about those EMP things, which I’m sure Holloway will bring at us the next time we face his goons. Oh, and I also learned how to dance. So no, not for nothing, and I’m not mad.”

“Now I really feel like an idiot for not saying something earlier.”

“Well to be fair, we weren’t talking earlier. What’re you gonna do, I mean if you quit?”

“That’s just it, I don’t know. That’s why I haven’t quit yet to be honest. I needed money to keep moving, and I mean I thought about it, ECHO host, or pastier, or something, I just…”

“Yeah, same for me, I kinda fell into the hunting thing, so I never really had to think about it before.”

“What’d you wanna be when you were a kid?”

“I…don’t rightly remember.”

“I always wanted to be a mechanical engineer.”

“So why don’t you?”

“I did, I enjoyed the engineering part, but it was sooooo boring. I mean it was really, really boring. No getting out and killing people, just sitting there working, I was going nuts so I quit. Well that and my boss was a complete tool.”

“Hmm, well you’ve got plenty of time to think about this when this is all over.”

“Yeah.”

They lapsed into silence, but a comfortable one.

Eventually Artemis broke the silence “So once this is over you gonna move back in with your parents?”

“No, but I really want to go see them, I mean it’s almost been a decade, geez time flies. When was the last time you went and saw yours?”

“Right before the accident.”

“Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t…”

“It’s alright, you didn’t know.”

“Can I, would it be alright if I asked…”

“What happened? Traffic accident, nothing special, happens a million times every day across the galaxy.”

Gaige placed an arm around Artemis’s shoulder. “Well I’m glad you survived, and I’m glad I got to meet you.”

“Thanks, I owed you.”

“For what? You’re the one who kept saving me.”

“You know, this is gonna be hard, I don’t think I was, well, totally honest or clear or something when we first met, but well, you saved my life. I think that was the real reason I was willing to sacrifice it for you.”

Gaige looked at her with a confused expression.

Artemis let out a sigh and continued in a bit of a distant voice while staring at her mechanical hand while wiggling the fingers slowly “I’ve always thought that I was, well, ugly, a monster. And it’s not just the scars, not the ones on the outside. But me, the me deep down, the real me, I always felt there was something not right about it. And then things got worse, I got into that accident. It wasn’t like it was my fault, I was sleeping in the back when it happened, but I was the only one who lived. So right after the accident, I was…I was in a dark place. I mean really dark. I’d given up, didn’t care. I’d lost my parents, I’d lost my arm, I’d lost my leg to stand on. And I was as ugly on the outside as I felt on the in.”

“So I was just lying there wasting away, like I was just waiting for death to find me too. Like somehow it had missed me at the accident and would be coming back to correct its mistake. About all I could do was lay there and listen to ECHO casts and feel further and further away from humanity. I mean have you ever listened to the ECHO casts out there? It’s a depressing place filled with people telling you how great their lives are, about all the wonderful things happening to them, all the things I’d never have again. Or they whined about things, things they didn’t get, about how life wasn’t fair, and I didn’t see a point in getting back out to that world.”

“Then I found you, a girl who, while you had things, a loving family, a stable life, you had problems, not insurmountable ones, but real ones, and you talked about them. That’s what I liked, you were real, you weren’t pretending to be like everyone else. You knew what you wanted, and even when something bad happened you talked about it. Small things, at least compared to all the other ECHO casters out there, but important things. Things that made you, well, you. Fights and bully’s and your day at school. A trip you took or a test you had. Small things, on a cosmic scale, but normal things, and more important, you didn’t let them get you down. Or maybe it was that I could hear them weighing on you, but that you were trying to fight back against it, to keep moving forward.”

“And before I knew it, I was wanting to hear what happened next. It might sound stupid, caring about a mundane life, but it got me out of my own head. And then I started looking forward to the next day, the next cast, and before I knew it, I stopped thinking in the dark. You talked about mechanics and I realized that I didn’t need to wait for the world to pick me up. That I could find my own way, I could make my own way. And I started studying and before long I had made my own arm, and then a leg to stand on. And you gave those to me. Inadvertently maybe, but still, I would have died in that bed if not for you. So I thought if my life could help yours, well then I was living on time you gave me anyway.”

“I think though that was why when I met you I, well I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was a bit relieved, relieved that you were still just a person, a real person, but I think I saw something in you. Something of the old me. Something lost and adrift and that had somehow misplaced what made you you. I think that’s why I said something when it wasn’t my place. I think it was actually because I saw that you didn’t have anyone to point you back to the path, to tell you when you were giving up, when you were losing the wrong thing. I mean you had Deathtrap and he was trying, but sometimes it can be hard to see something when you’re too close, and often harder to say something.”

“I realize that I was wrong, about a lot of things, but I don’t think I was entirely wrong for trying to get you back to you, no that’s wrong as well, I was trying to get you to be happy. That’s all I really wanted. Not to change you into some idealized version of you. Not to ridicule you. I just wanted you to be happy being you, to smile each day, to enjoy your time. And to maybe, just share a little of it with you.”

She fell silent, seeming to have run herself out. Gaige sat stunned. Slowly she wrapped her other arm around her and gave her an honest hug. She felt Artemis stiffen, unused to being touched and then relax, relax more then she probably had in half a lifetime. “I’m glad you found me.” she whispered, not caring if the other girl heard. “I’m sorry for all you had to go through. And I think you were right. About me that is. I don’t think I’ve been happy, not really truly happy in a long time. And I couldn’t see it, I had convinced myself for so long that things were as good as they could be, that I stopped looking past tomorrow, and lost myself in the, well rut of it all.”

She let the other girl go and sat back, one arm still draped over her shoulder “Don’t ruin this moment by falling asleep on me.” she said with a smile.

“Don’t worry about that.”

“So do you feel better? Getting all that off your chest?”

“Actually, yeah I do. So what’s next?”

“What you mean like…”

“I mean, after we hand off the artifact, and get past the Holloway deadline, what’re you planning to do next? I mean, you’ll be free, right? So what do you wanna do?”

“You know, it still seems unreal, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. Free. I mean I’ve always been free, I went where I wanted, did what I wanted, but to not have to look over my shoulder? I’ll need to see that to believe it. So what’ll I do? I don’t know.”

“Surely you’ve got some idea.”

“Oh I’ve got a list of things in the back of my brain, but I feel that if I say them, they somehow won’t come true. Damn it, Wainwright got to me.”

“Huh?”

“Oh just some superstitious mumbo jumbo he was on about.”

“Ah well better safe than sorry.”

“True, so what about you? What’ll you do once your free of me?”

She couldn’t fail to notice the twitch that ran through the girl before she answered in a sad, distant voice “I hadn’t thought about that, it’s almost a depressing thought, I mean I kinda got used to another person on board. Hmm”

“Well I don’t know about you but I could go for a drink to help lubricate my mind.”

She caught the slightly disappointed look from Artemis “What? I promise, just one and you said you’d join me for one if we got out of there, and we did.”

“OK, yes I did say that I’d join you for a drink when this was over, but I meant when it was all over. That and I’m beat. I just want to go to sleep and not wake up for a week.”

“Alright, I’ll give you a pass for tonight. It’s been one hell of a day and I’m tired too, but you’re sleeping on the bed tonight.”

“What? I can’t, I gave it to you.”

“You can sleep with me.” She paused and looked at the other girl’s face rapidly coloring and
realized what she’d just said sounded like “I meant next to each other, not with each other, that
bed is big enough to fit like three people on it, stupid language.” She fumbled feeling her own face reddening. She cleared her throat and tried shift focus “But you’re making hot cocoa when we get
back to the ship.”

“I thought you were too old for that?” Artemis replied in a mocking tone.

“I’ve learned that you’re never too old for hot cocoa. Besides weren’t you the one who’s always telling me to be true to myself? And myself is telling me that I want hot cocoa.”

“I’ve created a monster.” Artemis said with a laugh.

Right then they heard a soft crunch of dirt under a boot, and quickly turned to find themselves staring back at Tina and the rest of B Team peaking around the corner.

“Way to go Mordi.” Tina spun to chastise the surprised sniper.

“What’d I do?”

“They were having a moment and you wrecked it.”

“But that wasn’t me.”

“They. Where. Having. A. Moment. Mordi.” Tina fumed into his face causing him to take a step back.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Shut it Mordi, don’t try and talk your way out of this.”

“Yeah Mordi” Brick chimed in while sliding a step back making a crunching noise while he did.

“Briiiick” Tina said while turning slowly towards him “Was that you?”

“Uh, no?”

“Whyyyyyhhhyyyy?” She let out a ridiculously long whine at the big man.

“Um” Gaige piped in “I don’t know what you think you saw or when you got here, but we were about done anyway, I think.”

“Yep.”

“So what’d you guys want? Other than to try and overhear something that wasn’t there.”

Mordecai turned away from Tina and her fuming and said “Oh yeah, we got a reply from
Sanctuary. They”

“Damn it Mordi I was gonna tell them.” Tina whipped around on him.

“Hey sorry, but I think it was Brick’s turn anyway.”

“And what, you thought you’d just take it from him? Hmmm? Is that what you thought? Is it? Is it? Well? Well? Huh? Is it? Speak up.”

“Jeez Ti”

“SHUT UP MORDI!”

“Ha ha” Brick started laughing at the antics of his friends before turning to the two girls who obviously didn’t know how to respond to what they were seeing “It’s my turn to talk? HELL YEAH! So as Mordi said, Sanctuary got us. They gonna meet you on Feno Phena.”

“Brick you gotta tell them the rest of it man.” Mordecai said over Tina’s head.

“Wha? Oh yeah, just before midnight Tuesday. Moliki Plaza? Something like that.”

“Come on man, Metro Link Plaza, Torin City at 11:50 at night.”

“Yeah that’s it.”

“Mordi, you didn’t let Brick have his moment.”

“I just helped him out, right man?”

“Yeah, it’s all good Tina, oh sorry, Crunk Bunny.”

“Brick…you don’t havva call me that, in the base, in front of our peeps.”

“Right, ha ha.”

The two girls looked at each other before Gaige turned “11:50 Metro Link Plaza, Torin City Feno Phena? Got it.” She said typing it into her ECHO. “Well we should be getting back.”

“Aw you’re leaving already?” Tina turned to them “Do you know how hard it is to find someone to talk to? I was hoping to get some ‘girl time’ but no, I see you have places to be” She had shifted into a pompous voice like she was pretending to be a queen, or at least what she thought one would sound like “Yes places to be, people to kill, don’t worry about Tina, she has Enrique the fourth to keep her company. So off with you.”

Gaige smiled “See you around Tina.”

“Totes lates girly, and you, yes you shorty, you fine, but next time, you come here, you bring cupcakes you feel me, CUPCAKES! And not them nasty ass ones, ya got me? Go, keep an eye on her badonka-donks an make sure they don’t get badonka-donked aieght?”

“Good seeing you again” Mordecai said from the back before turning to Artemis “Next time, let’s have a sniper challenge, put our guns on the line.”

“No thanks, I wanna keep mine.”

Mordecai laughed softly “Good call”

“By Slab. Hell yeah, you keep kicking ass” Brick seemed to remember something and pulled the giant buzz ax off his back and handed it to Artemis “You woulda made a fine Slab, even if you are tiny.”

Artemis took the ax with a confused look “Uh, thanks. I think?”

Gaige leaned in and whispered “Slabs where his gang, I had to take the initiation to get him on our side back when I was first here. I mean when I was here as a Vault Hunter.”

“Ah”

With a final wave the girls left leaving the members of B-Team standing there.

“Aw shoot” Tina suddenly yelled “I forgot.” “What? What is it?” Mordecai looked around.

“I should have asked them if they wanted to play ‘Bunkers and Badasses’. What? I need some
more players.”

Chapter 22

Hunters Moon

Despite how tired they were, Gaige had expected it to take a while to fall asleep, neither one of them had exactly shared a bed with anyone else in a while, if ever. So after a brief rinse off, since neither of them had wanted to spend the night covered in blood and dust, Artemis had whipped up the late, albeit delicious hot cocoa, with marshmallows of course, and they had crawled into the bed together.

Gaige was self-conscious about it, and was grateful that the other girl didn’t sleep au-natural. But it wasn’t even fifteen seconds before the other girl was asleep, and to her own surprise, the siren song of a soft bed and the hot cocoa, drug Gaige under before even a minute had passed.

They woke late and slowly, neither one wanting to get up, but eventually needs outweighed wants and they rose to face the day. After a quick shower they reconvened in the kitchen where a fully recharged Deathtrap whipped up another delicious breakfast for them and they soon found themselves leaning back with sighs of contentment.

But like all good things, they eventually had to get back to the problems at hand.

“So, ten minutes till the deadline, wish we could’ve pushed it back an hour.” Artemis broke the silence “Would’ve stayed drifting and let the clock run out.”

“You make it sound like you think Holloway will find us there.”

“Well, he has found us everywhere else. I mean, I thought at first it was your wedding business that he was tracking, but he’s found us everywhere we went. You don’t have a bug on you, do you?”

“Wait he didn’t find us on Jaka did he?”

“No your right that was Steven.”

“Right, thanks for that by the way, nearly lost my lunch when I read about who he really was, not that I’d had lunch.”

“Don’t mention it, really, I don’t want to remember that that guy ever existed. And besides, killing him was a pleasure, even if it means that I might not be able to go back to Jaka.”

“He really seemed to think he was god’s gift to women, didn’t he?”

“No, he thought they were god’s gift to him.”

“Ha. Still, thanks. But you really think that Holloway’s gonna find us?”

“Well, he may have staked out Pandora thinking you might go there to look for help. But I feel like we’re missing something. Anyway, better safe than sorry and all that. And I think that this being his last chance, legally at least, he’s gonna throw everything he’s got at us.”

“Eh, point. So what’re you thinking?”

“Well we have a counter to his EMP right? And we don’t know what else, or whom else he’ll be bringing to the table. So we’ve got to plan on the best way to utilize the three of us against him.”

“Right, so what’s your plan?”

“My…I was just happy to have thought of that part. I mean I’m not a planner, you saw me trying to rescue you from that bandit hideout, does that seem like the kind of person who plans?”

“OK, point.”

The three of them fell into silence as they each thought about it.

Eventually it was Artemis who spoke up first and kind of tentatively “I think, well this may sound wrong or something but, well I think we should focus on upgrading Deathtrap.”

“Upgrading? What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing’s wrong, it’s just, well what’s his main weapons?”

“Oh man, he’s got a death laser, a regular laser and wicked digi-struct claws.”

“OK so is the death laser the red one?”

“Yeah and it’s awesome.”

“It is, I will give you that, but doesn’t it drain him pretty dramatically?”

“Well yeah, great power requires lotsa power to achieve.”

“But doesn’t that mean he can’t rely on it for a prolonged fight?”

“Yeah but, he shouldn’t be in a long fight, and besides he has the other laser for that.”

“What element is that?”

“Uh electric you saw that when we were escaping right?”

“I did, but that’s gonna be the problem.”

“What that you saw it?”

“What? No, electric.”

“I’m not following.”

“OK think about this, they will probably be bringing more of those EMP weapons.”

“Right and?”

“And they will probably have countermeasures built into their things or at least not be carrying anything that would be effected.”

“Which means electric attacks won’t be doing much, if anything, damn it. You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Which would mean that he would have to rely on his claws and death laser, hence why I think he needs a new weapon.”

“See why didn’t you start with that, I’m always looking for ways to make him more of a badass. You hear that babe? Upgrade time.”

“Urur”

Artemis sighed before getting up and heading back to the workshop. “Well let’s go see what we
can do.”

Chapter 23

Feno Phena

They arrived on the water planet of Feno Phena shortly before the appointed meeting time, and made their way to the surface. They had spent hours in the workshop prepping, and though Artemis still was bemoaning the dismantling of one of her favorite guns, and Deathtrap didn’t like some of the temporary add-ons, they were all relatively satisfied with the resulting upgrades to Deathtrap. They of course wished that they could have done more, but with the limits of time and resources, they felt that they were in a good place.

After they had finished with that, they had selected their own load outs from the arsenal and then had taken a nap to be as rested as possible for the evening ahead of them.

Gaige hoisted the shotgun onto her shoulder and looked around at the district of Torin City they found themselves in. Short squarish buildings, of something like white marble, rose three stories out of the water to surround the wide paths and bridges that crossed the area, broken up by planters with hedges and trees tastefully placed around. Thin delicate poles rose and curled to illuminate the area with hanging lights that pushed back the shadows, even as the twin moons shone down brightly in the starry sky. Overall, it was a beautiful place, and even though the clear blue water appeared black now, its surface danced and sparkled as it reflected the lights from above.

They made their way cautiously to the meeting point, which was in the more industrial side of the city, though even calling it that was a bit misleading. The plaza itself was a series of raised platforms over sunken ones. At a glance it seemed that ships would unload cargo onto the lower platforms and passengers onto the raised. Around the outer rim, across walkways were shops and kiosks where food would undoubtedly be served from some and others would sell trinkets and souvenirs during the day, though it was hard to tell since everything was closed. Though it looked a bit touristy despite the wooden shipping crates stacked up on the lower levels, it was the kind of place that Gaige thought she would like to return to at some point, to see it during the day. In fact this planet had been one she had considered for one of the weddings she had planned, though the customer had ended up going with another in the end.

She stopped next to one of the fountains and turned to Artemis who was decked out in purple, her shirt looked like it was made of scales that matched her hair, going from dark purple to magenta, the inside of the rolled up sleeve was a dark mottled blue that matched her torn jeans, her exposed sock and arm sleeve, which Gaige was now convinced was actually the matching sock, was black and violet and she was wearing her usual rough boots. Shadowstar dangled from her belt again. Gaige was wearing her usual red and black outfit though she had dug out her old goggles to wear.

“Before we go out there, I wanted to say something.”

“If this is one of those things where you get sentimental and ■■■■ or telling me I don’t need to stay…”

“What? Hell no. I was just remembered that I wanted to apologize for mocking you when, you know, you asked if I wanted a new color arm. Well actually what I wanted to say is, that really is a pretty shade of purple.”

“Thanks, well it’s actually two colors layered.”

“Really? I wanted to say, well, it looks good on you. I never could have got that look, I hate admitting it but I think you might be a better craftswoman than me.”

“Are you kidding me, is this one of those false modesty ■■■■■■■■ things? There’s no way I could make something anywhere near as amazing as Deathtrap.”

“No no, that’s engineering, I’ve totally got you beat there, what you’ve got a better handle on is the craft, the construction. I mean those armor plates fit perfectly, without any adjustment needed.”

“Ah that’s not hard, it’s like hunting, just requires patients.”

“That must be why I’m not into either, I just want to get onto the next thing right away.”

“Well, putting that aside, we’re here and they’re already waiting on us.”

“Really? We’re a few minutes early.”

“Not them.”

Gaige looked out at the plaza and sighed “Well, looks like you were right, good thing we planned for this.” And then loudly bellowed “Oi, come on out, we know you’re here and all that.”

From behind the planters and edges more than a dozen of the black armored troops emerged ringing the area. At the far end of the plaza came a loud clomping noise and a heavy mechanized suit came up the stairs. It was less bulky then the Vladof bear line, fitting closer to the human shape, and was sleeker than the Maliwan heavy troops. Its close-fitting gloss black plates reflecting the lamp light. The head stuck up surrounded by a glowing collar and was covered with a heavy helmet that reminded Gaige vaguely of something she had seen on Xylourgos.

The suit marched about a third of the way to them and stopped before holding out a small object, which flickered and started projecting a holo of a man’s head and shoulders.

“Well well, child killer, I can’t say it’s a pleasure to see you again.” He had a smooth voice, youthful, to match his looks.

“Holloway” Gaige spat while glaring at the holo.

“Good you remember me, I was afraid you’d forgotten.”

“Like I could forget you after what you did.”

“What I…You’re the one who murdered my beautiful baby! You never could stand that she was smarter than you, prettier than you, more gifted than you, but still was that any reason to kill her? And in front of her mother, she… It’s been hard for her.”

“That why you divorced her?” Artemis threw in to distract him while she gave Gaige’s hand
a squeeze to try and tell her to calm down. She caught the faint nod to her side and heard her
exhale slowly.

“Silence! You, you don’t even belong here!”

Artemis marveled at the holo tech, she could see the spittle flying.

Gaige looked at him with a calm she didn’t feel and said “If she was so smart, why’d you have to steal my invention for her to use in the science fair?”

“I didn’t have to steal your second-rate robot, well I guess third rate is more appropriate in this case isn’t it. And even if I had, that defective pile of scrap only did what you programmed it to and murdered anyone better than you.”

“Wait, I’m confused” Gaige said barely managing to keep her calm, nobody insulted her buddy and got away with it, but she grit her teeth and bide her time “Is he defective or following his programming? I mean it’s generally one or the other, right?” plus it was fun to try and get under this pricks skin.

Holloway was visibly grinding his teeth and turning a funny shade. “Enough of this! It doesn’t matter! You are going to die here, tonight. Both you, and that scrap heap that did your killing for you. And then I’m going to melt it down and turn it into toilets. And and” The guy in the suit holding the holo device cleared his throat softly “Enough about that, I will have enough time once you’ve been broken.

“Excuse me.” Artemis raised her hand and stepped forward “If your about done with all that catching up. It’s just that before we get started, I’ve got two questions for ya.”

“What do you want traitor?”

“Three questions, and let us start with why do you guys keep calling me a traitor?”

“And what would you call someone who takes confidential information and uses it to help
the enemy?”

“Well first off, I never worked for you. And all that info was freely given, I mean you didn’t even make me sign one of those DNA’s”

Gaige stage whispered “NDA’s”

“Right NDA’s, and even if you had tried, I would have just refused and figured out what you were doing anyway.”

“You still sided with my daughter’s murderer against me.”

“True, but I have my reasons. I mean she’s better looking than you, and you’re a douchebag, so I think I made the right call.”

“I know what you’re trying to do.” Holloway managed to get out passed his clenched teeth “And it won’t work.”

“And what’s that?”

“You’re trying to waste enough time that she’s free to go, but it won’t work, in three minutes we attack whether you’ve finished asking your asinine questions or not. So feel free to waste your last few minutes alive.”

“Kay. Second question. How’d you find us?”

“Easy, the idiot posted her itinerary on the ECHO. Told us exactly where to come and find her.”

“Damn it, you were right” Gaige cursed “But what about Pandora?”

“That? We posted a squad on Pandora in case you showed up there trying to find help. We had a second one on Eden 5 for the same reason.”

“Wait! Your goons where watching my dad? If any of you so much as…”

“Don’t worry” the mech suit merc said “He had no bounty on him, it would be unprofessional to kill him, he didn’t even know we were there.”

‘Huh’ Artemis thought ‘Guess there is some honor amongst douchbags after all’.

“No” Holloway said “He needs to feel it too, the pain that only a father of a dead daughter can.”

“Right” Artemis said making a hand gesture like she was picking something up and setting it aside “So what about this? How’d you know that we’d be here, tonight, now?”

“Ha ha, quite simple actually.”

‘Great, gotta stroke the old ego’ Artemis groaned inwardly while she said “Well it would have taken a more clever hunter than me to figure this out.”

“That’s not saying much, but you haven’t figured it out yet?”

Throwing pretense out the window she flatly declared “Look buddy, we’re on a timetable, are you gonna tell us or just brag until that alarm goes off?”

“Fine. Do you know how many of my robots are out there? Do you have any idea? Billions. In the last few years Holloway Robotics has become synonymous with quality help for your business or home. No one even thinks about them anymore, trash bots, police bots, firefighters, delivery bots, floor scrubbers, hell I run the largest waste disposal service in the galaxy. They are ubiquitous with modern living, no developed planet wants to be without them. And each and every one of them is set to listen for certain key words and phrases. Do you see now? Eyes and ears everywhere, able to go without being seen, they’re just the background noise of everyday life, and they’re even programmed to not know that they’re recording. It all just gets sifted through in the background. And if some corporation doesn’t want to use our bots, fear of security breaches and all that? I control the baristas at their local cafe, the street sweeper, the car washer, hell I probably control the vacuum in their house. So I have access to everything. That fool Jack didn’t know the gift he was giving me.”

“But back to you, I admit to being a bit concerned when you fell off even my expansive radar, did you know there is not one of my bots on all of Pandora, what a complete dump, but Sanctuary? Oh yes, I’m onboard with them. So when they made plans to come meet you here, here I am.”

“Wait, if you’ve got access to Sanctuary, then why haven’t you collected the bounties on them?”

“That trifling amount?”

“Don’t you see, if he captures them, it might reveal that he has spy’s everywhere, and the other corporations are worth so much more to plunder than the few bounties on Sanctuary, right?”

“Not as dumb as you look murderer.”

“So all this tech, the stuff these guys have, that was all stolen from other companies?”

“No, we just took bits and pieces, combined them and made the best in the galaxy.”

“Wow, that’s…”

“Genius I believe is the word you’re looking for.”

“I was gonna say scuzzy.” Artemis then turned and looked at the mech suit “My third question was actually for you guys.”

The leader pointed to himself in surprise “Yeah, I’ve been wondering this since I first met one of you, but why do you have a sphincter on your chest?”

“A what?”

“Sphincter. Ah man I was hoping to get an answer without having to get to crude, oh well, an anus, a butt, an ■■■■■■■. Get it? I mean it’s like you’re announcing that you’re ■■■■ to the Galaxy.”

“It’s not an ■■■■■■■! It’s the mark of our organization, the Brown Stars.”

“Uh, you do know that’s another euphemism for an ass, right?”

“No it’s not!” He yelled, but two of his men where nodding and even the hologram of Holloway was nodding along saying “I had always thought that was weird myself.”

“Wha…Damn it! Fine you know what, we’re making enough money off of this job, we can re-brand ourselves afterwords. And we are not ■■■■!”

“Yeah keep telling yourself that.”

“Enough” Holloway yelled “Times up, no more questions, no more screwing around. It’s time for that murdering little monster and her floating scrap heap to die.”

“Right, so how do you wanna do this?” Artemis asked “Divide them up or take them as they come
or what?”

“Oh no, did you really think I would leave something this important to these, these, abject failures? At this late a stage? No. No I’m gonna be handling this myself” Holo-Holloway said and the projection cut off. The boat docked at the back of the platform suddenly split open and a cloud of smoke rolled out as the roar of rockets filled the air. Out of the smoke they could just make out the form of a massive robot as it rose out of the ship and landed on the platform. It looked like the love child between a Vladof bear and a Maliwan Arbalist or one of the Valkyrie. It sat on heavy back-bent legs, each the size of Deathtrap’s torso. Its massive bulbous body swept up and out over its arms, each of which ended in a three clawed hand. On its shoulders were boil like lumps that held some kind of weapons, more of which could be seen sticking over the shoulders.

“This is the culmination of all of my research. The ultimate battlesuit. Behold your doom”

“Ah god damn it” the girls muttered.

“He had eight years to come up with something and he went with that cliché?” Gaige said turning
to Artemis.

“I know right, I’m kinda surprised he didn’t grow a mustache just to twirl it at you.” Artemis snarked back “You two got this? I’ll take the goon squad then.”

They could practically hear his eye twitching as he responded “Enjoy your moment of confidence while it lasts.”

“Seriously, did you go to cheap villain school or something?”

“I am not the bad guy here! I’m the victim! It was my daughter who was murdered in front of me! And after that, you still think you’re the victim here? No! Tonight justice is served, tonight my baby will finally rest in peace! And then it will be a new dawn, not just for me, but for Holloway Robotics as well. And as for your little murderous pile of scrap? He will not be helping you, he will be getting crushed under my superiority. Behold the ultimate killer robot ‘Deathbot 2.0’.

Before they could mock his naming out of the ship came a dark shape that slowly floated up into the light. At a glance it looked like a rounder, sleeker looking version of Deathtrap. But as it floated closer, they got a good look at the beast, it was twice the size of Deathtrap, and its dark skin was carved into hex patterns that subtly crackled with electricity. On each of its shoulders was a weapon mount, on each of its hands was a large glowing Digi-blade. Its six glowing eyes glowered down at them with a red glow.

“Nothing smart to say now?” Holloway crowed before turning and telling the merc leader “Keep that one from interfering and I’ll pay you the full bounty, And I don’t care what you do with her so long as she doesn’t interfere with my revenge.”

Artemis looked at them and held up her index finger before turning to Gaige.

“You’ve got this, just remember what you figured out on Pandora, I’ll make sure those goons don’t interfere” and then she whispered “Take out the missile launchers first.”

“Duh” came the reply before she leaned in to Deathtrap “You got this babe, remember what we talked about. And never forget you’re the baddest bot ever.”

“Not gonna tell me to not be suicidal?”

“No, cause I wanna see you when this is over.” Gaige said with a smile while lightly punching the other girls shoulder “Happy hunting.”

Artemis smiled and gave them both a thumbs up before turning back to the mercs, and with a head move indicated that they should relocate off to the side. She turned and walked over to the edge of the platform before casually stepping off and dropping onto the crates below.

Deathtrap floated off the other side to face his own challenger, leaving only Gaige and Holloway remaining. The two of them stared at each other as the wind whistled past, reminding Gaige of a
movie she had watched with her father when she was a child, a duel to the death. All that was
missing was a tumbleweed rolling between them. And then gunshots and explosions started from
over the platform’s sides.

“Seems like they got the party started” She said with a smirk and threw herself to the side while whipping her pistol up. She fired three rapid shots off before hitting the ground to roll behind a planter and pop the spent clip out while sneaking a peak at the mech. As she had expected the rounds had bounced off the shield. But deep down she felt it, the old familiar bubbling warmth creeping up, that touch of madness, the rush of power.

She’d gained her first stack of Anarchy.

Holloway laughed “That’s it?”

The mech lowered itself and one of the back mounted weapons arrays opened up. Gaige leaned around her cover and emptied another clip at him as the system seemed to come on line, and just as she finished reloading, it fired. She managed to get her gun up and fired, hitting the projectile each time, causing it to crash into the ground and smash apart. With a slightly perturbed noise Holloway fired twice more. This time Gaige only managed to take out one of the projectiles, but to her surprise the remaining one didn’t arc towards her, instead it slammed into the ground about ten feet away from her and buried its nose in the stones. She realized what was up just before the back part of the rocket slid upward and she saw a familiar blue static dome start forming.

She pulled back behind her cover and felt the creeping sensation of every hair on her body standing on end as the wave went over her. As she sat, she switched weapons to her SMG and then cried out “What the hell?”

She stood with her left arm hanging limp “What the hell’s going on? What was that?
What happened?”

“Ahahaha” Holloway cackled “Do you like that, I made it especially for you, you and that damn scrap heap of yours. Holloway Robotics proudly presents the EMP dome, kills all electronics in the area unless protected by our patented protective armor. And that’s what your murderous junk pile was just hit with as well.”

“Noooooooo, Babe! Is that what you were expecting me to say?” she said going from crying in anguish to flatly staring at him. She held up her cyber hand and wiggled the fingers practically hearing his jaw dropping “Outsmarted by a little girl again, that’s gotta be embarrassing.”

She pulled the gun up and let a full clip fly into the exposed shoulder pods. Just as she had predicted, when the EMP had activated his shields had went down. Truth was that it was one of the things Artemis had made for her back on Jaka, a case for her shield, but it had come with a warning that the same properties that allowed it to absorb the electrical pulses also made it absorb the shield itself. So when she had seen the missile hit she had flipped the case closed, meaning that like the giant mech in front of her, she currently had no shield, but that made this the opportune time to unload a caustic stream onto the armored carapace of the mech.

She dove behind cover just as her gun clicked empty, and as she did, she saw the first of the missile pods melt down.

“How! How is your arm still working? How are you using a Maliwan? This is impossible.” Holloway ranted as he fired a few rounds into the still crackling missile, causing it to explode, just as Gaige popped back up and took out his other shoulder pod.

Once the missile was gone, the dome vanished immediately and she heard the familiar sound of a shield starting to charge back up so she flipped the case on hers back open as well, while she switched back to her pistol, which though it didn’t do much damage, would build up Anarchy faster than the SMG. At this point she was wishing she had grabbed one of the sniper rifles when she had been offered. But she had a lot more pistol ammo capacity, so more ammo meant more Anarchy. More Anarchy meant more damage when she got serious, so she had what she had.

“Enough” Cried Holloway as he switched over to his proper weapons systems. Gaige peeked around the planter and watched as the remaining back weapon opened up and raised over the shoulder reveling a large cannon that if her experience was to be relied on, was a powerful shock wave cannon.

True to her expectations a ball of light started to form in the mouth of the weapon and as she took off running, she saw it flicker slightly, when she saw that she dove into a slide, catching the edge of the next planter to stop herself behind it just as the powerful wave tore across the platform, throwing dirt out of the planter and over her. She spat a clod of dirt and peaked up to see that the area had been blasted clean of debris in a cone shape. The cannon drooped slightly as if exhausted and she knew instinctively that it would take a little while for it to recharge. Still it was powerful and she didn’t want to get caught by it, especially at close range.

She popped back up and ran while firing only to see the arms of the mech raise up and out of the left one came a jet of fire that caused her to duck, even though she was well out of range, while the right started to charge up another weapon. After a second a large slow-moving ball of energy fired leaving a frosty trail underneath it. She changed directions and dove over another planter as the ball continued forward eventually exploding against the planter where she had been coating it in ice.

She sighed watching the shoulder cannon start charging again, the mech seemed to be more of a close-range fighter than she had anticipated, which was probably why Artemis had told her to take out the missile pods. That said while it was dangerous to get close to, it was also extremely durable so she didn’t think it would go down easily, and while it was close range, that didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous on the small platform that they were fighting on, which meant one wrong move, a dodge a second to late and it would all be over. She snapped another clip into the pistol and kept fighting.

Artemis stepped off the last of the crates and turned to face the mercs that where arrayed against her. Other than the leader in his battle suit she could see three of the heavies like she had faced on Talion, the rest of them where just goons, probably well trained, but goons none the less.

She scanned them with a dismissive look on her face “Is this gonna be one of those ladies first things, or are you guys gonna collect your paycheck for just standing there? That’d be fine by me and all, but if that’s what we’re gonna do, can I get to a place where I can see the other fights? And maybe get some popcorn?”

“You think you’re gonna live after killing so many of our brothers?”

“Well they kinda sucked, I mean, are you guys any better than them? At fighting I mean.”

“You’ll see, now!”

And two of the goons pulled grenades, but before they left their hands Artemis had brought her rifle up and fired twice. The grenades bounced and fell off the end of the platform and with a soft splash fell into the water.

“Well that’s awkward.” She said “Still time to just go up there and watch ya know.”

“Get her!”

“Damn it”

She fired twice more dropping three of them before pulling her pistol while diving behind a crate. She took the second of reprieve to reload her rifle and just as she snapped the chamber closed spun and shot the first goon to round the corner in the head. Dashing out around his falling body she slid between the legs of one of the heavies, popping her blade and slicing at his femoral artery as she did. The blade met strong resistance but cut deep enough to cause him to double over, and when he did, she leaped up on the other side of him, jumped, planted her foot on the wall of crates and spun, drawing her backup gun as she did. She slammed it into the space behind his helmet and neck guard and fired once downward, then rode the falling body till it hit the ground and rolled up to her feet, sprinting off behind the nearest crate as gun fire tore into it.

She ran part way down the length of the row before leaping and catching the edge of the crates. She pulled herself up just as goons circled around on both sides and threw herself on top only to be met with the mech suit firing a weapon at her. She didn’t have time to figure out what it was, instead she rolled back off the crate she was on and fell just as where she had just been exploded in a shower of splinters. She hit the ground as the two goons opened fire. Feeling the shots tear into her shield Artemis ran at one of them and shot him in the face before dropping into a slide and kicking his corpse out into the main area. While the rest of the mercs fired without hesitation into the body she spun and shot the remaining goon before taking a second to reload.

Without looking she chucked a grenade around the corner, and just before it exploded, she was showered in dirt falling from above. Ignoring it she spun around the corner
and nearly ran into one of the heavies. He took a step back in surprise, she didn’t. Instead she leaped at him and drove her blade into his neck, punching the thin blade through his armor before opening the Digi-blade, nearly taking his head off. Using the blade as a fulcrum she spun using his body as a shield she held out her pistol and fired off the whole cylinder worth killing off most of the rest of the goons before retracting the blade.

She spun to face the remaining few mercs only to find three grenades bouncing towards her. Swearing she threw herself behind the nearest crate. To her surprise she was quickly encased in three domes of electric static.

She sat there reloading listening to the clomping of the mercs approaching.

“What nothing smart to say now?” Came the leaders mocking voice.

She sat silently waiting and was shortly rewarded as the last heavy stepped around the corner. She smiled up and slammed her back-up gun under his chin and fired. The body fell backwards and she casually stepped out over him while reloading, before switching back to her rifle.

“You should have taken me up on that just standing around thing, cause you’re running out of
men for me to kill.” Artemis said her eyes glittering menacingly as she casually kicked aside one
of the grenades.

“How? What?” Came the shocked commander’s reply.

Artemis just kept smiling and fired twice, killing the last two goons and bouncing the bullets into the commander’s mech. “Don’t think I’ll be that easy.” He snarled.

“I hope not, this would be boring otherwise.” she replied while secretly wishing that it had been.

He fired the thrusters in the back of the mech to launch himself towards her, even though his top speed wasn’t all that fast, it still closed the ground before she could get off more than two shots. She dove and rolled under one of his arms before emptying her rifle into one of the jets. She rapidly reloaded as she backed away, satisfied with the damage she had inflicted. The jet sputtered and fired through the now bent thruster cone causing the mech to wobble dangerously.

She quickly finished reloading and switched to her SMG while dodging the heavy backhand from the mech. She stepped in close and brought the gun up and fired point blank into the shoulder joint. The caustic Maliwan she was carrying was an older, out of manufacture model, it was only caustic but it had no charge up time, making it ideal for close quarters.

“Damn it” the commander bellowed swinging his other fist at her “How is that gun still working? Were the grenades defective?” He trailed off swinging his fist at her again.

She didn’t respond, instead focusing on reloading, but the truth was that both Gaige’s and her SMG’s where in shells she had made from pieces she had made on Jaka and assembled during the past day, much like the coverings around her shield and grenade mod.

The grenades finally sputtered out and the commander suddenly changed tactics, he drew his arms in as if trying to make the mech smaller and Artemis could hear a high-pitched whine coming from within. Swearing she flicked her shield back open as she ran hard for the end of the platform and just as she jumped behind the heavy stair post the mech seemed to open up and a shock wave emerged, throwing back everything that had been nearby, from crates to corpses.

It lasted only a moment and as soon as it was past, Artemis was out and running. She had to leap over the smashed crates that had become strewn around as she closed the distance, before hopping onto the remains of one of the piles and dashing across the top while unloading into the mech.

There was something satisfying about the way the armor bubbled and hissed as it started to melt under the stream of caustic death. It took two whole clips into one of the joints but she could now
see into the mech, and she was about to switch to her sniper rifle, when the mech started chucking
crates at her.

She ducked and rolled across the wall of crates she was on, feeling it shift and wobble under her as she did so. Seeing that, the commander stopped aiming at her and started trying to take out the wall.

Still cursing under her breath, even though she was starting to run out of things to call him, she jumped down and pulled her pistol. Sliding under a projectile she fired as fast as she could into the weak spot she had made, and was satisfied to see a shower of sparks fly out.

Now it was the commander’s turn to curse as his mech jerked erratically. Artemis smiled and hopped up, using the momentum to climb the wall of boxes. She set her rifle on top of the wall as she spun and leaped onto the back of the mech, extending her blade as she did. She plunged it into the sparking gap in the side and just as she was about to expand the Digi-blade she felt a massive hand clamp onto her leg. The next thing she knew she was bouncing off the ground, the air forced from her lungs with an explosive gasp.

She lay there stunned, trying to get air, as the mech sparking and stuttering, stomped down at her. She managed to roll enough that it didn’t land directly on her. Gasping she pulled herself forward on her belly, when the other foot came down, missing her by a hairs breadth. But it landed, as if it had been aimed, on her blade, snapping the weapon like a twig.

Deathtrap flew out over the water, dodging the beam firing out of the other robot’s shoulder. He dropped low, skimming the surface, leaving broken reflections of the moons in his wake. He spun without slowing down and fired his own laser at the massive bot giving him chase, the green light
of his modified beam struck along the side of it, tracing a line of corrosive energy that left the bot’s hide bubbling.

This was the first modification that had been talked about by the two girls, and had required them to crack open Artemis’s electro-caustic SMG, which caused the proprietary components to fry themselves, but the where able to harvest the elemental switcher and the caustic components with the combined talents of the two of them, and it was now installed in Deathtrap’s laser. This allowed him to switch between the two elements of electricity and caustic with a simple thought.

He quite liked it.

The other bot didn’t seem to be impressed and resumed firing its own laser. Deathtrap grumbled, the other bot wasn’t all that good, but it kept firing that laser nearly constantly and didn’t seem to take damage, even though its outer armor was getting marred by all the times it had been hit, it didn’t seem like it was getting through. And then there was the fact that it hadn’t fired its second weapon yet, although neither had he.

Even as he flew around Deathtrap was keeping an ‘eye’ on the other fights, the other two seemed to be doing alright, but he wanted to get this finished so he could be in a better position if he needed to step in and help. But he didn’t forget all the fights he had been in up till now, nor the strategies he had developed playing games, so he didn’t rush, instead he watched and waited.

Before long he was rewarded as the other robot took a break from missing him with its laser and aimed its other shoulder weapon at him. Being cautious, he prepped one of the other modifications that had been done to him, though he wasn’t fond of this one.

The other bot fired and a swarm of mini-missiles flew out and at him. He wanted a mini-missile launcher. Maybe he could get the girls to make him one. As the missiles flew about with a bit of a random pattern he stopped and waited. After a few seconds, when they had gotten much closer, he fired. The Flackker that had been modified to fit on the back of his arm threw out its pellets, and the Torgue explosives created a screen in front of him that detonated the incoming missiles.

Deathtrap still wasn’t fond of it, but was glad to have it. Once the smoke cleared, he looked at the other bot and gave an exaggerated shrug to mock it. Secretly he wished he could have used his death laser to end this, but with the smoke screen, he knew that it would have been a waste.

The other robot took advantage of his stillness to fire a laser off at him, one he was to slow to dodge. The beam hit him in the shoulder and…did nothing. He had been a bit surprised that the armor worked as well as it did back on Pandora. Not that he had doubted it, after all Gaige had said it would work. He had been dodging to keep the bot firing its laser in the duel hopes that first off, it would drain its power, and second, that it wouldn’t use some other kind of weapon. Well the first didn’t seem to be happening and the second had just happened, though he had negated it pretty effectively as well.

The problem was that they were at a stalemate, with neither one seemingly able to hurt the other, but they each had a trick up their sleeve.

The other bot moved first, giving up on range it seemed to have decided to finish things in close combat. While Deathtrap was usually fine with that, those claws looked pretty dangerous, so he flew backwards away from it while his circuits flew through plans, eventually deciding on one.

It wasn’t the best plan, far from it. And it had a lot of room to go wrong, probably more than to go right. But it was his best chance, a suicidal gamble, but as someone had recently said, sometimes suicidal was really just a desperate attempt to live, or something like that.

So he found himself flying back over the plaza, and making sure that he wasn’t over anything important, slowed down to face the ridiculously named Deathbot 2.0. It closed rapidly and swung at him, he casually ducked under and retaliated in kind, only he hit the other bot, slicing into the back of its hand. He did the same for the other hand when it swung. He wound up going toe to toe with the other bot in a fist fight, even though neither of them had toes.

After a desperate few minutes or seconds, one of the other bots blades flickered and the Digi-blade vanished, and then a few seconds later the other followed. The bot swung at him with a fist, completely leaving its flank open, and Deathtrap took the bait, slashing deep into its right side, only to be stopped part way as the other bot caught his arm. Deathtrap frantically tugged and spun trying to get loose, but the other robot had a vice-like grip on him. And then, it brought its other arm to play, and slammed it into his torso.

Deathtrap wailed as the other robot pulled, and then with a slight change in grip on his body, tore Deathtrap’s left arm completely off, before tossing his wounded body onto the ground, where he crashed in a flickering pile of spurting oil and sparking wires.

Chapter 24

Feno Phena

Deathtrap gazed up at the robot floating above him, silhouetted against the stars. It was still holding his arm, moving it back and forth, watching it limply flop around as he lay in a growing pool of his own oil beneath.

‘Good’ He thought ‘Keep right there a few seconds longer’

And he fired.

The deathlaser hit the clawed open right side of the Deathbot and punched in, before detonating inside. The other bot gave a pathetic squeal and spun, even as the red energy continued running rampant inside, blowing circuits and servos alike.

The other bot crashed into the ground and started flopping, digging gouges in the stone with its fingers. Deathtrap slowly rose into the air, clamping his remaining hand onto the oozing stump where his other arm had recently been. The plan had worked. He had needed two things, an opening in the other bots armor, and enough time to get off a shot at a stationary foe. The best time to strike was when your opponent was sure of victory, the only time they would be still was over their fallen adversary, the only time they wouldn’t pay attention to you was when they thought you were done. He had learned from his fights, he had remembered, that was the difference in experience between them.

The narrow line between victory and defeat.

He floated over to where the other bot was still squealing pathetically and flopping around, and fired an electric laser into its torn open side, frying the rest of its circuits and causing its eyes to crack and go dark. It let out one last whine as it fell still. Deathtrap didn’t stop and fired a caustic beam into its side to fully destroy the last vestiges of its memory core to prevent even its combat data from being recovered. It may have been seen as a cruel move, but he didn’t want Holloway to have anything of his.

He picked up his arm and tossed it over his shoulder and without a backwards glance floated over to watch how the other fights where progressing.

The grenade Artemis had stuffed into the gouge, when she had stabbed the mech suit, finally went off. The EMP dome spread through the mech from the inside, causing it to shudder and stop before it slumped and slowly fell over sidewise, to crash loudly onto the ground.

She pushed herself up and rolled into a sitting position and looked at the fallen mech “Bout time.” she groaned. She pushed herself back to the wall and sat there watching the suit, waiting. A few seconds later she started hearing swearing coming from within. In the distance she saw Deathtrap slowly floating to the edge of the platform to watch the fights.

“Well ■■■■” she muttered “I guess I should wrap this up, I don’t want to be the last one fighting.”

Soon she saw the suit start opening as the operator started to try getting out manually. She sighed and pushed herself up and stepped forward while aiming her pistol at the opening hatch.

Just as she was about to fire, a bullet hit her shield causing her to stagger. Cursing she dove for cover, spinning around the wall she fired at the sniper, dropping him. Spinning back, she found the suit empty. She swung around checking the area only to be tackled from the side.

Hitting the ground hard, she managed to throw her attacker off. He rolled to his feet and spun to face her. She was surprised to see that he was a short beefy man wearing a heavy vest. He rolled his neck and his shoulders while staring at her with small unblinking eyes.

“Well that was unpleasant” He growled “I really want to kill you know. But I just want to know, before we finish this, when’d you pick the grenade up?”

“Took it off one of your dead guys, right after you shock waved and threw him at me.”

“Ah” He said while looking around at the mess “Well first off, that wasn’t a guy, and second, with skills like that you could’ve made one hell of a bounty hunter.”

“Thanks” She replied coldly “But this was never about the money.”

“No? Well whatever it was about, you’re still gonna die.”

“Yeah right, you couldn’t take me with a full mecha suit.”

“Yeah, but I hate those things, prefer getting my hands dirty.”

As he was talking his hand was flexing over his pistol, like he wanted an old-fashioned duel. Artemis didn’t really care what he wanted. She suddenly brought her pistol up and fired while dashing to the side. He followed suit, actually outpacing her in the speed of his draw. Neither one hit the other decisively and Artemis dropped to her knees just as she came to one of the crates and spun behind it and without pausing reloaded her gun while spinning. Never breaking her momentum, she spun back up to her feet and continued firing.

Her opponent was laughing while he ducked, clearly enjoying himself as he fired back.

He ducked behind the wall of boxes to reload, giving Artemis a chance to do likewise.

He stepped back out calmly and walked forward while firing, trying to keep her pinned. She dashed out to fire only to be met with a second pistol aimed at her. She took the shot clean in the shield and felt it buckle and brake with the next shot. She managed to get her back-up piece up and fired hitting him in the chest which cracked the armor he was wearing as they both staggered. He managed to recover first and drove his shoulder into her, knocking the guns from her hands and driving her into the crates.

She swung at him, but he ducked it and caught her by the back before he picked her up like she weighed nothing and slammed her down onto a crate. The crate cracked under her and she felt something hot start running down her face as he raised her up, before slamming her down again.

This time the crate gave and she hit the ground, feeling its cool stone for a second as he readjusted his grip and as he picked her up again her hands scrambled against the ground. She found what she was hoping for with her left hand and as he raised her, she spun and drove the broken blade into his arm. It pierced clean through causing him to let go with a curse.

He pulled the blade out with a grunt and rolled his arm to make sure it worked, before he bared his teeth and lunging with her broken blade.

This time Artemis sidestepped him and swung her arm at his back while popping her Digi-blade out. The cut wasn’t deep enough to do any lasting harm but it still must have hurt from the way he grunted.

He made some distance while glaring at her “Didn’t think that blade was separate, nicely played.”

“Would’ve been nicer about an inch deeper.” She managed to get out.

“You’d be the first woman to say that to me.”

“Gross”

He smirked and suddenly lunged at her, causing her to hop back. As he laughed, she could see he was testing her, trying to find a point of attack. It’s what she would have done in his place.

He suddenly threw the blade at her, which she managed to knock away, only to be hit by the charge he had hidden behind it. She managed to keep her feet, but the solid blow to her side let her know that she couldn’t sustain this any longer than necessary.

She tried to separate from him only to have him keep filling the gap and railing her ribs with blows, until one of them knocked her off her feet. Free from being hit for a split second, she used the momentum to roll and turn as she came up and ran for the wall of crates in front of her. With a pained moan she grabbed on and pulled herself up and rolled onto the top. He followed a second latter only to find her crouched with her rifle in hand.

His headless corpse fell off the stack a second later, accompanied by the crack of a gunshot. She slumped down to catch her breath while injecting herself with an Insta-Health vial, before slowly and painfully lowering herself and grabbing her guns before she limped to the stairs.

Nearby she saw that Deathtrap wasn’t the only one watching the fight, she could see two people standing a little ways away from him, the smaller of which was occasionally glancing over at him like they didn’t know if he would attack them or not.

Seeing her approaching the taller lanky man with white blond hair held up a hand in greeting and started to say something, but she just held up her index finger and walked past. Straight over to the fountain and dunked her head under the surface. She held still for a few seconds before violently shaking her head, paused and did it again before pulling back up with a gasp, throwing bloody water. She wiped a hand down her face and blew out the remaining water on her lips while turning.

“Bud? What the hell happened to you?” She cried out seeing the state Deathtrap was in.

“Ururgu”

“Yeah I can see that.”

“Excuse me” Came a snarky voice from the shorter hooded observer.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re excused.” Artemis said dismissively while looking over the damage to Deathtrap “I should look at that. I know, I know, you would prefer her to do all your maintenance, but at least let me stop you from leaking out until she gets a chance, K?”

“Ugu”

She pulled a few tools from her belt and a minute later stood back up and patted her patient on the chest plate “Well not as good as new, but you’ll live.”

“Urru”

“Your welcome” She said while turning to look at the fight for a second. It seemed like Gaige was holding her own, so she turned and got her first real look at the two other observers.

The man was tall and thin, with spiky white-blond hair, or maybe blond hair turning white, she couldn’t really tell in the light. He wore a mustache and goatee of the same indeterminate color around his smirking, but not creepily, mouth. He was dressed in an outfit like he was prepped for a fight and the way he carried himself backed that up. He was armed, she could see a pistol at his hip and an assault rifle on his back as well as a number of devices on him including some kind of piece over a cybernetic eye.

The shorter one’s face was hidden by a hood, despite it being night. Even so Artemis could tell that it was a girl, probably in her early to mid-teens judging by her height and development. From the part of her face that was visible Artemis could discern thick lips and a slightly wider nose than fit her face. Judging by her lack of obvious weapons and the slightly skittish way she held herself, it didn’t appear that she was an experienced fighter. Even with the obvious lack of experience, or maybe because of it, she radiated the cocky attitude of a teen that thought way to highly of themselves.

What she couldn’t figure out at a glance was the relationship between the two of them, nor could
she be certain of what they were doing out so late, though she did have an idea on that. The two of them stared back at her and just as the girl was about to say something Artemis held up her index
finger again.

“One second” she turned back to the fight and cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled “HEY, QUIT HOLDING BACK, THE REST OF US ARE DONE ALREADY!”

She shook her head as Gaige flipped them off without even looking, but even at that distance Artemis could see the smile on her face. She must have run out of pistol rounds cause she was using her shotgun, Firing and reloading so fast that her hands where blurring. Every few times she reloaded they could make out her increasingly manic voice yelling out things like “More! More! More!” and “AnArChYYYYYYYY!”.

But as Artemis watched she could see that Gaige was getting better, more confidant in her motions and simultaneously getting more wild eyed.

Just as she turned back to the pair standing next to her Artemis heard “Meedly-meedlymeedly-mowww…I think I’m getting worse at that, Gah-ha-ha-ha! Ah I love this! I’ve missed this, just like I’m missing everything right now! Screw it! I love cupcakes! I love an Equine cartoon! I love hot cocoa! I love purple! And I don’t care what anyone thinks about me anymore! Ah I finally feel alive!”

Artemis watched and casually raised her left hand while Deathtrap gave her five without either of them looking. “God damn it’s good to see her back.” Artemis whispered and then turned back to the other pair again.

“Sorry 'bout that, enjoying the fight?” she made sure that her voice was casual.

“Oh aye” the man said in a thick borough.

“Why aren’t you helping her” came the voice of the girl “Aren’t you her friend?”

“Seriously?”

“Sorry bout that” the man said before turning to the girl “Ava, there are some fights that that are personal, and you have to do 'em alone. Anyone interferin in them would rob them of their menin. Do ya understand? This is one of dem. You really tink tha they’ed be standing around 'er if they could be down there helpin?”

“Well…no, but she’s losing.”

“Hah” Artemis snorted. “Get your eyes checked.”

“My eyes are fine! She hasn’t hit him once!”

“Lass, look closer, tell me what you see. Here.” he handed her a scope “Watch the bullets, or his armor.” He turned to the other two and shrugged “It’s me job to try an teach her a bit of the battlefield. Tactics, etiquette, observation an the like.”

“You have my sympathies.” Artemis told him flatly.

The girl watched and groused “I don’t see anything, she’s just firing in his vague direction. I mean his armor is still smo…huh? Looks kinda dented. Whoa what was that?”

“Now do ya see?”

“I don’t know what I saw.”

“Try watchin the bullets more closely this time.”

“Nothing, wait what? What was that? How’d that?”

“Now do ya see why they’re jus standin around? She’s got this, an the thing is, they’ve been
gettin stronger.”

“Who is she? How’s she doing that?”

“Don’t know the second, but as for the first, if tha’s who I think it is, her name’s Gaige?”

“Wait THAT’S Gaige?”

“You know her” Artemis interjected.

“Well yeah, I mean I don’t know her, but Maya always used to talk about her, used to say something about her being one of the most dangerous women in the galaxy, given enough time.”

“Out of curiosity, who’d she say were worse?”

“Lilith, of course, but the most dangerous by far, was Moxxi.”

“Now tha I can believe” the man said nodding.

“Huh.” Artemis said looking at them sideways “So who are you two anyways?”

“Well, I do believe we’re the ones you’re supposed to be meetin here.” the man said with a smile.

“Don’t think so. People I’m here for would know for sure.”

“True, but I’m supposed to get something from her” he threw a thumb in Gaige’s direction “And since you seem to be with her, I’m here to get something from you, it would seem, though that can wait till we’re all here. Name’s Zane by the way Zane Flint, Zane Ferocity Flint, Zane Deathbringer Flint, I’ve got other names, but you get the idea. This is Ava by the way.”

The kid crossed her arms and looked away, acting like a typical teen, something Artemis didn’t deal with enough to figure out, so she just focused on the man, Zane.

“Jinx” she said with a nod.

“Like when you say something at the same time? Or that you’ve got bad luck?” Ava asked looking at her questioningly.

“Neither, that’s my name.”

“Ururg”

“Well, pleasure to meet you both, although we’ve met before, haven’t we.” he said with a nod
to Deathtrap.

“Wait, you understood that?” Ava turned back in surprise.

“Course I did, you’re gonna have to learn a few new languages before you’re done girly.”

“Stop calling me that.”

Artemis left them to their squabbling, or more like he was teasing her and she wasn’t getting it, and turned back to the fight to see how it was progressing.

Gaige dove under the gout of flame that swept over her head and slid behind the mech, firing point blank into the knee joint. She reloaded and shot the other knee before the mech could even register that she was there and by the time it was moving to aim at her she was gone.

She dove behind one of the remaining planters just as another shock wave washed over it. She laughed as she switched to her assault rifle and yelled back at Holloway “Your aim’s even worse than mine! The difference is that when I hit you, YOU. WILL. FEEL. IT!!!” And she popped back up and opened fire while laughing manically.
Oh how she had forgotten what letting go had felt like, what surrendering to the wild and crazy ride of Anarchy did to her, the taste of the infinite, the thin line she had to run between powerlessness, and madness. “Nah nah nahna nah nah” she taunted and burst out giggling.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Why won’t you just die! This is supposed to feel good, to be my moment, my revenge! But no, you’re still trying to deny me even that! First you steal my baby girl from me,
then you run away and rob me of my justice, and now you’re trying to take even this! Well it’s not gonna happen.”

“Oh shut UP! Your daughter was a BITCH whom you spoiled into a rotten BULLY! You wanna talk theft? You stole my robot, my trophy, my life and you think YOU’RE the VICTEM? Oh this is ON! ANARCHY FOREVER BABY!” and with that she ran at him, ignoring the jet of fire as it washed around her shield and slid between his legs firing up as she did so. The rounds tore into the suit, to close to deviate at point blank range. Coming up to her feet she stepped onto the planter as she tossed the empty clip aside and reloaded as she sprung onto the mechs back.

She scrambled up, finding purchase in the dents and joints and soon found herself standing on top of it. Jamming her foot against the shock wave cannon she slammed her barrel into the mech’s head and unloaded her clip directly into it. Pieces of metal sheared off as the bullets tore into the mech. Sparks flew and as the head was ripped apart. She threw the clip aside and slapped another in and continued to fire straight down while screaming like a banshee with a stubbed toe.

As the head was being completely destroyed the mech stumbled and cast jets of flame and an ice ball fired on its own trajectory as it thrashed trying desperately to throw her loose. About the same time that the head shattered Gaige felt a buzzing coming from her foot and realized that the cannon it was against was charging. Swearing she threw herself off the back of the mech just as the shock wave fired. She rolled and threw her arms up to shield herself from the dust that assailed her.

Coughing she backed off as the dust was illuminated by a continuous jet of fire that waved and thrashed blindly. Even as the dust cleared the mech continued to stomp and swing its arms, causing Gaige to fall back as far as she could and watch.

Eventually the hatch popped and Holloway’s head emerged, his face glowing red with rage. Muttering a constant litany of ‘Die Die Die’ like a demented prayer as his bloodshot eyes found Gaige and he started stomping forward. Even through the confidence boosting of Anarchy she knew getting close right now would not be advisable, so she ran. Darting around the platform she snapped shots off over her shoulder and was occasionally rewarded with the sound of cursing.

She slapped a new clip in and yelled “I have seen gods and monsters die, and you are neither.” and spun letting the gun dance in her hands. The bullets bounced and flew everywhere, finding their marks, severing hydraulics and fuel lines, and two hit Holloway causing blooms of blood to start soaking through his suit.

The mech stumbled and fell hitting the ground and sliding with an awful screech throwing a shower of sparks. It was dumb luck that none of the sparks hit the leaking fuel and by the time the mech had stopped, its safety mechanisms had activated and fire-retardant foam doused the area.

Artemis pushed off the railing and joined Deathtrap on their way down, the fight clearly being over, and by the time they met up with Gaige, Holloway was still dragging himself from the wreckage.

“You know, if you’d let go of the Anarchy you would have been able to just snipe him.” Artemis commented as she walked up.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, I see all, I am all, I taste all!”

“OK, you need to seriously chill the hell out.”

“I’m just messin with yeah, wow you look like ■■■■, wait BABE, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?” she grabbed onto Deathtrap and started examining him.

“Urugh”

“Oh we are gonna have a talk about this.” Gaige said giving him the evil eye.

“Uru”

“Indeed.”

“You bitch, you think you’ve won?” Holloway had staggered to his feet and was tottering towards them while glaring.

“Uh, yeah. Why do you think you did?”

“Be smug all you want, but I will get you.”

“Uh, no you won’t” Artemis said holding up a watch “12:01 you’re out of time.”

“You think that will make any difference?”

The two girls looked at each other and shrugged.

“You could just kill him now” Artemis ventured.

“Yeah, but then I’d be wanted here, and a new bounty would be on me.”

“Maybe you should have killed him when he was crawling out then.”

“Probably”

“Oh you definitely should have.”

They turned and saw Holloway leveling a pistol at them the best he could, his hair flopping into one of his eyes, streams of blood making their way down his face from the cuts in his forehead and nose. “I am going to kill you.”

“Oh come on” Gaige whined in pure exasperation.

“Dude, give it up, you do this now and it will be attempted murder. You will go to jail.”

“No. It will be murder. And how long do you think I’ll be in jail? An hour? A night? I have money, and rich people don’t go to jail.” He practically shrieked as he aimed the pistol with a triumphant look, only to suddenly stiffen and twitch before falling forward.

The Police bot that had floated up behind him retracted its taser and announced “ Attempted manslaughter detected, criminal being detained. Please cease resisting ” and extended a pair of cuffs that proceeded to lock around Holloway’s wrists before dragging the reeling businessman to his feet.

“We did try and warn you” Artemis said with clearly faux sympathy.

“Oh and here’s an ECHO of him admitting to corporate espionage” Gaige chimed in, ejecting the cartridge from her ECHO device and handing it over. As she got close, she whispered to Holloway “How long do you think you’ll last once the corporations know that you’ve been spying on them.”

His eyes widened as the color drained from his face. His knees buckled when he saw Artemis wave another cartridge at him and Gaige continued “Don’t worry, we’ll also be uploading it to the ECHO-net to make sure you can’t buy your way out of this. Have fun.” And she gave him a finger wiggle as the silent husk of a man was hauled away by his own robots.

“Well that went well” Artemis said with a relieved smile turning to Gaige who let out a high-pitched noise of pure happiness.

“Oh my god, did you see the look on his face? Totally worth not killing him myself.”

“I’d been wondering about that. So is that why you let him live?”

“Yeah well, I wanted to give him one last chance I guess, I mean he did suffer losing his daughter and all, so I just wanted to give him the chance to let me go and move on. Plus, I kinda wanted him to have to live knowing that I was better than him, with all the resources he had, I still beat him. By myself.”

Artemis nodded “So, what’s it feel like to be free?”

Gaige’s eyes went wide as it finally sunk in “I’m free. Heh, it doesn’t seem real. I can go home. Hell I can go wherever I want.” She suddenly threw her arms around Artemis and hugged her before pulling her back to arm’s length and started hopping up and down like a kid “Thank you thank you thank you. Ah man, it feels like a dream, like this can’t possibly be real.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Artemis said with a tinge of sadness to her voice that Gaige missed “Well one last thing to do first.” and she tossed her head in the direction of the two observers.

“Who’re they?” Gaige asked as she looked over questioningly.

“They claim to be the people who were supposed to meet us, why don’t you know them?”

“Can’t say from here.”

So the three of them moved closer and as they crossed the walkway to where they were standing the man raised his hand in greeting.

“Hayo” he called out “Been a while hasn’t it.”

“I recognize you, you were at Hammerlock’s wedding, Zane right?”

“That I am, and there I was. This here’s Ava, I guess you could call her a Vault Hunter in training.”

“Oh wow, it’s really you, I used to hear stories about you, and that must be Deathtrap, we kinda already met.” The girl seemed suddenly personable.

“I don’t know you.” Gaige said eying the two of them cautiously “And no offense, Mr. Zane”

“Just Zane’s fine.” he interjected.

“Zane then, no offense but I don’t know you all that well, and you seem the kind who’s had many bosses over the years, so I’m not sure I can trust you without some kind of proof you are who we’re supposed to meet. Sorry but we gotta be careful about this.”

“Well that’s probably why they sent me along” came a female voice with a distinct twang to it “Hey there VH.”

“Ellie?” Gaige said turning to face the large woman who came waddling out of a nearby ally.

“Heh heh” The large woman came over “I thought you might not trust us without a friendly face, so
I volunteered. Well that and Tannis wouldn’t leave her lab, even for this, and I wasn’t about to send Clap-trap.” She sighed sadly “We are running short on familiar faces.”

“Hey, you just wanted to find some city boys to have fun with.” Ava yelled.

“Lass there’s some things we just don’t say.”

“Anyway, how’ve you been you little cutie?”

“We’ve been managing. Good to see a familiar face though, we missed you at the wedding.”

“Wait you got married? Is this her? Lucky girl.”

The two of them choked “What? No no no. Hammerlock’s wedding.”

“I was just teasin yah. So who is this and feel free to keep checking out my hams, I know you been lookin.” she said with an over the top wink.

“If I look in that cardinal direction I can’t help but see them.” Artemis stated.

“Ha I like this one.”

“Her name’s Artemis, she’s been…helping me, she’s also the one who found the artifact.”

“Wait you said your name was Jinx, where you lying or what?” Ava yelled.

“No her name is Jinx, Artemis is just my nickname for her, I guess you’d say.”

Ellie looked over the group “I’d say being your friend been a bit rough on them, hey there big guy” She said to Deathtrap “You keepin her out of trouble, or by the looks of it, she pullin you into it? If you need, you two can come up and use Sanctuary’s maintenance bay.”

“Eh, I think we’re good, thanks though.”

They stood around for a second before Gaige turned and lightly smacked Artemis in the shoulder “They’re on a schedule, give them the thing.”

“Oh right.” and she unhooked Shadowstar from her belt.

“Is that one of those My Little Equines? We don’t want some ancient kids’ toy.” Ava derisively said mocking them.

“SHUT UP” came from both girls who fixed her with glares hard enough that she staggered back and tried to hide behind Zane who just stepped aside and looked at her saying “Face your own consequences girly.”

Artemis looked back at the toy and moved her fingers to the mane and quickly pressed a sequence into the buttons hidden in there. The toy split open and Gaige suddenly spoke up “That’s right, there was supposed to be a line of them that had a hidden compartment, I never would have thought of that, so that’s what you were doing behind that cupboard door the day you first showed me.”

“Yep” Artemis nodded and pulled out the Vault Artifact and with one last look at it, placed it in Ellie’s meaty hand.

Zane and Ava both were trying to get a look at it and he piped in “Yep thas definitely what we’re here for, Tannis is gonna love it. Well sorry to cut this short, but we really should be going. Nice meetin you and all, and I’m sure we’ll be seein each other down the road somewhere, so til then, ta.”

Ava just tossed her head and quickly followed Zane.

“Well good seeing you kiddos” Ellie said with a wide smile “You be good to each other, and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything. Anything.” She repeated with a lascivious wink and walked
away chuckling.

Everyone gave one last wave and then as they were walking away Ava leaned in to Ellie and
asked “Weren’t you gonna ask her to join Sanctuary’s crew, didn’t you say she was someone we
wanted onboard?”

“She’s already found her ship.” Ellie said with a soft smile.

The two girls and the robot found themselves alone surrounded by and awkward silence.

Eventually Artemis spoke up “Well, I guess it’s all over then.”

“Mmm”

“So what’re you thinking of doing now?”

“I don’t know, I want to go visit my parents, that’s for sure. And I should pick some stuff up that I left on a few planets, but after that? I’ve got nothing. You?”

“I really have no idea.”

They fell into silence again as Artemis mulled over what to say next, they found themselves standing there for a minute before she sighed, steeled herself and spoke up.

“Uh…so well…I guess, if…It’s been, truly lovely to get to know you, and uh, I’ve never really, well, had anyone to say, I mean…I guess this is good bye then.”

And she awkwardly stuck her hand out, Gaige out of reflex shook it before the other girl held her hand up to Deathtrap who gave her five “You two take care of each other K?”

And she started slowly walking away, like she was lost. Gaige watched unsure of what to do when a large hand pressed against her back pushing her forward with enough force to cause her to stumble.
She turned and saw Deathtrap making shooing motions with his fingers. When she looked at him a little puzzled, he appeared to sigh and made a more violent shooing motion then pointed to the retreating figure.

Gaige sighed “Meddlesome brats got his circuits crossed” she grumbled and then raised her voice and called out “Hey! I find myself in need of a ride. Do you know anyone going to Eden 5 who could maybe make a few stops on the way?”

Artemis stopped and turned back slightly her face hidden in shadow “I might know someone.” She replied “But it depends.”

“On?”

“On how long you’ll be looking to travel with them?”

Gaige smiled, she finally knew the answer to that question.

“Till the stars fall out of the sky.”

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What a journey! I got quickly hooked and finished reading the story as fast as I could; now I’d like to leave a few not-well-organised thoughts!

So, first off, a spoiler-free TL;DR: This is a really interesting tale, and it’s actually become my favorite Borderlands fanfiction. The characterisations are almost always videogame accurate, there basically aren’t any sudden forced cameos from familiar faces and it could almost be considered canon. If you like Gaige, this is a must read; if you don’t, I’m still of the opinion that you should give it a chance.

OK, FROM NOW ON, SPOILERS GALORE!

Here’s a list of some of my favorite stuff from the story:

  • Jinx! I think she’s an interesting new character, likeable but still very much flawed. I especially love her background, and the choice to make her one of the last two of Gaige’s subscribers just chef kiss sound. She might be a tad overpowered, at least in her past deeds (having taken down a vault monster on her own with just an SMG? I mean, canonically that’s unprecedented!). I also like her art, distinct but not overdesigned. Her clothes might be a little too flashy for a hunter, but then again, she’s a fan of Gaige, so.

  • The idea of a creature (the Keeper of the End) eating a vault key/artifact, and it affecting its behaviour is really cool, though it’s admittedly a little convenient that this key didn’t require any further assembling. It would have been interesting to know why the Keeper didn’t poop it out (perhaps he kept it as gastrolitis, or due to a phenomenon similar to grey amber, but alas). It seems reminiscent of the Rakk Hive eating the vault key fragment in the Fall of Fyrestone comics, I wonder if that was intentional (?).

  • Speaking of which, I really liked the descriptions of both the vault key and the artifact inside, really cool and original!

  • the Mithrit anecdote on Gralin, that’s an highlight of the story for me. From the setting, to the atmosphere, to Jinx’s escape and epiphany. I also love the idea of her involuntarily falling inside the nest’s nursery, and the thought of all the blind baby ice crabs squealing and scuttling around in confusion, oblivious to what’s going on.

  • The overall Gaige arc and closure: I love how you made her cope with the past 7 years of isolation and hiding, and also the concept of the bounty expiring and Holloway finally confronting her and exiting the scene.

  • In-character writing: I think that Gaige, Hammerlock, Wainwright, Zane and Ellie were all really spot-on. Vaughn, Mordecai and Brick were really close to the BL3 writing which…it’s fair, you did the right thing by respecting their canon personalities. Tina on the other hand was slightly pushing it with the nagging in my opinion; Ava was still immature, which is not absurd (nobody’s going to criticize that), but I thought she was supposed to be a bit more emotionally developed by the end of BL3’s story.

  • The overall focus on hunt and creatures: there’s not much to say about that, I’m a sucker for Borderlands creatures and to see a story that revolves around that is always great for me.

  • The diomos design: while a little over the top, I thought that the way its head(s) and mouth worked was really creative and intriguing! I gotta ask, were you inspired by some of the original tyrant concept arts for BL2?

  • Deathtrap! I really love this guy, and though I’m not sure if in the games Gaige can really understand its sounds the way Luke does with R2D2, that’s definitely cute. His final battle was also the most satisfying in my opinion.

  • the Calypso aftermath on Pandora is really well thought-out. The way the COV are still around but more divided, some new Firehawk cults coming up, new little creeds and sects etc. As well as the hope that “The may rise again” and “devour all”, possibly through reincarnation, it feels deep and justified. Among them, the Acolytes of the God-King were great, and the fact that Troy’s arm’s now a sacred relic is very fitting.

OKAY! now, for some slight criticisms:

  • The fact that Gaige and Jinx randomly stumbled into Wainwright and Hammerlock on a random planet is a little forced. Heck, I don’t stumble into my friends when I wander around MY town. But obviously that serves the plot and character dynamics, it’s not like they found Burton and Captain Scarlett, so it’s acceptable.

  • The cleaner bots on the Hunter’s Moon! When Holloway revealed that he used his bots to spy around the galaxy, I was sure that this was going to come up, but nope. I thought that was a wasted opportunity, maybe you could at least have shown them interacting with Deathtrap or whatnot.

  • Navigation through the story: this problem might be personal, but navigating through the story is a little bit of a nightmare. The problem is that this forum’s bookmark system only allows you to save a certain post, but not a specific word/line inside the post. So every time I had to resume reading, I had to search through it and that was a bit problematic. Perhaps you could only insert one chapter per post?

  • There are a number of errors/spelling inconsistencies (like diamos/diomos) and of course that’s not a deal-breaker and doesn’t hinder the story, but I hope that you’ll consider giving it a little tweak in the future.

  • Pacing: while I do like the alternating narration (for example the changing point of view during the events on Jaka 4, or the three battles inside the finale) I found the action scenes just a little too long/frequent. With that said, they were indeed engaging, but with the likeable way you write Gaige, Jinx and the others, I kind of wish that we had more character moments. Also, the ending is really wholesome, but I found it a little too short, especially after the intense final fights.

ALRIGHT! Here are some closing thoughts: In Borderlands 2, I couldn’t stand Gaige from a gameplay point of view, and I didn’t care about her personality and story. In Guns, Love and Tentacles they didn’ botch her (which isn’t a given with BL3), and while I didn’t mind her, I didn’t get to love her either. But that’s not on Guns, Love and Tentacles, it already had a lot of stuff going for it, and Gaige wasn’t the main focus.

After reading this, I’ve come to like her a lot more, and I’m afraid that Gearbox won’t even get near to what you did with trying to evolve her and develop her frailties and insecurities.

This reminded me of how Anthony Burch destroyed Mordecai in Borderlands 2, and only through TWO WHOLE BOOKS John Shirley justified his fall from grace and really turned him into my favorite character.

So, first off I commend you for getting this project completed (that’s more than I can say for any of mine), and secondly I suggest that you also share it on some more…story-friendly site? Fanfictions don’t really get the most visibility on these forums, so I would recommend that you also post it on somewhere like Fanfiction.net or Wattpad, whenever you get the chance.

Thanks for sharing, I can tell that a lot of time, dedication and love went into writing this, and I hope you’re proud of it!

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First, thank you so much.
Not just for the kind words, but for liking the posts as you read. That let me know that someone was actually reading this. So again thank you.

Next, wow, I’m flattered that you thought so highly of this, truly made my week.

I also greatly appreciate the comments/criticisms and read them with much interest.

I will try to give my reasoning for each of your points, in order. And I am not trying to sound defensive or belligerent in any of these, just trying to give my perspective or reasoning for why things happen the way they do.

Now then, on with it.

In order

Jinx: When I was writing her background I was afraid that she would come across a bit stalkerish, so I’m glad that came out well. As far as her power level, that is a bit on me, The fight against the Vault Monster was supposed to imply that she used all her weapons, and almost all the ammo for them. I might go back and add something about the little floating ones dropping ammo.

I also tried to keep her power level consistent throughout the story, she’s good at surprise attacks and hunting, and have Gaige start off in a bad place while being weaker, but as the story progresses she outpaces Jinx in the end, (Gaige being the only one who doesn’t get hurt in the last fight).

As far as her outfit, she does try to color code it to whatever terrain she’s hunting in, but like you said, a little flashy for a hunter.

As far as why the Keeper of the End didn’t poop out the Vault Key…that would be story convenience. I mean I could come up with a contrived reasoning, like the barbs on the key caught on something, or a more probable reason like the creature had a gizzard, like a chicken, that holds stones to grind food, or something like the giant sand worm at the end of Captain Scarlet that eats you whole. But that would just be me making up an excuse after the fact.

And I will admit it was a bit convenient that the key was assembled and charged, I considered that for a bit before deciding, if the Key Typhon De Leon found was assembled and charged and just sitting there, I’ll just gloss over that myself. Also, him and his wife did find a charged key and kill the Vault monster together on Nekrotafeyo.

And as far as the Rakk Hive eating one…I didn’t remember there even was a comic. Huh. Coincidence I guess.

As far as the Mitrith, that kind of existential dread is hard to write, by its nature it’s almost undefinable. So I am glad it came across correctly. Things like that either brake a person or leave scars, and ones that take time to get over, but probably never fully heal.

The Gaige arc: It just seemed like something that was there in the subtext of her in G,L&T, she seemed somehow, sad, drank too much, and didn’t seem to be as badass as I remembered. At least it was to me. Maybe because I am a fan of her. Thought admittedly I could be reading too much into what was there.

When writing Holloway, I wanted to find a balance between the arrogant dick that spoiled his daughter and the man who watched his daughter die in front of him. He wasn’t a villain, despite his rather sleazy business practices, I wanted him to be a tragic figure, who could have been the hero in another story. OK he was a villain, just one that had a bit of a sympathetic note to him.

In-character writing: I’m glad you liked the characterizations. Some of them were easy, others I struggled with. I was particularly worried about Wainwright and Zane. Wainwright needed to push certain topics to the fore, which I didn’t know if it was totally in character for him to do, but I tried to make it work the best I could. And Zane is a fun character, but he has a different cadence than anyone else. With him, as well as Ellie and a few others, it was a fine line about using too many of the lines from the game versus them being the characters catch phrase (Bricks’ Hell Yeah, for instance.)

Tina, was hard. She’s one of the most loved characters, and has a more…unique speech pattern than anyone else. I probably did pull in more of her from BL2 than I should have. She probably also cut off Mordecai a bit much, let’s just chalk it up to her having a bad week. But she still had some fun lines, at least to write.

Ava…I don’t hate her like a lot of people, though I do understand why some do, but I’m not gonna get into that here. I thought she was well written as a bratty tween, which still is annoying, but fully appropriate. So I guess my thought on her was that even if she matured slightly, she’s got a long way to go, so cocky, but not sure how to interact properly with new people and to act tough in front of someone she literally just saw kill a dozen people who knows a murder bot.

In the end, I feel that if you can hear the character saying the line in your head and it doesn’t sound odd, it probably is close to in character.

The creatures were fun to design, but it got challenging to come up with something new and unique. I still have one of the weirdest held in reserve. And funnily enough I never saw the tyrant concept art before, but yeah, I can see why you’d think that (especially the upper left). I actually don’t remember where the idea came from.

Deathtrap needed to be a character. From the beginning of the stories inception in my mind, he was always a third member of the group. Plus he gave me a way to say things that could be taken however the reader wanted, without pissing some people off. I think there’s a few bits where he talks to Gaige in G,L&T. I believe when she sends him to help you hack in it. I always figured that if he was her companion and she talked to him, with his AI he would have figured a way to communicate back. Plus anyone that would get upset if you left him hangin would have to have personality. (Also I viewed them more of as Han and Chewie but that’s just me)

The Pandora section, and especially the church practically wrote itself. It was one of those things that once the idea hit me, it was almost puzzling to think of it any other way. Like that is what’s gonna happen, they changed things to much for it to go back.

To be honest I had no idea what the cults would look like til I got there and Castor practically wrote himself. There was a point that I considered arming him with Troy’s sword, but I felt that would be going a bit far.

Okay, on to the (justified) criticisms

Them finding Wainwright and Hammerlock, we’ll just chalk that up to suspension of disbelief. Happens all the time in media, and I tried to avoid or explain most away, but yeah, plot convenience.

The cleaner bots: This one was my bad. There was supposed to be a bit of a throw away line (I might go back and add it in, if I can figure out exactly where to put it) between Holloway and Jinx where he complains about her ship being a blind spot for him and her retorting that, first the bots are old, and second, she wouldn’t have a Holloway bot on her ship if it were free. Considering her back story, she probably wouldn’t let Holloway tech on her ship.
ended up adding it to chapter two, fit better there.

Story navigation: Truth is, I formatted this all into a PDF only to find that the site didn’t support that, so I admit to a bit of frustration and slapped it up as fast as I could. That one’s on me.

Spelling errors: I lack a proof reader. I’ll try and go back through and fix the inconsistencies. Once again, this one’s on me.
think I fixed most of them, if you find any more, let me know.

Pacing: Action is actually harder to write than I thought, not just to describe what’s happening in a way that’s clear to the audience, but to keep it fresh each time, and not just repeat yourself. (IE Jinx shoots goon 1, Gaige shoots goon 2 ect.). I also was figuring that this was based off an action game, so I had to try and fit the action scenes to the game as best I could. I also tried to not throw gratuitous action in, fights needed to fit the plot and advance the characters. That said I can see a few of them going a bit long, or at least the sequence around them.

As far as the ending, I got the characters to where I wanted them and didn’t want to stretch it out (plus I wanted to end on that line). That said, I am five chapters deep on a second part, which I hope to post by the end of the year.

I am a bit worried about it though, I think I’ve got an interesting story, that fits nicely in the universe (one that I’m a bit surprised that Gearbox hasn’t done so far honestly), but with both girls getting to a better place by the end of this one, I fear that the characters might seem weaker without the growth they had here, and I am not going to artificially slide them back so I can do it again, but they are the same two fun to write characters so we’ll see how it turns out.

In closing I am glad you enjoyed it. I’m also glad you now see Gaige in a more favorable light.

The story is now up on both fanfiction as well as Wattpad.
If anyone wants to pop over there and leave a comment or review it would be greatly appreciated.

Once again thank you for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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