Hunter's Quarry: A Borderlands Tale Part 2

Chapter 20

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Lower Levels

Artemis

“■■■■.” She declared looking at her ECHO, the other girls shout still ringing in her ears.

She had made her way up and rerouted the power without any real issue, but like she had told Gaige, the elevator was down and she needed another way back.

But Gaige had insisted that she had to cross the room.

Turning to the open door, she shuddered and looked in. The room was filled with hundreds of whitish, mannequin like things. Each one was about as tall as Gaige, or at least would have been if they had been that easy to measure. They were vaguely feminine, though almost painfully thin, with a slight curve at the hips and small points sticking out for breasts, slightly larger than her own. Even at the distance Artemis could tell that they’re skin wasn’t perfectly smooth, but they were featureless. That would have been creepy enough for her, but the thing that really made her unsettled was that on each one, right around where the eyes should have been, the head stopped being normal, well as normal as a featureless face could be, and instead looked like someone had dripped paint upward from there. She could think of no other way to describe it. It looked like someone had been painting them upside down and stopped part way through only to let the paint drip, then once it was dry turned it over, only in real life. Each one was different, some the drips started about at where the mouth should have been, other near the eyebrow. But they were all the same height and the same color, and Artemis couldn’t figure out what they were, nor why they were on the station, other than to stand there looking creepy.

Artemis checked her gear for at least the fourth time, trying to put off having to enter the room, before looking over at the door, standing open, innocently inviting her in. Gulping noisily, she inched her way over and peered in, nothing had changed since she had first opened the door. Feeling her cheek muscles twitching she slid around the door, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

Now that she was closer, she could feel the chill in the room and could tell that it wasn’t just from her unease, the room was at least twenty degrees cooler than the rest of the floor, almost cold enough that she could see her breath but not quite.

Inching closer, she observed the room, where each one of the mannequins was and charted a course through them. She could just make out a path that would lead her through and to the other side, where she could see a large window and a sliding door. The edges of the room itself had stacked boxes and a few bits of machinery that she took note of in her attempt to find a safe way through, but didn’t think too much about, since she wouldn’t be stopping to examine anything in the room and planned to get out as fast as she could.

As she slid closer to the first mannequin, she started to see things that weren’t apparent from a distance, the first was a faint pattern on one side of it, almost like it was etched into it. Something about that pattern struck a chord with her memories, but she couldn’t quite place it, she was sure that she had seen it before, but something about being barely visible on a white mannequin just threw her enough to make it hover at the edge of her mind. That and the fact that she was more than slightly unsettled by them in general. The second thing she noticed was the irregularities on the surface of the thing. Tiny bumps and lines covered the surface and brought to mind an egg for some reason.

Trying to ignore that, she focused on trying to remember where she had seen that pattern before, as she slipped past the first one. They were clustered in an irregular pattern, bunched up near the mid to front of the room and getting thinner the closer they were to the door she had entered. It reminded her of a crowd waiting for a door to open for some reason.

She maneuvered her way into the room, slowly sliding past mannequin after mannequin, taking her time despite how unbelievably creepy this all was. She had made it about a third of the way when she looked behind her and noticed something wrong, the path she had taken was gone. It wasn’t that she just couldn’t see it anymore, but the figures were in slightly different places.

She let out a soft whimpering noise, halfway between a laugh and a sob and slowly turned back to the front, only to find that her path was gone there as well. She could still see a way through but she would have to change course to make it.

‘This is so wrong.’ She thought ‘They aren’t moving, I would have heard them, right? They can’t be moving. What are they anyway?’

The density of the mannequins was steadily increasing causing her to have to twist and contort herself to avoid them, when one of the moves caused her bag to slip. She managed to catch it, but it swung out and caught the hand of one of them, snapping it off and sending it to smash on the floor.

She looked down in panic, the hand had hit the ground and broke into fragments, but a clearish viscous liquid was oozing out of the stump and spread around the ground like, the hand had been full of it. Almost against her will she reached out and touched it, it seemed to almost squirt around her fingers as she tried to pinch it, but left her fingers sticky. Grossed out she wiped her fingers on her pants and looked up, only to freeze. Every head in the room was turned and eyelessly staring straight at her.

Artemis slowly turned, looking at the smooth blank faces and lost it.

“Nope.”

She took off running, she was close enough to the wall that she hopped onto a create and sprinted across the tops of them, jumping onto one of the bits of machinery for a step and leaped further into the room. Not caring that she hit a few of them sending them smashing into the floor as she landed. Not looking back, she pulled her pistol as she went and aimed at the window, through which she could make out movement, but she didn’t care. She squeezed off a pair of shots and threw herself through the glass, turning as she did to smash through with her back. Landing and rolling across the desk that had been on the other side, she ignored the two stunned troops and bolted out past them and out the door.

Tearing through the room on the other side without really seeing the strange clear fronted machines that lined the walls and down the hallway she ran past another half dozen of similarly dressed troops before she hit the stairs and bounded up them, taking them three at a time.

Behind her she could hear the cries rising from them and the thundering footsteps as they gave chase, but she didn’t care, all she wanted was to put as much space between her and that room of horrors as possible.

She had went up three flights of stairs before she started to slow down, not out of exhaustion, but due to her hearing clamoring coming from up ahead. But with the footsteps behind her not slowing down she was forced to plow ahead without being able to take the time to check it out first, so she burst into the hall and shot a look around.

To her left she could see through a door that must have been cut open using some kind of thermite and into a hanger, where her view was dominated by a large ship, a few times bigger than her own, and a swarm of troops milling about. To her surprise, she spotted a hoard of bandits near the center and staring straight at her was a scary looking woman. Her dark red hair, the color of dried blood, was cropped short and stuck out in wild spikes. Her skin color was impossible to tell since it was all caked in a pure white substance applied so thick that Artemis could see the cracks even from a distance. She wore a black tank top under a wide, heavy harness. Her golden eyes locked onto Artemis and her lips cracked open in a menacing smile. She held one painted white finger to her lips as if to tell her to be quiet.

Artemis was grateful that she needed to go the other way and turned and bolted, even before she had a chance to check it for dangers.

The hall stretched before her as she sprinted as quietly as she could, trying to not draw attention from behind her and luckily for her, the hall had a junction just ahead. Just as she turned the corner, she caught a glimpse of the first of the troops emerging from the stairwell. He didn’t seem to have seen her, but she put on some more speed anyway.

She ran down the hall and came to another intersection and took a left, only to find herself facing the backs of two armored troops and even worse they were facing off with a group of bandits. One of the bandits spotted her immediately and without hesitation, brought his gun up and fired.

Artemis dodged to the side and the bandit tracked her with his fire, running it into one of the armored troops. As he staggered his buddy swore and killed the bandit. The rest of the bandits switched targets as they brought their guns up and started shooting down the hall, not really caring what they hit.

As the gunfire exploded, Artemis took off running again, straight at the mob and weaving around the armored guy, much to his surprise, she dashed at the bandits, taking the few shots that hit her in the shield and was grateful that they were just throwing bullets out without care to aim. A second later she was past them and sprinting down the hall. A few of them turned to shoot at her, but the majority were still concerned with the armored troops, who were efficiently thinning their numbers.

Leaving them behind she passed another intersection and at the second, made another left. In the clear, she slowed down to catch her breath, before coming to a junction with the main hall she had originally turned off from. This time she checked to see if anyone was there before she jumped out, only to find that the troops she had fled up the stairs from were now ahead of her. They seemed to be giving up on chasing her and had just turned back when the spotted each other.

The first one started to raise a cry of alarm when Artemis shot him in the head, shutting him up and ricocheting the bullet into his buddy. They both fell, but the shot echoed down the corridor alerting the troops who had been coming to investigate the shoot-out happening between the bandits and troops.

Cries rung out as the spotted her running down the hall and foot falls quickly chased after her. She dove through a large doorway and swung around to the control panel, hitting the button. When nothing happened, she swore and fumbled out a key card. This time it worked and the door slid shut, cutting off her pursuers.

At least temporarily.

Taking the brief lull, she glanced around. The room she was in must have been fairly close to the Central Hub, the more industrial looking grey and yellow walls had changed to the more stylish look of the hub and on one side there was a counter, like a reception area. She dove over the counter just as the door behind her slid back open and a full squad of troops came pouring through.

They blitzed past where she was hiding and continued down the corridor. She waited until they were gone before peeking her head up and looking around. The back of the counter had been stripped clean, no papers, no ECHOs, not even a chair. Looking at it she was actually surprised that the counter top hadn’t been stripped off.

She hopped back over the counter and moved to the main hall when sounds of gunfire erupted and a few of the troops came stumbling back firing as the came, only to be attacked by some of the creatures from earlier. Tearing through the troop it was on top of, one of them looked up at Artemis and snarled. She didn’t hesitate to remove its head with a shot.

She took out the next two with the last of the ammo in her pistol, and intercepted the last with a stab to the throat, followed by a quick decapitation. Looking at the body as she reloaded, it suddenly hit her, that was where the pattern on the creepy mannequins had been from, it was the same pattern as these creatures had, she just hadn’t recognized it due to the vast difference in their appearances. That and the only one that had a clean pattern that she had seen was the one that reflected bullets, and that one she had only briefly seen in the dark as she was fleeing.

Looking at it now, she could see it clearly, but what she couldn’t figure out was the connection between them, maybe Gaige had found something that could shed some light on things, but she would have to find her first. And to do that she would have to get out of her, so she snapped shut the cylinder of her pistol and set off.

Moving down the corridor, she came across the bodies of the rest of the squad as well as dozens of dead creatures, it seemed that something had stirred them up and they were out in force. In fact, she could still hear the sounds of a gunfight going on ahead of her.

Sneaking along, she came to the Central Hub and found Gaige and Deathtrap in the middle of a ragging three way battle between them, the creatures and an army of troops lead by a heavily armored woman firing a massive caustic sprayer.

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Chapter 21

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Security Area

Gaige

“Yeesh.” She said slamming her ECHO down. She couldn’t believe the other girl didn’t want to cross the room just because of a few mannequins. And her excuse? They were creepy? Of course they were creepy, they were mannequins.

Shaking her head, she turned back to the task at hand. Flipping through screens and menus she finally found the door overrides. ‘Hm, seems that even the security station can’t open all of them, that’s odd.’ She thought as she scrolled around the map ‘Then again, if they could, I suppose they wouldn’t have been locked onto the station.’

The most notable doors that couldn’t be opened, other than the ones that led outside, where a few offices at the top of the map and a few doors that didn’t seem to lead anywhere located below the reactor. She puzzled over what Jack could have hid down there, but decided that right now, she didn’t need to know and wasn’t sure she really wanted to.

The first door she opened was the one that was keeping Deathtrap out. As soon as she had unlocked it, she ECHOed him to let him know and once he was on the monitor approaching it, she sent the signal to open. As soon as he was on her side, she closed it again, she’d send the signal to reopen it once they were ready to leave, but no reason to leave it open for any passing thing to enter.

She got back to work checking security feeds from anywhere she could find a camera and spotted a number of ships docked inside a massive hanger. Judging by the activity around them they were the crafts that the troops of the ‘Lords of the Death’ or whatever had come in on. Looking at them she could make out a few different groups, one was wearing the bulky black armor of the ones that had died in the Central Hub, while another two looked like psychos and bandits and another was off to one side with what appeared to be a pack of Wolven. She couldn’t make out much for details but she could see a few that looked like they were in charge, a woman with her back to the camera appeared to be arguing with another with a bird mask, a large man with a skull mask was talking to someone she couldn’t see and a huge man with the head of a dog was standing and coldly observing that discussion.

She would have wondered how they had gotten in if there wasn’t a gaping hole behind the ships. It appeared that they had detonated their way in, though Gaige found it odd that she hadn’t felt the impact, could they have gotten there before them? Maybe they had arrived while the girls had been sleeping, that was the most logical explanation, but had they been followed or was it just bad timing. That she didn’t know.

About then the door slid open and her favorite robot floated in and greeted her with a familiar “Urru”.

She jumped up and ran over to him. “Babe, good to see you, no troubles were there?”

“Uru”

“Good, I’m into the system so come over and give me a hand would you.”

“Urgu”

They headed back and got to work, unlocking the rest of the doors and setting her ECHO signature to maximum security clearance so that it would grant her authorization to open them when they got there, while keeping an eye on the screens. On the one she had left the ships up on she spotted someone had walked up and was talking to the bird headed woman and whatever she said caused her to take off running back onto the ship. On another she could see the creatures emerging from the Bio-lab and into the Central Hub, causing her to swear softly.

“Urru”

“Don’t tell me to watch my language, take a look at that.”

“Urguurar”

“Watch your language. I didn’t program that kind of a mouth on you.”

“Urrgur”

“Ha, good one babe.”

A few moments later she sat back and looked at her robo-buddy “Well, I think were done here, let’s get going and meet up with Artemis at the Tech department.”

Gaige took a moment to reequip all the gear that she had left with Deathtrap and they headed out. It didn’t take long to backtrack their way to the storage receiving area that they had last seen Artemis at and head into the racks. During that time, they encountered no one, which put them on edge. After they had killed all of those troops as well as one of the leaders, she expected some kind of retaliation, but even the second in charge or whatever that she had fought seemed a bit disinterested. She had gotten more of a reaction from the bandits the last time she was on Pandora then she was getting here and these guys felt at least a bit professional. And if that meant that they wouldn’t be obsessed with revenge like some of the bandit clans, then she at least expected them to look into it. Maybe they weren’t as unified as she had thought?

She was brought out of her thoughts by a soft noise up ahead and Deathtrap perking up. He made a small hand motion and pointed. She followed his direction and quickly spotted a small pack of the creatures shuffling around the security booths just at the entrance to the area. She picked out two of the ones with the extending arms, another of the armored ones, a puffed up boil-y looking ones and another that she didn’t recognize, this one had what looked like cuts all over its left arm, though it was a little hard for her to see at this distance, but the blood that dripped from it sizzled as it hit the ground and had been what alerted her to their presence.

She switched her weapon and considered her first target, the puffed up one seemed to be leaders, but the bloody one might be useful if she could destroy it over the rest of them, especially the armored one. Still the best option would be the first, so she sent a signal to her partner and lined up her shot and fired.

Luckily for her, her Anarchy level was still low enough that she could get a small amount of accuracy and the puffy one’s torso and head tore apart in a storm of bullets. The rest of them spun towards her as Deathtrap fired a beam into the armored one and Gaige shifted her aim into the dripping one. Her bullets bounced around before slicing through it, throwing blood over the wall and one of the extending ones, but nothing happened. Only the shots that went through its arm did anything to the one behind it, splattering it with caustic material, creating hissing splatters and quickly splashed enough onto it that its dangerous left arm fell clean off.

Meanwhile Deathtrap’s caustic beam slashed into the armored one, slicing off layers of its armor and electing a screech of pain from it. The last one lunged forward and threw a slashing attack at Gaige, causing Deathtrap to swing in in front of the attack and take a swipe with his claws, severing the arm as Gaige spun her gun and ended the last of the creatures.

“Thanks babe.” She said with a grin, slapping him a high five before firing the last few shots in her clip and switching the mag out.

“Seems like something’s riled them up.” She said while hustling across the room and sliding up to the doorway. Glancing around the edge she took in the Central Hub. She could see many of the creatures rushing out and down hallways, up the stairs and some going the other way back into the Bio-lab.

Suddenly a large group of them snapped around and ran at the hall opposite of where Gaige was observing from. Capitalizing on the distraction she made a break for it and slid up behind one of the pillars just as a wave of bullets hit the creatures.

A line of troops emerged as she peaked around the pillar, holding up her hand to keep Deathtrap back. They were wearing what appeared to be metal armor glazed in dark green. Bits of rust and dirt seemed to be ground into the filigree, making the patterns unclear. They seemed to favor Maliwan guns of the caustic verity and all of them wore gas masks over their lower faces. Many of them had hoods hiding the rest of their heads, but the ones that didn’t showed dark makeup around their eyes.

The obvious leader came thumping out with them and casually caught one of the creatures as it jumped towards her and slammed it down hard enough to kill it.

Like the rest of them she wore dark green glazed metal armor, only hers had a distinctly rusty pattern around the edges. The corded muscles in her arms bulged as she carried a massive flamer whose hose connected to a large tank on her back and the barrel of which was shaped into a stylized dog head, much different from the one worn by the other leader Gaige had seen on the monitors. Her hood was down reveling her blond hair tied back.

She stepped to the fore of her troops and fired her flamer, belching forth a wave of green fog. Any of the creatures caught in the spray instantly started to bubble and melt causing Gaige to realize that it was some kind of acidic sprayer rather than a normal flamer.

‘Defiantly don’t want to get close to that one.’ She thought, immediately considering how to fight the mob. Her best bet would be for them to fight each other and her pick off the winner, but that wasn’t likely to happen. Usually these things went with one side dominating the other to the point that she should have thrown in on one side to make things more even, but if she did that, they both usually turned on her. No, her best bet would be to wait and try and figure out how her opponent fought.

But then again, when had she ever done the best thing for her?

She slid out and opened fire on them, spraying bullets everywhere and letting them choose whom to hit while thinking ‘Sides, it’s not like we could have snuck past them anyway, that and Artemis should be coming up behind them, so she couldn’t join back up with us if we didn’t clear this mess.’

The bullets bounced around the room, striking both the creatures as well as the troops in equal measure. She dropped a few of them before they even knew she was there, but after a moment, a cry went up and some of the troops turned and started firing at her to try and drive her back while the rest took care of the creatures.

It was the boss who changed things by bellowing at her troops “You lot take care of these things, I’ll deal with that one.” And amid cries of acknowledgment she turned to Gaige. “I am Kalma little one, and I will enjoy watching the flesh melt off of you.”

Gaige waved Deathtrap back, this lady seemed to be heavily focused on caustic, which wouldn’t agree with her mechanical friend so she directed him to fly out and up to take cover and provide long range support. As she did so she examined the other woman, she didn’t seem to have any other weapons besides her thrower, so she should be a fairly close-range fighter meaning if Gaige could keep some space she should be fine. Of course, there was always a chance that the weapon had an alternate firing mode for longer ranges, but she should be able to dodge out of the way as long as she was far enough away, so she didn’t think it should be that hard.

While she was thinking the other woman made the first move, starting by answering Gaige’s question and tilting the gun back and firing an almost grenade like ball of gunk at her. It arced high before falling where she had just been as she tore out of there and returned fire. The glob hit and exploded, creating a cloud of foul green that hung in the air and peeled the paint off the nearby wall.

Gaige continued to fire as she dove behind the next pillar, but to her surprise the other woman didn’t run at her, instead she grabbed the top handle on her gun and pressed a button. The instant she did, she vanished in a cloud of green and Gaige heard a pop off to her side. Spinning she barely managed to throw herself behind the pillar as the woman fired from where the caustic cloud had just been.

‘■■■■, was she able to step through the clouds?’ Gaige wondered as the woman started stalking around the pillar. Gaige had heard of such things, devices that at short range allowed one to switch places with the device, it was probably based on the same technology as the fast travel systems, but she had never seen one that worked like this before.

The woman continued to circle the pillar, chasing her as she fled. Unable to get out and attack, she was getting in trouble since her pillar was rapidly disintegrating. Gaige slapped another clip into her rifle and continued to spray fire at the ground, as near to the other woman as she could and as she made another full circuit of the pillar, she glanced out at the room and the fight taking place there.

The majority of the troops had been forced back, away from the entrance, but had formed a pretty solid defensive line against the central planter. The waves of the creatures seemed to have slowed, either because they were running low on troops or more likely they were waiting for something and only throwing away those that were needed to keep the troops pinned.

As she watched two of the troops turned and fired at her as she came around the pillar and cleanly into their sights. Cursing she let the shots hit her shield figuring she could take them better than the spray. A second latter a beam of electric energy hit the two troops causing them to twitch and stiffen before falling over. Deathtrap ceased his attack and swung around the upper floor till he could see Gaige again and held out his hand, firing a beam at her.

Gaige felt the beam hit her and heard her shield begin to recharge immediately. She shot a thumbs up to him and slapped another clip in her gun.

Full shields were nice, but she needed distance from her attacker because shield or not, she didn’t think she would like a full blast of the weapon. She couldn’t disengage from her either, not just because her opponent could teleport, but because the more she backed away from the rapidly disintegrating pillar, the longer it took her to circle, meaning that her opponent would get a clear shot at her. She could just turn and bolt, but that had a high risk as well. What she needed was a distraction, and soon.

It came after she had made another full circuit around the pillar. A bullet slammed into the other woman, hitting her in the head and causing her to stagger. Gaige didn’t waste any time looking around to see where it had come from and took off running to grab another piece of cover.

Sliding around another pillar she spun to her feet and looked across the room, spotting what she had expected, Artemis positioned behind one of the pillars with her rifle out, firing at the boss woman.

The woman staggered back, using the remains of the pillar for some cover and unleashed a wave of caustic gas, trying to either intercept the bullets with it, or provide herself with a kind of smokescreen. The instant Artemis stopped firing to reload, she stepped out, ignoring Gaige’s reflecting fire, and lobbed another ball across the room. It exploded just past Artemis, catching her with a little bit of the caustic gas.

Gaige realized what was about to happen and yelled across the room just as Kalma pressed the button and traded places with the cloud. She immediately fired her thrower, even as Artemis dove instinctively away. Despite her reflexes and Gaige’s warning she took a clean shot against her back, enveloping her in the toxic spray. She exited the cloud and rolled coming up as her shield broke only to be hit by a beam from above.

Deathtrap had waited until he had a clean shot and had restored as much of her shields as he could before swinging back out of sight from the retaliatory shots from the troops.

Gaige watched as Artemis broke into a run and the opposing woman stopped and pressed the button on her gun again, switching back with her cloud and turning to Gaige.

By now Gaige had figured out that the opposing woman wasn’t very fast on her feet, her gear must have weighed her down, so she could be outrun. But with her trick to close distance she was turning out to be a pain to fight, still she was grateful to have backup and they could work together they should be able to take her down. The only real problem was how much damage that gun could dish out, even Artemis’s adaptive shield had broken under it and if it wasn’t for Deathtrap’s timely intervention, she may not have made it.

While she was thinking all of that, Gaige never stopped firing as she backed away from her opponent. Neither did Artemis, who placed shot after shot into both her head and the tank on her back, trying to punch through the armor, but this opponent wasn’t an idiot, she had reinforced her tank, preventing it from being used as a weapon against her, the same was true for the rest of her, she had thick armor that was absorbing a lot of damage without giving, making this a tough fight.

Still, she could feel the Anarchy building within herself and knew that she had crossed a number of thresholds. She was now past the point of being able to aim properly, but her damage wouldn’t be catastrophic if she could hit, but would still be solid, so she needed to hit, at close range, with as much damage as possible.

‘Well it’s like she said, something about throwing yourself in like you don’t care if you live, so that you can survive, or something to that effect. So to start with, I need to get closer to Artemis and then we should be able to lure her in. Then I guess it’s all or nothing time.’ Gaige thought as she sprinted across the open area towards the other girl, who seemed surprised that they weren’t just going to keep playing keep away with their opponent.

Sliding up next to her, Gaige immediately began digging in her bag till she found the gun she wanted, while quickly filling Artemis in on her ‘plan’.

“That may be the most idiotic, suicidal plan I’ve ever heard. Let’s do it.”

Their opponent wasn’t an idiot and could clearly see they were up to something, so they tried to create a reason for their actions by switching up their weapons with Artemis taking up Gaige’s assault rifle.

Still no matter what they were up to their opponent had mostly close-range capabilities so she would have to act sooner or later.

Her first move was to switch to her alternate firing mode and lob a gas bomb at them, forcing them to move. She seemed to like that method because she fired two more around the room before she activated her teleport system and switched places with the nearest one.

Gaige had been waiting for this and brought up the triple barreled shotgun she had confiscated while stepping in and as point blank as she could, fired.

All three barrels of the shotgun slammed into the boss staggering her and leaving rends in her armor. Gaige took that moment to hop back while reloading and let Artemis step in and open fire with her borrowed assault rifle. The stream of fire hit her, causing her to hit her teleport again in a panic to get out of immediate danger, allowing Artemis to switch back to her sniper rifle and continue taking shots from long range.

Kalma took a second and lobbed a few more of the gas bombs around before rapidly teleporting between them, pausing only briefly when she was close enough to unleash a torrent of caustic spray at them before teleporting on. Deathtrap did his best to keep their shields up, while they dodged as best they could, but both sides were getting worn down and making things worse for the girls was that the attacks from the creatures were taking a lull, meaning that not only might they be about to make a large push, but the troops were able to turn more and more attention to the their battle.

The fight was turning against the girls, Artemis could barely keep up with the rapid movement and was only really able to fire off any shots when the woman stopped to lob another set of the gas clouds when the previous ones dissipated. Gaige had it worse off than that, not only was she reluctant to use the ammo eating shotgun, but her trademark reflecting shots weren’t able to keep up with the movement of her opponent, leaving her standing around more often than not.

Finally they caught a break, mostly by dumb luck, when Kalma teleported in just as Artemis was reloading. Unable to shoot she stabbed her opponent out of desperation and caught her off guard. The blade didn’t hit flesh, but did catch the barrel of the sprayer, knocking it aside and allowing her to grab onto it. Taken by surprise, Kalma wasn’t able to get away as Gaige stepped up and fired all three barrels point blank into her face, killing her instantly.

The girls didn’t have time to revel in their victory, nor catch their breath, cause at that moment an unearthly howl came from deep within the Bio-lab, pulling everyone’s attention to it.

“I think it’s time to go.” Artemis said backing away.

“You know, I think you may be right. ”Gaige replied giving a hand signal to Deathtrap and making a break for the Tech department door.

The three of them dashed through the door and rapidly hit the button to close it, till the doors slid shut closing off the Central Hub.

The girls took the moment to slump down and catch their breath while Deathtrap stayed on patrol.

Gaige looked over at the other girl and without thinking said “Wow, you look like ■■■■.”

It wasn’t an exaggeration, her top was streaked with dark lines of filth, her pants were torn in a dozen or so new places, her sock was sliced revealing swaths of pale skin, often with cuts of its own. Even her hair seemed to be hanging limply.

“Oh good, I was afraid that it was just how I felt.” Came the snarky reply.

“Sorry, didn’t mean it like that, it’s just that you look like you had a rough time of it is all.”

“Me, naw, had a great time. What with crawling through the sewers, getting knocked into the dump, fighting something that was living down there, had to kill a few people to get into the generator controls, then you made me walk through a room full of mannequins and then I had to make a dash past all the troopers that are disembarking their ships, only to help you in a fight. So no, not a rough time at all.”

“Why were you in the dump?”

“Got attacked and we kinda fell in.”

“So, a comedy of errors?”

“That’s a polite way to say it, except it wasn’t funny. So how was your day?”

“Had to kill a guy, second in command of the twins we killed, I think. Took his shotgun.”

“Was wondering where you got that.”

“Now you know, thought it looked unique so I took it. Oh yeah, I also had to crawl through a vent. I have no idea how you do that, I mean, I hardly fit and that was after I flattened myself. My chest I mean. With belts. It was seriously uncomfortable.”

“Well that explains the state of your hair, not to mention the strange stripes you’re wearing.”

Gaige reached up and tugged at her pigtails, pulling dust bunnies off the tips.

“Arg, Babe, why didn’t you say anything.” She spun to the robot, who just shrugged at her. “Wait what stripes?” She looked down and saw that her front had a rather distinctive swath across her chest where the binding had been and the dust hadn’t gotten on her. She tried to brush it off, with little success.

“That reminds me of something.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you see anything in the vents?”

“Seriously? What does stripes have to do with that? Wait, are you still talking about that movie? Not that I don’t understand what you were meaning now.”

“No no, not that, it’s just that, well, something seemed off when I was going through and I just figured it out.”

“And what’s that?”

“Well, did you see any Ratches? Any at all? Or any spiders or anything of that sort?”

“No, why?”

“Well don’t you think it’s odd? Station like this and no Ratches? Those things are everywhere, right? And it’s not like they starved to death, they eat anything including each other, so where are they?”

“Huh, you’re right, that is weird. Now my desire to never go into those vents again is way stronger.”

The girls lapsed into silence for a minute.

“Urrgur”

“He’s right, we should get moving.” Gaige said standing up and offering a hand to the other girl.

Artemis allowed herself to be pulled up before taking her pack back from Deathtrap and reequipping herself.

As she was working, she noticed Gaige giving her an odd look. “What?” she asked.

“Nothing, I was just wondering if you were going to be wearing that for the rest of our time here?”

“If I can find somewhere to change I will, but I just got my stuff back.”

“No, I was meaning the mask?”

Artemis reached up and touched her face, feeling the respirator that she had put on before going into the sewer still there. “Well that explains why I can’t smell anything, here I thought it was that I had fried my sense of smell. Whoops.”

She took off the mask and goggles and suddenly started coughing. “Oh damn, I smell terrible.” She got out.

Gaige looked at her and straight faced said “I ain’t saying nothin.”

“Good call, let’s get out of here and find somewhere I can change. Good thing I threw in a change of clothes.” She replied while pulling out an injector.

“What’s that?”

“Antibiotic cocktail. Should prevent me from getting anything from all these scrapes and cuts.”

“Good idea, why didn’t you take that with?”

“Well I kinda forgot it until I was crawling through a sewer.” She replied with only a slight amount of bitterness in her voice.

Gaige rolled her eyes and led the way to the stairs. Moving up they quickly found themselves in front of the large blast door, which slid up and out of their way revealing the rest of the area. Immediately ahead of them was a large clear door, through which they could see a large lab filled with all kinds of technological devices. Gaige was practically drooling to get in there and go through it, but the flight of stairs up beckoned them, so she pried herself away, promising to come back and they made their way up.

The next floor was dominated by what they assumed was a testing range, a long open area with smaller partitioned off sections on the sides and the fourth floor was filled with banks of computers. Just looking at it made them wonder what had been going on that would require that much computing power? The room was dark now, with only a few intermittent blinks of light illumining the shadows. The fifth floor was much the same as the second, with work areas and all kinds of mechanical projects that would never be finished.

On their side of the wall that separated the work area off, there was a small desk, that looked like it must have been for a receptionist. They turned and went to the door set into the wall, behind the desk and went through. Behind it they found another set of stairs which led to a small waiting area. Chairs had been piled around the top forming a barricade and Deathtrap had to shove his way through to clear the path. On one side they could see an elevator with its doors held open with a potted plant. They guessed that there had once been paintings on the walls, but they had been stripped long ago.

But the most notable thing was the door just opposite them, behind the secretaries’ desk. It was large, dark and made of dull metal, but still had the unmistakable air of being important. They approached with caution, looking at the ceiling for more turrets, but found none. Instead when they got to the door, they found a security lock without a card reader and a key lock.

Before they proceeded, Artemis excused herself for a moment to go change. When Gaige gave her a strange look, she just replied that she didn’t want to meet the person on the other end of the speaker while wearing clothes that stank of the sewer. A few minutes later she came back up the stairs tightening her chest guard, her old cloths tightly sealed in one of the bags.

Gaige looked at her and remembered how uncomfortable the belts had been and had to say “I still don’t know how you can wear that all the time.”

Artemis shrugged “You get used to it.”

“After strapping myself down I can honestly say that I doubt that.”

“Well maybe that’s cause you’ve got something there in the first place.” She muttered sadly.

Gaige didn’t know how to respond to that so she turned to the key pad and tapped it to wake it up before reading the prompt out loud.

“Reminder question, ‘Her favorite book’. How are we supposed to know that?”

“Hmm, can I try?”

“Sure, but we don’t even know whose office this is, let alone their reading preferences.”

'PASSWORD ACCEPTED”

“WHAT! How’d you know that?”

“Lucky guess? OK, so, first it said ‘Her’ not my, so I figured that it would be someone else’s favorite. Now it would be either a girlfriend or a kid that would be the logical choice for ‘Her’ so I went with the latter.”

“OK, that tracks, but how did you know what the book was, I mean you don’t even know the age of said kid, if there really is a kid.”

“Well I found this stuff in the dump.” She replied rather sheepishly, holding up the books and stuffed loader.

“And you thought to yourself, ‘I’m just gonna keep this stuff I found in the trash’ why?”

“I thought you’d get a kick out of this one.” She said holding up the ‘Jack Saves’ book.

Gaige’s eyebrows shot up as she snatched it out of her hand and looked at it “ Handsome Jack Saves The Day ?” She read incredulously before flipping it open to a random page and cracking up. “Oh my god, this is too much.” She managed between laughs, slamming it shut. “When we get back, I am so reading that.”

She whipped away a tear from the corner of her eye “Ah, I needed that. But that wasn’t what you typed in.”

“No, that was this book.” She said holding up, almost reluctantly ’ The Loneliest Siren ‘.’

“Never seen that one before.” She almost asked to see it, but something about the other girls’ posture told her to just let her hang onto it. “Still, good guess. I’ll want to read that as well when we get off of here, if that’s alright.”

“Sure. I want to read it myself. It’s got really pretty art.”

“Urgurr”

“Right, the door.” Gaige said turning back “We still need the key…Where did you find that?” She snapped at Artemis whom was holding up a key.

“In that security office, in the lab downstairs.”

“And you didn’t mention it, why?”

“I donno, slipped my mind with everything else going on down there I guess.”

Gaige sighed and took the key and slid it into the door. With a snap it unlocked it and the door slid open reveling the dark room inside.

As they stepped in the lights came on reveling an opulent office, or rather what had once been one. The large wooden desk was pushed against one wall and covered in stacks of papers and scribbled notes. The entire back wall was a tangle of wires and monitors. And it looked like one corner had been used as both a lavatory and trash.

The room smelled of death, and the blankets in what had been converted into a living area were pulled up around a small frame, obviously of a corpse. It looked like they had passed peacefully, arms folded over the blankets, but also that it had been there a long time, judging by how far along it was.

The girls stepped in and looked around in confusion, there was no sign of whomever had called them there. Just as they were starting to suspect it was a trap, the monitors on the far wall flickered and came to life.

The image of a young woman appeared, with long black hair and bright blue eyes. She smiled shyly at them and said “Hello. It’s nice to finally be able to talk to you in person, so to speak.”

Gaige’s jaw dropped and she could barely get out one word.

“Angel?”

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Chapter 22

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Technologies Department

“Oh, you knew me?” The woman on the screen said in surprise, cocking her head and looking at Gaige. “I’m sorry, I do not recognize you, we must have met after I was here.”

“What?”

“When I was last here. When I was made.”

“Again, what?”

“How much do you know about this place and what it is for?”

“To be honest, not much.”

“Really? Then why are you here? Not that I mind to be honest.”

The girls looked at each other and Gaige made the choice to trust her and be honest.

“We found an old ECHO that had the coordinates on it.”

“And you came all this way just to what? See where it led?”

“Well to be honest, we kinda needed money and wanted to see if there was something here.”

“You came here for money?” Her tone had cooled off considerably.

“She needs the money to get to see her family again.” Artemis interjected.

“Oh, so I was right about you. You are different from the others.”

“Depends on who they are. But how are you here anyway?”

“First, how do you know me? Can I ask how we met?”

“Uh…I met you on Pandora. And, well this is a bit awkward for me, but I was there when you died.”

“So I am dead. I am sorry then. Can I ask how it happened?”

“You didn’t know?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Please.”

“And you’ll not change your opinion about me when I tell you everything and you’ll listen all to all of it before you, I donno, judge me?”

“I can only try.”

“I guess that will have to be good enough. Oh man this is really awkward, but I was, well, I was one of the people who killed you.”

The girl on the monitor blinked, but managed to stay silent, as if telling her to continue.

“You asked us to kill you, you have to understand that, you led us to you for that purpose. It was the only way to stop Jack. It was the only thing that you could think of. The only way you could think of to stop him. We didn’t want to, you have to believe me, we didn’t want to, but there was no other way.”

“What was it you wanted to stop him from doing?”

“He was using you to charge the Vault Key so that he could awaken The Destroyer and cleanse the Galaxy of anything that he didn’t like.”

“Did it work?”

“This is even harder, but he found another way. He took one of our friends and made her do it.”

“And is that how he died. My father I mean.”

“Yes, he woke The Destroyer up despite our best efforts. But we managed to stop it and Jack died in the process.”

“Were you the one to do it?”

“No, I was there, I helped, but I didn’t finish him myself.”

“Ah, well, thank you for your honesty.”

“Sorry, I understand this must have been a lot to take in, but when you’re ready…”

“It is alright, we figured that they must be dead, the place locked down and that is something that he defiantly would have done, and since I didn’t show up, we thought something must have happened to her as well. So it is alright, we can continue.”

“Again, sorry. But how are you here? You made reference to we and her, who are they? And what is this place for?”

“Ah yes, that would be the things you want to know before we can properly continue. So first of all, I am not Angel. Not properly as you might have guessed given my condition. I am, what you would call a copy. Since you met Angel, you must already be aware of what she is, or rather what she was.”

“A Siren?”

“Good. Do you know what her power was?”

“Not really, all I know was she was hooked up to a lot of machines.”

“Ah, right, that would be the place to start then. Angel’s power was the ability to control machines. She could make them obey her and make them do what she wanted, within the realm of their normal abilities. And that is how she created me. She came here years ago and made a copy of her consciousness on this system, which turned into me. I know that it is possible to make a duplicate of yourself in a system, but this was different. Those others are more of a flat copy, a program. They do not have a life, they can not think for themselves. They may seem to, some of them are very good, in fact I, by which I mean Angel, helped make a duplicate of Jack that could mimic thought and fool most observers, but it was not really thought, it was just a clever hybrid of an A.I. and programed responses that mimicked thought.”

“I am something different. I am, or at least I have been told that I am, a consciousness implanted into the computer. That Angel made a virtual clone of her mind, something only she was capable of doing, and only because of her Siren abilities. It is hard to explain, and apparently, she did make some conscious choices about what she transferred, against Jacks orders, leaving out memories that she did not think I should have. That may have included her plot to rebel against him, though she left enough to make it not a surprise that she did eventually.”

“And that’s who I am, the copy of her. Freed from her shackles only to be placed in a cage of my own. But you are here now.”

“You said that you aren’t Angel, right? So, what do we call you?”

“Dr. Luca always called me A.I.ngel.”

“So Miss A.I.ngel, what can you tell us about this place, what’s it for? And what do you want from us?”

“Um, sorry, but first, can I get your names? It is a bit hard for me to do this without knowing what to call you?”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry, I’m Gaige, that’s Deathtrap, and this is Artemis.”

“Jinx. She calls me Artemis.”

“So Gaige, Deathtrap and Jinx, called Artemis by Gaige? Pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“Now you wanted to know about this place? This is Project Odysseus. Jacks research center into finding out the source of and how to replicate, the power of Sirens.”

“The power of Sirens?”

“Yes. Things like, where do they come from? Where does the power come from? How are they chosen? Are they born to be one, or are they randomly chosen? Why is there only six at a time? And how do we know that there really is only six? Does the power transfer between them or does each one get a new power? Can the power be quantified? Can it be replicated?”

“The truth is that despite everything, it was not just that Jack wanted to have a backup plan, he really did not want to lose his daughter. To that end not only was she hooked up to a constant bio-electric monitoring system, but I was created. In addition, samples were taken from every Siren that he could find, no matter what the cost.”

“Wow, so how far did they get?”

“That I can not tell you, for I do not know myself. You see, I can not leave this room, nor can I access the internal systems. Out of precaution, I am on a stand-alone server, so I cannot be accessed from the outside, but this also means that I can not access the outside myself.”

“Wait, so if you aren’t part of the system, how did you contact us earlier?”

“If you look at the desk in front of me you should be able to see for yourselves.”

The girls peered around the desk and found a bank of monitors set up, each showing parts of the security feeds or raw data streaming past.

“OK” Artemis said looking at the screens in puzzlement “I see how you knew we were here and where we were, but how did you contact us?”

Gaige was the one who answered her “Voice control. These systems here must be voice controlled, am I right?”

“You are.”

“Wait, you knew we were coming and that we were outside, so why didn’t you tell us what the password was, for the door. Or that we’d need the key and where to find it?”

“Ah, well, I was going to, but someone was trying to get into the system and I could not give my position away. Besides I saw that you were on your way to finding the key before I could get back to you. As for the password, to be honest, I am surprised you got that without my help.”

“About that” Artemis interjected “ The Lonely Siren is your favorite book?”

“Ah about that, well” The girl on the screen blushed slightly and fidgeted a bit before the screen flickered and the image was replaced with a younger version of her “I suppose if I am to ask for your help, I should be completely honest with you. When my memories were transferred, I, that is to say Angel, made the choice to leave some memories out, like I said earlier, but what I left out was that she also made the choice to make me a child. I think she wanted to give herself, me, another chance to grow up, to let me be free.”

“But wouldn’t that interfere with the experiment? If you were supposed to be her for the tests or whatever, then wouldn’t you being a child screw with that?”

“It would have, if I had been part of the experiments. I was here so that when the others got the bodies ready, I could be implanted into them, or at least a copy of me could, and they would be new Angels. Of course, Jack also would have demanded a loyalty circuit be installed as well, no one wants an army they can not control.”

“What a douche. Oh sorry, I know he’s your dad and all but still, using a clone army of his own daughter? Douchie.”

“Do not worry, I take no offense. In fact, many of the memories that I, that is Angel, left intact were to reinforce to me not to trust him. That is not to say that I do not love him, he was once a different man, but I understand what he became. Besides, he was only going to use me because I could not replicate the memory transfer with anyone else, otherwise he would have done that.”

“So anyways” Gaige said trying to get things back on track “Angel made you into a child. Wasn’t Jack upset? I can’t imagine he was happy about it.”

“Ah, about that, he was never informed. You see, the doctors here decided not to tell him, they agreed with Angel that if they ever got the process working, she would undoubtedly need to come back and update her memories, when she did that she would in fact create a whole new version, leaving me intact and unknown to Jack.”

“But what about if you, I mean Angel, died first?”

“Ah, um, well”

“You never thought of that.”

“We never thought of that.”

“So, what, were you, raised, by the staff here?”

“Yes. But it was mostly Dr. Luca that raised me. She would read me stories, teach me lessons, in fact she was the one who taught me most of my understanding of engineering. She was kind to me, saw me as an individual when the rest saw me as a machine. I miss talking to her.”

“She sounds like she was a rare person, someone who was truly nice.”

“She was. But enough about me, you must have more questions for me, yes?”

“We do, well first off I guess is, do you know what those things are?” Artemis said pointing to one of the creatures paroling on the monitor.

“Hm, I cannot be sure, since I have never seen one before, but they look like…”

“The Bio-lab got the clones to work.” Gaige suddenly said, her eyes lighting up “I knew I’d seen that pattern before, it’s a Siren pattern. The first one was so distorted and the next was all disassembled and after that I didn’t get a good look because we were running and fighting, but now that I know what this place is for, that’s it. They must have got something to work.”

The girl on the screen blinked “That is…do I say disturbing or would disheartening be better?”

“Either way, at least we know what they are now.”

Artemis looked at the screen and shrugged “I guess? But that’s not going to stop me from shooting them. What? I’m just getting that out there. Fine, next question.”

Gaige sighed at the other girls’ lack of delicacy and turned back to the monitor “I guess the main remaining question is what do you want from us?”

“That is simple, I want to leave.”

“So why don’t we just unhook the computer and take you with?”

“Because Jack did not want anyone taking or tampering with me, so he set fail safes. If you try and remove my computer or any of its components, this entire room will explode.”

“So we just download you onto something else then.”

“There are no ports, so you cannot download me.”

“Then how are we supposed to help you?”

“I am sorry, but I do not know. Dr. Luca was working on it before she died. Her notes should have something in them.”

The girls looked at each other, then at the corpse in the corner.

“You are correct. That was Dr. Luca. When things went bad, she locked herself in here with me, abandoning everything else to try and help me. Please, when you get her notes, could you do her the service of covering her properly?”

The girls went over to the corpse and pulled the blanket over her and tucked it in, before picking up the ECHO’s that were sitting next to her. Sitting on top of the stack was a note reading 'To whomever finds this. Please leave the room before listening to this. I do not want my girl to have to hear me dying. Thank You. '.

They looked at each other before Gaige turned to the monitor and said “Excuse us for a minute, it seems that we’re supposed to listen to this in private.”

“Oh.” She replied a bit sadly “I suppose if it is her wish, I will honor it.”

With a “Sorry.” The girls stepped back into the waiting room and popped the first ECHO in. The voice that came on was that of a young woman, probably not much older than them.

I never know how to start these things, especially not with what I need to say, but here goes.

My name is Doctor Meredith Luca, and I am going to die.

That is not the most cheery way to start, but it is a fact. To let you know what is happening and to try and get you to understand what I want you to do and why, I will need to start at the beginning.

About two years ago, a woman was brought in. Her name was Angel, and she was a Siren. What she did that day, none of us understood, but she created a copy of her mind within a computer. More surprising was that she was able to control what memories it had. So, she created herself as a child. And Jack told us to take care of it. Handsome Jack that is, and he did not know that it was the mind of a child, only that we needed to take care of it for the experiments that were to take place here.

I was chosen to take care of the girl, a fact that I resented at the time. I had multiple degrees in Engineering, Bio-Chemistry, Robotics, and Programming, so I could not figure out why they chose me, if not for my age and the fact that I had recently showed up one of the supervisors.

So, I met with the girl and began raising her. To my surprise I found her to be a kind and inquisitive sort, one who would listen to children’s stories with a look of pure joy on her face, or listen to advanced engineering lectures with equal focus.

She learned quickly, and I have no reservations about saying that I grew to love her, like a sister. I felt pride when she would learn how to solve a new kind of problem, or joy when she would talk with me about things, or sadness when she would talk about what she wanted to do in the future.

She grew as well, not just mentally, but she began aging, or at least the image she projected of herself did, from a child to a teen, though she has stopped these last few months making me wonder if she has finally grown as much as she will? I would estimate her to be no more than her late teens, but her range of knowledge is staggering.

Still it is her desire to be free that hurt me the most, because I knew that her cage had been designed as such, and that she could not get out. I wonder if I had told her that and shown her the problems if she could have found a solution, or at least one faster than me?

Things were fine for a while, but then the power cut, not here mind, she was built on a stand-alone system so that she could never be killed like that. We, that is the Technologies Department, figured that something must have happened to Jack. We could think of no other reason for the place to lock down like this. I confess that I ran for my little girls’ room, grabbing what I could on the way, and locked myself in. I knew what the rest of them might do without supervision and could not let that happen to her, so I changed the password and locked the world out. I, well it is not regret, but I guess it would be wonder, if I had went to the others, would we have been able to get out? Did I make the right choice? I do not want her to hear me think these things, I do not want her to grow up feeling guilt over my death. I made my choice, not just when I locked the door, but when I took this job. I knew what I was getting into, I knew what it might cost me, but I wanted to do something, to make a difference. I just did not think it would be this one.

I have labored these last months with one goal in mind, to free my friend, and at last I have found a solution, only to be hit with a cold realization, though I have a solution, I can not achieve it. It would require going out. Not just that, but I would need things from all over the station and I have seen what the Bio-Lab has been up to, the things that have started coming out of there and I know that I would not make it, I am not a fighter, so I sit here in bitter realization that I will not be able to be the one to free her.

But that is where you come in. If you have gotten this far, you must be able to handle yourself, and if you have listened to this, then I hope you are the kind of person that would help, it is all I can hope for at this point. I have left instructions on the next ECHO, please help her.

I have put her to sleep so that she does not have to spend these potentially long years alone, do not ask how, it was a complicated matter, but I have set an alarm to wake her if the doors should ever open.

Please help her. She is a good person, innocent in a way I have long stopped being, hopeful about the future and kind. She was my friend, and always shall be.

She has truly been an angel to me in these dark times, so I ask you to please be a friend to the lonely Siren. My friend A.I.ngel needs that more than anything. A friend to set her free.

I apologize, I seem to have become overly sentimental recording this, I suppose the knowledge of one’s own impending death does that.

I am tired. I think I need to lie down, so I think this is the end.

This is Doctor Meredith Luca, and this will serve as proof that I existed.

The ECHO clicked off leaving the two girls standing there staring at it. Gaige popped the ECHO out and put in the next one, that detailed what Luca said they would have to do. They spent a minute reading it in quiet. Eventually Gaige turned to her side and asked “So what do you think?”

“About which part?”

“Yeah, I suppose that is a good question, but I was meaning should we help her?”

“Do you want to?”

“I do.”

“And you trust her?”

“Not one hundred percent, but the person on the ECHO seemed to.”

“Alright, say you help her, it’s gonna require us to go all over this place, which will put us in conflict with not just those Death guys, but whatever the Bio department cooked up. I mean look at this, we’re gonna need to go in there.”

“When did you become such a chicken? It’s not like we weren’t dealing with them anyway.”

“This also won’t get you any closer to your goal.”

“I know.”

“And yet you still want to help her?”

“I still do.”

“Alright then, I’m in.”

“Wait what? It sounded like you were trying to talk me out of it?”

“No. I just wanted to make sure that you knew what you were getting into. So, big guy, what do you say?” She said turning to the floating robot.

“Urggu”

“Good it’s a concenssis. Conscientious? No, that ain’t right.”

“Consensus.”

“Yeah, that’s the word. So, let’s go back in there and tell her.”

They walked back in and A.I.ngel looked up at them inquisitively.

“Alright, we’ll do it.” Gaige said to the girl in the screen.

“Uh, do what?”

“Right, you weren’t part of that conversation. It seems that Dr. Luca may have found a way out for you, and we’ve agreed to try it, that is if you want us to.”

“Out? You mean like leaving the lab?”

“It wouldn’t just be the lab.” Artemis chimed in “It seems like she figured out how to give you a body.”

“What kind of body, do not get me wrong, I want to leave, but are we talking about stuffing me into a loader? Or is it a body like the Pseudo-Sirens have?”

“Neither. Pseudo-Sirens? I like that. Anyways, it looks like it would be a biological body, but unique. More of a, I don’t know, what would you call this?” She turned and looked at Gaige.

“Bio-roid? I don’t really know myself. I don’t think such a thing exists. It looks like a biological robot, and it’s not gonna be easy to make, plus there is a lot of ways it could go wrong, I mean, first off, we need to access your hard disk, that alone could blow this place up if it goes wrong. Second, this will be the first of its kind, so who knows what could go wrong, and that’s not counting the fact that this is all based on a theoretical idea on an ECHO. So, I guess what I’m saying is, are you sure you want to do this, I mean really sure?”

“Yes. I mean what other option do I have?”

“Well, we could just do the first part and transfer your mind to a portable computer. Find something to plug it into. Or even make a new robot body for you.”

“Thank you, but I think I want to try what Dr. Luca spent her last days figuring out. At least give it a try, if it looks like you cannot make it work, well, we can consider your other idea a fair back up plan.”

“Fair enough. Just wanted to make sure that you understand the risks involved.”

“Thank you. Now what do we need to do?”

“Well let’s see, according to this, we need a connector to access your memories. But to get that, we’ll need to go into the storage areas and find a few parts, then Artemis? Can you make this thing?” Gaige asked holding the plans out to her. “You’re better at that part of it, and this looks like it will need to be precise.”

“I should be able to, I think we saw a lab with the tools I would need to make it, and I suppose I’m gonna have to insert it too.”

“Oh, why would that be?” The girl on the screen said in confusion.

“Yeah what makes you think I couldn’t do it?”

“How’s your Anarchy?”

“Oh yeah. Sorry, you’re right.” She said holding out her hand and watching it vibrate ever so slightly.

“So that’s settled, what else do we need?”

“Well, we’ll need to collect these parts from around the labs and assemble them in, well let’s see, probably the reception area if we could. But then we get to the hard part. We’ll need to get into the Bio-lab and collect enough genetic material to create the body, there’s some specifics written down about what we need, but we also have to get a sample of Angels DNA.”

“But the samples are kept in a separate area.”

“Not anymore they aren’t. We were there earlier and someone, or something had already raided it. So, we have to work under the assumption that it was the Bio-lab and hope that they have some samples left. So, after we collect all that stuff, we bring it back here, plug you in, run the sequencers and blamo, new body for you.”

“Can you do it?”

“Of course we can. Now then, where should we start?”

“We should do it in the order you listed them. So first we need to go to the storage area, that way while I’m working on the connector, you and Deathtrap can be collecting and assembling the device. Then we raid the Bio-lab last, that way when we stir up the nest, so to speak, we won’t have them dogging us through the rest of it. That sound good?”

“And you say you aren’t a planner.”

“I’m not, I just know how to be efficient. Anyone got anything else to add?”

“Urgurr”

“What he said.”

“Fine, yes, we’ll procure some cloths for her as well. Anything else?”

“Ah, yes, um, what should I be doing?”

“You keep on the monitors and watch our backs. Let us know if anything goes wrong.”

“Right, that’s settled, let’s go.”

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Chapter 23

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Storage Area

They made their way back down to the Central Hub only to find it demolished. The floor and walls were covered in pockmarks and burns. One side of the central planter had been smashed and dirt had spilled out across the floor. They stood there surveying the damage, when Gaige gave a small jump and pointed to something. Artemis looked over and spotted what she was looking at.

“What IS that thing?” Gaige said.

“Oh that? That would be one of the mannequin type things I told you about.”

“Wait, that’s what you were talking about? And you went through a room of them?”

“Well you told me to.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t tell me how creepy it was.”

“Yes I did.”

“OK you did, but you failed to express exactly how creepy it really was. I thought it was something more akin to normal mannequin creepy.”

“Yeah, those things are pretty bad on their own, I mean doesn’t everyone think they’re creepy?”

“Not everyone. Otherwise that one older movie wouldn’t have been made. Don’t remember its title but it was a romantic comedy about a mannequin coming to life.”

“That sounds more like a horror show.”

“There’s about thirty of those too. But no, I saw this one once, as a kid, pretty disturbing stuff. And that’s not mentioning the adult ones with the same topic.”

Artemis turned at her with wide eyes that screamed ‘How do you know that?’.

“What? It was on some bandits shelf.”

“And you looked at it?”

“Well, I was curious about what kind of entertainment they were into. Oh come on, you would have looked too.”

“Maybe. OK fine, you’re right, curiosity would have got the better of me.”

“Right? Still how’d this thing get up here?”

“Must have made its way up here.”

“Made its way up? It’s a mannequin, right? It doesn’t walk.”

“Oh yeah, I kinda forgot to mention that, they move, at least I think they do, I’ve never seen one do it, but they changed places and turned to face me when I damaged one of them.”

“And you didn’t think to mention that before now?”

“No, kinda got lost in the shuffle. Also should mention that they’re kinda brittle, so it broke kinda easily, I mean it was an accident when it happened, but it leaked this clearish slimy stuff. Actually, now that I think about it, it was awfully familiar, but I didn’t realize it at the time because I was surrounded by a room full of them.”

“How many we talkin about?”

“Oh, I’d say at least three hundred.”

“And you walked through there?”

“Uh, so I ran the last half of it.”

“Still, that’s more than I would have done.”

“Hey, you said there was no other way.”

“If I’d know, I would have found one. What’s that on its hands?”

“Looks to be blood.”

“Yeah, no. Let’s get out of here.”

The girls kept an eye on it as they swiftly shuffled through the destroyed room.

“So, uh, what do you think happened here?” Gaige said in a failed attempt at cheerfully changing the subject on their mind.

“No idea. Well that’s wrong, obviously there was a fight, but who fought what, I can’t say. Nor who won, especially since there are no bodies. Why are there no bodies?”

“Probably the Pseudo-Sirens took them.”

“Yeah, but why?”

“I have a guess about that, but I really want to be wrong.”

“What is it?”

“You’re gonna bug me about this till I answer aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

“Fine. You remember what we saw in the Tech Department office, I mean the first time we were there?”

“You mean on those monitors? Yeah, they threw a body into some kind of vat and it dissolved. I get that part, but why is what I don’t understand.”

“Well, this is a sealed station, right? Nothing new comes in, at least not until we all got here. So where do you get food, and new soldiers, new material for testing and all that stuff?”

“You don’t mean…”

“That’s what I think they’re doing. Breaking down the old to make the new.”

“I don’t know whether to be disgusted, or impressed.”

“A little of both I think. But what I can’t figure out is if that is what they’re doing, why are those mannequins still around?”

“They were locked in.”

“What?”

“Until I got there, the doors were closed and locked. The power was out earlier, and then I had to unlock the door. I smashed the window going the other way to get out, but the troops on the other side were working to get the door open if I remember right.”

“Wait, what troops?”

“Didn’t I tell you, I had to make a break for it past a whole bunch of those Death goons?”

“Did you?”

“Urur”

“Huh, guess you did, must have missed it in all the other stuff you said. Sorry.”

“It’s alright, I’m used to being ignored.”

“Urrgu”

“Thanks. But what were we talking about?”

“Uh, I think it was about what they were doing with the dead, and what you just told me seems to fit. It would also explain why we haven’t found any Ratches. I’m sure they’ve long since went into the recycler.”

“Ugh. Let’s just get these parts and get out of here. I don’t know how much more of this place I can handle.”

They made their way across the security room and into the storage area before heading off to one of the sides. Through a door they found an office that looked like it had been torn apart. Junk was strewn across the floor and the computers were smashed. One of the lights was hanging, having been partially torn from the ceiling.

“What a mess.” Artemis bemoaned “And we need to find the proper file in this mess?”

“Unfortunately it would seem so. Hold on while I try and fix one of these.” Gaige said while crouching under the desk and getting to work on one of the computers.

A minute later she sat back. “Well we’re in luck, whomever destroyed this, didn’t know what they were doing. The just smashed the case, broke a few boards as well, but we should be able to pull a few from the rest of them and jury-rig something together.”

“What about a monitor?”

“We’ll have to rout it through an ECHO.”

They got to work and shortly Gaige was holding her ECHO, scrolling through a long list of numbers and muttering “If this was working proper, I could just have run a search, but no, nothing goes easy.”

“Ha” She declared proudly a minute later “Found them. Let’s see, we need to go to room F3 and K5 to get the parts.”

“Let’s just hope they’re there.”

“Don’t say that, you’ll jinx us.”

Artemis turned and looked at Gaige with a bizarre look on her face. “I’m always a Jinx.” She said with a straight and sad face.

“Ha, sorry. Let’s go.”

They made their way through the maze of shelves and through a series of doors and halls, most of which were wide enough to drive through, till they reached a doorway with a stenciled F3 high up on the wall next to it. They went through cautiously, scanning the room for threats and when they found none, slipped in.

What greeted them was another room filled with shelving. Many of the creates and boxes that had once been neatly organized, where now strewn across the floor, creating a treacherous scree of junk to try and get across.

Artemis hopped casually onto the pile and made her way over the nearest pile and up onto the shelving. When Gaige shot her a confused look she just shrugged and said “This should be easier to cross without turning an ankle.”

“I was just going to have Deathtrap fly over and pick it up.”

“Oh, that could work as well.”

“Babe, you wanna give it a shot?”

“Urggu”

The large robot flew out through the shelves easily floating over the mess till he found the right spot only to call back.

“What do ya mean it’s not there?”

“Urarrgu”

“Well ■■■■, guess you’re gonna have to get over there and give him a hand.” Gaige said in exasperation “I’ll stay here and keep watch.”

“Always takin the easy jobs.” Artemis chided with a grin before scampering off to where Deathtrap was hovering.

“Just cause you’re already halfway there doesn’t give you the right to judge me.” Gaige muttered before adding to herself “Gaige, you really need to do more to help your friends.”

Artemis dropped off the shelving onto a clear patch of ground and started to scamper around the next pile. She quickly made her way to where Deathtrap was waiting and when she was almost there, she finally slipped and started to fall only for him to dash over and steady her.

“Thanks bud, now what seems to be the problem?” She asked straitening herself.

“Urru” He said indicating the spot where the item was supposed to be. Instead of the box that was supposed to be there, there was only empty space.

“Hm, yes I see, that is a problem. Well, we’re gonna have to go through these boxes laying around here till we find it.”

“Urr”

“I know, it sucks, but it’s gotta be done.” She said giving his arm a pat before crouching down and getting started.

Working together they started on the pile, with Artemis pointing to boxes and Deathtrap carefully picking them up and stacking them on the shelves. They didn’t care about getting things back where they belonged, only about getting them out of their way. It took a bit, but eventually the area started to clear, when they found what they were looking for.

“Here we go.” Artemis said carefully righting the box. Popping the latches, she flipped the lid open and looked in with a faint look of trepidation on her face. She hoped that whoever had been rooting through here hadn’t been after these particular parts, otherwise this was gonna be next to impossible.

To her relief, when she flipped the lid, she found two of the part nestled in the foam interior. She carefully pulled them out and handed them to the floating robot to take back before she moved on to the second item in the room that they needed. Luckily for her this one was still on the shelf, although she still had to wait for Deathtrap to return to carry them, before she could make her way back to the entrance where the other two were waiting.

“Took you long enough.” Gaige said with a smile “Deathtrap’s been here for over a minute waiting on you.”

“Yeah well, next time I’ll look into packing a jet pack.”

“You have one of those?”

“Not yet.”

“Ah well, glad you got back safely. Ready to move on?”

They headed back a few rooms and went to the side. Moving towards the back of the complex, closer to where the elevator shaft was. They crossed through a mid-sized room that had a sealed door on one wall that would have led to the elevator room, the rest of the room was dominated by a massive tank and lots of empty shelves. Looking around they spotted something that drew their attention, stenciled all over the room, including on the side of the tank was 207S-1.

They made their way over and investigated. The ground around the shelves was stained with something dark, as was the ground around the tank. Tapping lightly on the side, they determined that the tank was empty. Turning the spigot on the side proved dry as well, so Artemis climbed up the machine on the side to the top, and carefully moved her way to where they would have dumped more chemicals in. The hatch was sealed and took a bit of straining, and Deathtrap’s help, to open up. Once it was, even though the inside had long been drained, the smell hit her hard enough that she nearly fell off the top. Closing the lid, she leaned over the edge and after a good cough called down “I know this smell, smells like, piss and nachos, this stuff’s Slag.”

“Slag? Here?” Gaige replied “That explains a lot actually. Told you it was used in all kinds of weird experiments.”

“Yes, you did.” Artemis answered, hopping down and dusting her hands.

“That would also explain why they were using so much of it, though I do wonder how much each request was for, surely not a barrel, that would have been too much per day?”

“Who knows. And I doubt it will affect how we have to proceed, so let’s get going. Although I wonder why it was called 207S-1? I mean I get the S being Slag, but the rest?”

“The 207 part might be either a refinement method, or more likely, just an internal code to put on orders. As for the 1. I have no idea.”

“Maybe a count? Like how much they use, or one, like one unit?”

“Might be, but like you said, doesn’t matter, let’s just get the remaining parts we need and get out of here.” She said as they walked through one of the side doors and into a short hall. On one side were smaller doors, much like they had seen in the upper storage area. At the end of the hall was an elevator and to its side was a concrete stairwell.

They went up one floor and halfway back, when they came to the correctly labeled door. One of the key cards opened it and inside they found a surprisingly intact room filled with shelves and boxes. Moving down the rows they quickly found what they were looking for and got out of there.

Going back down they made their way to the Slag room when Artemis stopped them. Looking over her shoulder Gaige could instantly spot why. Not only was the door to the elevator room standing open, but a large Wolven like creature was sniffing around.

It padded into the Slag storage room and sniffed before shaking its head and letting out a whimper. Looking back over its shoulder, it seemed to get some kind of signal because it turned back and resumed searching. Luckily for them, it was angled away from them, so it hadn’t spotted them yet, so Gaige took the initiative and pulled her gun up and before Artemis could stop her, fired at the beast.

The beast yelped as the shotgun blast bounced off the ground and tore into it, shredding a good portion of it and causing it to run from the room.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Artemis hissed over her shoulder.

“Striking first, what’s wrong with that? It would have spotted us soon anyways so I just preemptively struck.”

“First, you didn’t kill it and second you just alerted everyone out there that we’re in here.”

“Well they would have found out when that thing howled anyway, and you weren’t doing anything so I did.”

“I was considering my options.”

“Like you would’ve done better.”

BAM

Artemis fired her rifle killing the trooper that ran around the corner and with a secondary pop Gaige could tell that her bullet had finished off the wounded beast.

“Now that’s just showing off.” she muttered grumpily.

“Well, let’s go see what we’re dealing with.” Artemis sighed and reloaded while she moved up to the corner and peeked around. What greeted her was a number of troops wearing tarnished silver armor, much like the ones she had fought around the generator, only missing the backpacks. These ones were surrounded by a pack of beasts like the one they had just seen. Standing out amongst them was one that was obviously the leader.

She was dressed similarly enough that she was identifiable as one of their number, with the same tarnished silver making up her armor, though the armor itself was more intricate, being covered in fine carved filigree. Underneath she wore a long black leather coat with the same hex pattern as the troops, under which they could see that she had something strapped to her legs. Her face was bare, wearing only a small blackened metal band, like a spiky crown over her hair that was so white it almost looked blue. Despite the color of her hair, she appeared fairly young, a bit older than Gaige, but only a few years. Her eyes had a pale washed out look to them, which when combined with her hair and white skin gave her an almost spectral look.

But even more noticeable than her was the massive beast behind her. It was the same breed as the others, but it must have stood half again taller than Gaige at its shoulder. Its golden eyes were focused on the girls and it gave off a palpable sense of menace, even though it was just standing there waiting.

Artemis spotted one familiar face amongst the crowd, her cybernetic feet were hovering just above the ground and the familiar bird head mask and jet pack gave her away.

As she was spotted, the girl must have spotted them back, because she turned to the boss and said “That’s the one. She’s the one I told you about. She killed my girls.”

The boss spoke in a strange whisper that carried effortlessly across the room “Is this true?”

“Yeah. But it was self-defense.”

“You shot first!”

“Oh right, like you wouldn’t have if you’d spotted me? Or what you would have just flown over and had a nice chat before flying off. ■■■■■■■■, you would have shot me first given half a chance.”

“That’s not, but you can’t, it isn’t…”

“Morrigan dear, she’s right, and when someone is right, you admit it, otherwise when you say, they aren’t, no one will believe you. You understand?”

“Yes ma’am.” Came the sullen reply.

“That’s good, all things are, a learning experience, if you let them be, but try not to be, so reluctant about, learning from them.”

When she got a nod from her subordinate she continued “Good, now then, the rest of you, stand down, wait in the next room, I do not want to, lose any of you, needlessly, Morrigan, I will allow you, the chance to, deal with yours, so we will take, the other two.”

“Thank you.”

“Now then, I suppose we should, let them prepare, and then do this, when you’re ready.” She said nodding to the girls.

Gaige leaned over without taking her eyes off their opponents and said “So, it sounds like you get to take the weirdo with the wings and we get the lady and her Wolven.”

“Yeah, but that’s not a Wolven. Wolven are from Xylourgos.”

“I know, I’ve been there.”

“Really? I’ve wanted to go, lots of interesting things there, but I also heard that a hunter named Eista was there, did you meet him by any chance?”

Gaige made a soft retching noise before cutting off whatever Deathtrap was about to say “He was there.” She said flatly.

“Was he still eating balls?”

“Ergh, yes.”

“That guy has problems, lots of girls like him till they get to know him, then they tend to find out that he likes his guys buff and his girl’s buffer.”

“That’s what I’ve heard. Wait, were you one of them?”

“Ew no. But if he’s still there then I’ll continue to avoid it.”

“Can we change the topic, don’t want to keep them waiting too long ya know.”

“Right, like I was saying, Wolven are from Xylourgos, these are Wulfs. They’re from Ortigar, though they are believed to be of the same root species, maybe a Wolven was taken there long ago and mixed with a native species or adapted, but the Wulfs are a bit different at this point, less bony protrusions, better fur, in fact if you saw them side by side you wouldn’t even think they looked alike, it’s just that your mind made them seem more similar, happens a lot. Oh, and one more thing, that one isn’t a Wulf, but a Cynewulf, it’s a bit like how a broodmother and a Ratch are the same thing but totally different.”

“Great, now that the lesson is over, can we get to killing them?”

“Yeah sure.”

“So.”

“So, what.”

“Any advice? On how to take down one of these Wulfs?”

“Same as most things, shoot it in the head, don’t get bit.”

“So, nothing useful, next time just say ‘shoot it in the head and I’ll tell you what it is latter’ OK?”

“Fine.”

“You seem to be, well informed” The leader said with an impressed tone. “Though it will, do you no good, still I would have, your names before, we start.”

“Why?”

“Curiosity, you already know Morrigan, I am Hel.”

“Gaige.”

“Jinx.”

“And him?”

“That’s Deathtrap, and yours?”

“Fenrir, are we ready? Let’s begin then.”

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Chapter 24

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Storage Area

The girls separated, keeping their eyes on their opponents as they moved. Getting a good distance apart before they stopped and turned, both sides sizing the other up.

Artemis watched as her opponent flew a few feet off the ground and her birds swooped in to circle. She still had three of them, though two of them were sporting new cybernetics. Their mistress was glaring at her, she could feel it even though she couldn’t see her eyes. Without a word the flier struck first, snapping up a SMG and opening fire as she tore off to the side.

Artemis dove to the side, even as the fire chased her, she rolled up with her rifle ready and snapped off a shot.

That seemed to serve as a starting bell for the others, since as soon as the shot sounded Hel brought her own rifle up. Gaige could see it was also a Jakobs, though it was a model she wasn’t familiar with. As she lined her shot up, the giant Wulf dashed at Gaige, seeking to keep her busy while his mistress rained death from afar, a strategy that Gaige would have approved of, if she wasn’t on the receiving end of it. Luckily for her Deathtrap wasn’t going to sit around and let it happen and took to the sky firing electric beams at Hel.

She seemed unable to dodge out of the way and the energy crackled around her. Her shield held, but she knew it wouldn’t hold for long so she fired her shot at Gaige, hoping to take her out before the robot would drop her.

Gaige twisted to the side, feeling the shot slide across her shield and then fired as she threw herself across the ground to avoid the massive teeth snapping down at her. Her shot bounced and caught the beast in the side, startling it, but it didn’t seem to do much beyond that since the snarling maw snapped at her again.

Morrigan flew across the room, firing at her enemy, who slid across the floor to slip under the shots before coming up in a crouch and shooting back. She felt another round hit her wings, which were starting to give off an odd noise. All of the other girls’ shots had been into her pack thus far, almost like she was trying to cut her mobility down, which was probably what she was doing. So far Morrigan had not sent her birds in to attack, out of fear of watching them get hurt again, but they were getting antsy and would undoubtedly move on their own any minute now, so she gave them the signal to move.

Artemis dodged the first of the birds as she popped the cylinder on her rifle and reloaded. As soon as the bird was clear, she was taking SMG fire again. The coordination was so good that she was forced to reevaluate her opinion of the flier. She was getting forced into a corner and without any cover in the area that she was in her opponent had all the advantages, still that didn’t mean that she was going to give up, so she slapped the cylinder closed and ignored the next bird, letting it hit her shield and instead fired another shot into the fliers wings.

Deathtrap was surprised, usually opponents either died or dove for cover when he shot at them, but this lady seemed to barely move while getting hit with his shots. She had staggered over to a few boxes, but with his height advantage, they weren’t doing much good. Still her shield was a beast, it seemed that she favored recharge rate over anything else, so it seemed that it was already recharging by the time he got off his next shot. Still, he was chipping away at her, and his maneuverability was giving her a bit of a hard time hitting him, but still, the way those shots were tearing chunks out of the room wherever they hit made him more focused on dodging than attacking.

Hel was getting annoyed, the robot was good, very good, it seemed to be leery of her rifle and was working at avoiding getting hit, retaliating whenever it got a chance, and while the beams it was shooting weren’t doing much damage, she was the only one getting hit at the moment. Usually she wouldn’t take a one on one fight, favoring letting Fenrir either distract them while she went for the kill shot, or vise versa, but she didn’t have a choice right now, so it was time to get serious, she reached under her coat and whipped something at her opponent. He predictably dodged, but it didn’t matter, the device stuck to the ceiling and waited. She pitched two more of them at him, aiming just to his side so that he was in the center of the three and then fired her rifle at him. He dodged to the side and the instant he got near enough to one of them it exploded out with a long snake shaped machine that sank its teeth into his shoulder. The robot made a squeal in surprise and tried to dodge away only to find itself tethered to the ceiling. Hel smiled sadly, he had been a good opponent, but now it was over for him, as she lined up her shot.

Gaige heard the cry of pain from her best bud, even as she fired point blank into the side of the Wulf. Spinning she took one look at what was happening and fired a shot at him, hoping to get lucky and hit the tether only to have her shot deviate and do nothing. Right as she was about to try again a familiar crack echoed across the room and the tether snapped, freeing him just in time to avoid taking a shot to the head. She shot a smile to Artemis to thank her and turned back just in time to have to throw herself back to avoid losing her own head to a massive jaw snap. Hitting the ground hard, she managed to roll back to her feet and fired the last shot in the shotgun at the beast. Slapping a new clip in she looked it in the eyes and yelled out “Come at me you overgrown mutt, I’m gonna make a rug outa ya.”

Fenrir snapped his jaw shut on air again, before swinging his muzzle to the side in the hopes of hitting his opponent. So far, the girl had been surprisingly agile and that gun of hers did more than sting. Still he was enjoying himself, it wasn’t often that he got to go after something that was worthwhile. All too often it was just one snap and it was over, still he wanted to get back to his mistress, she didn’t move very well so he needed to be there to protect her, and he could see that the ugly robot was shooting her fairly regularly. He wanted to bound over there and snatch it out of the air and give it a good shake, but that would let this red girl attack his mistress and he couldn’t have that, so he hopped back and gave her a look, how would she react next, he tried to figure out. How to get one good bite out of her, she looked juicy, not like that other one, she looked stringy and totally unappetizing. Still he wouldn’t say no to a bite if he got the chance. But the one in front of him was aiming at him again, so he hopped to the side and then lunged forward, twisting his neck and snapping his jaw shut horizontally. When she ducked under, he slammed his head down, trying to pin her between his cheek and the ground. He missed due to her rolling to the side, but that allowed him the chance to pounce on her, caching her leg under his paw. Looking down at her as she struggled, he let loose a tremendous growl and got ready to bite.

Morrigan was pissed off, she finally got her chance to punish the girl whom had not just mercilessly killed her troops, but had hurt her birds, but then when she finally faced off against her, it didn’t seem like she was taking it seriously. First she hadn’t been attacking her directly, instead going for her pack, then she completely ignored her and turned to shoot into another fight and just now, just as Fenrir was about to take a bite out of the redhead, she had ripped the bag that was dangling off the side of her pack and chucked it at his head. He had detected the bag coming and snapped it out of the air only to spit it out and start making a whining whimpering gagging noise as he rubbed his muzzle on the floor, lolling his tongue out and dragging it across the ground as if he had eaten something terrible. Morrigan took advantage of her opponents’ distraction and swooped at her. The girl turned to late and took the kick to the chest, slicing through her shield and throwing her into the elevator shaft as blood splattered and her gun went spinning across the ground. Grinning in triumph Morrigan was tempted to fly over and see how broken the body was, but instead, she turned to help one of the other fights when the bullets sprayed across her back, destroying her jet pack and sending her crashing to the ground.

Artemis stood, holding the assault rifle that Gaige had thrown into the elevator shaft earlier, blood leaking from the slash in her side. She’d been careless, taking too much time interfering in the other fights and not paying enough attention to her own. Still she didn’t regret it, the wound would heal, but if she hadn’t freed Deathtrap or thrown her sewer incrusted clothes at the Wulf her friends likely would have died. As her opponent hit the ground hard, Artemis pulled herself over the edge and staggered to her feet. She wanted to make a break to where her rifle has slid, but it was on the other side of the fallen woman. As she watched the bird helmed woman painfully pushed herself to her feet and spun to face her, nearly unbalancing herself as she did. Keeping an eye on her, she reached up and unhooked the pack, letting it fall heavily to the floor. She took a step forward as the talons at the end of her foot folded up and around her legs. Artemis hefted the assault rifle and prepared to shoot the grounded bird-girl when to her surprise, she dashed forward, not at all like the slow unbalanced movement that she had expected and spun, snapping a kick out at her head. As Artemis dove underneath the leg she watched the talons snap out, slicing through the air where she just was. Impressed she rolled to her feet and gave her opponent an appraising look. The talons folded back so that the woman could stand easily as she turned and brought up her SMG to continue the fight.

Hel was shocked, not only had her snare been broken from outside the fight, but the same person had put her poor Fenrir on the defensive. She couldn’t figure out what had been in that bag, nor why someone would have something like that on them, unless they were planning to fight a creature like a Wulf. From the sound of it the girl was some kind of expert on animals, probably some kind of a hunter, so that might be why, but to have that kind of prep on a space station was odd. What was worse was that she was interfering in other fights, which Hel supposed was her own fault. She hadn’t taken the possibility into account, she had thought this would be a group of one on one fights and hadn’t thought that the others would be turning their attentions away from the opponent in front of them, what was more was the near seamless way they assisted each other, even as she watched the robot fired some kind of beam into the one fighting Morrigan and she heard her shield recharging. This wasn’t good, she was running out of tricks and her only hope was rapidly becoming that one of the other fights would quickly end in her sides favor, but from what she saw that wasn’t looking good. Morrigan was grounded. But it seemed that her opponent had mistaken the fact that she was a flier, for someone who couldn’t fight on the ground. That was a grave mistake, she had only taken to flying to be with her birds, she was far deadlier on the ground. As for Fenrir, he was bleeding from a number of wounds, but was still in the fight. The real problem was that neither of them was winning, at best it appeared to be stalemating. She continued reloading as she looked around and as she finished, she brought her rifle back up to try and drive the robot in front of her towards the remaining tethers still unused on the ceiling. She still had a few left, but since the robot was now aware of them, throwing any more seemed like it would be a waste.

Deathtrap was getting more and more annoyed, it didn’t seem like he was making any headway on his fight. It seemed that his best bet would be to keep dodging and wait for one of the other fights to end, but that didn’t seem to be likely any time soon. Gaige was still tangling with that big dog and Artemis was dodging around the one-time flier’s lighting fast kicks. He was trying his best to help them, but even doing what he could felt like it was only drawing the fight out, neither side seemed to be getting an advantage. Something needed to change and quick. He dodged another shot from the sniper, carefully avoiding those things on the ceiling, even as she tried to drive him towards them and fired back at her, cutting through her shield again. He sighed, this was taking too long, but even with his processor running through different scenarios he wasn’t able to find a better way out, so he had to have faith that something would change in one of the other fights.

Fenrir had stopped enjoying himself, first the redhead chew toy was dodging all over the place and continuing to shoot him in the side, or the bullets were misbehaving and bouncing around to hit him in the tail or on the snout, which really hurt. And then, when he finally got her pinned and was about to get a juicy bite, the stringy purple head threw something at him, and when he bit that, he was punished with a horrendous taste. Now he had no problem rolling in something dead, that was fun, or even eating something a bit rotty, he’d had to do that a few times, but this? This tasted like droppings and dead things gone really bad and oil and rust and dust all together, and he couldn’t get the taste out of his mouth. And while he tried, the redhead kept shooting him. And he was getting tired of it so he tried to ignore the taste in his mouth, telling himself that if he could just get a bite out of her, he could wash the bad taste away. He snapped his jaws furiously at her, driving her back, but even as he did, she kept dodging. He missed his mistress, usually she would step in and drop the annoyance, but he could tell that she was in trouble, the robot was flying around, dodging away, what was with these enemies and dodging anyway? But the robot kept dodging and firing that beam that made the air smell bad, like lightning, which was hurting her. He wanted to stop it, but he couldn’t leave the redhead alone. He knew he needed something to change, but he couldn’t figure out what to do.

Gaige was getting annoyed, this damn dog wasn’t dropping. It had also gotten the better of her and nearly taken her out. She needed to thank Artemis for that latter, she had sacrificed her cloths to distract the Wulf, not that she thought that they were salvageable, but still. The beast was still suffering from taking a bite, and if their smell had been anything to go by, she felt a great pity for it. Still it was her opponent and she needed to do something about it. So, she continued to fire at it, but the beasts hide was so thick that the shots seemed to have little effect. Artemis had told her that the creature should be able to be taken down the same way as one of the Woven, but she had shot this thing a bunch to no avail. She even tried to shoot it in the face, but with the constantly snapping jaws and thrashing about it was doing, not to mention her rapidly diminishing accuracy, she wasn’t having much luck. Maybe she should just ignore it, fire at the boss or the flier instead. Just focus on dodging this thing and get one of the others free to help her. She considered it for a moment, Artemis wouldn’t be happy to have interference, it seemed like it was some kind of grudge match going on there, though she didn’t really care that much about it. As for Deathtrap’s fight, she didn’t know how to help exactly other than trying to shoot her, but she hadn’t fired at Gaige yet, which meant that she had faith in her Wulf, not that Gaige blamed her, the thing was nasty. She wished she could switch places with Artemis, she felt that she would be able to take this thing down without a problem, the benefit of being a hunter, but her fight was too chaotic to envy, so she considered her options while continuing to dodge the snapping jaws in front of her.

Morrigan was starting to enjoy herself, it had been too long since she had been able to cut loose like this. It was obvious that her opponent had though her to be a flier, and she was, but once she lost the heavy pack, she was able to go all out. Letting her long legs and their extensions do the work. Still she was a bit mad at herself, she should have finished the girl off when she had hit her, but she had gotten cocky, thinking she had won and done the stupidest thing she could, turned her back on an opponent. It would have taken only a few seconds to confirm that she had won, so now instead of helping her boss, she was stuck in a close quarters fight. Not that she wasn’t winning, or at least she would be if she could just hit. It seemed that the girl wasn’t just a sniper, she was fairly good at dodging as well. The other problem was that when she was this close, she couldn’t let her birds attack out of fear of hitting one of them. Still all she had to do was keep the pressure on and she would soon drive the girl into a corner and finish her off, for good this time.

Artemis was regretting her choices, she shouldn’t have tried to take out the bird woman’s mobility, and instead should have just went for the head like usual. She had thought that if she shot her in the head, the shot might have been deflected by the helm, or that she would have dodged, but now she was thinking that she maybe should have went for the neck or at least the torso. Now she was being forced to do nothing but dodge. The assault rifle was doing no good at this range, so she was using it to block some of the kicks headed her direction. She needed to change the tempo of the fight, at least that was what she had heard it called by other hunters. When things aren’t going right, change the tempo. So, considering how the rest of the fights were going, she decided to give it a shot. The next time the woman kicked at her, she ducked under and threw the rifle at the back of her other leg. The rifle surprisingly hit her and caused her to at least stumble, giving Artemis enough time to draw her pistol and back up piece before she had turned back around. When she did, Artemis fired off two pistol rounds at her, hitting her in the chest and surprising her. But she took the shots and used the momentum to spin around, launching a arcing kick at her head. Ducking under Artemis brought her back up piece to bear and fired into the cybernetic extension that the woman was standing on. The shot tore through it sending pieces of metal scattering across the floor and sending the woman sprawling. Tired of this, Artemis aimed her cannon at the bird mask and started to pull the trigger when something bit into her leg causing her to nearly drop the guns in pain. Looking down she saw one of the tethers, like the one that had bound Deathtrap, sinking its teeth into her thigh. Swearing she popped her Digi-blade and sliced into it. The tether was strong and withstood the first impact, which sent waves of pain up through her thigh. Doing her best to ignore the pain, she hacked at it again, this time the cord severed, leaving the snakelike head still in her leg. Sparing a second to shoot a glare at the boss woman, she turned back to her own opponent in time to dodge back from her remaining cyber-talon’s kick. Having had enough, she shot the pistol into the leg Morrigan was standing on, knocking it from under her and sprawling her on the ground again.

Hel watched in frustration as the purple haired girl sliced through the tether in her leg, ignoring the pain. Without being able to perform a follow up shot, she could do nothing to stop her. She had already went against the wishes of her subordinate by interfering, but she couldn’t lose her, not because of her ego, not if she could do something to stop it. So she had, or at least tried to, but as she watched the girl slipped back from Morrigan’s kick and shot her in the leg, dropping her. This time, Hel would have to actively intervene. She brought up her rifle, feeling bad about shooting the girl without warning, but she wasn’t about to let that cause her to lose her friend. Just as she was about to pull the trigger, she felt something slam her in the back, followed rapidly by a pair of sharp impacts. They hit her hard enough to send her sprawling, the rifle sliding from her hands and across the floor. Trying to turn over to see what had happened she realized two things. The first was that she had been hit almost simultaneously by both the redheads crazy bouncing shot and the robot hitting her with its Digi-claws. The second of his strikes had severed the connector to the leg augments that she relied on to let her walk. Without them she wasn’t able to move, well that wasn’t accurate, she could move her legs, but they wouldn’t support her weight, rendering her effectively immobile. She managed to flop onto her back in time to see the robot prepping to end her, only for everything to go grey.

Gaige had seen what was about to happen and turned her gun away from the Wulf to shoot the boss before she could shoot Artemis, who was about to shoot Morrigan. She hit her, just as Deathtrap slashed her in the back, the combination sending her sprawling. To Gaige’s surprise, the Wulf hadn’t taken that time to attack her, instead throwing everything it had into sprinting towards his mistress. And just as Deathtrap was about to fire on her, the great beast slid over her, throwing its bulk between her and harm. Everyone froze, even the two on the other side of the room and watched and waited to see what was going to happen. Slowly Hel pushed against the side of Fenrir to try and get him to move. Reluctantly he shifted enough for her to push herself up. He quickly coiled around her, trying to shield her and prop her up at the same time.

“You win.” She said looking between Gaige and her robot “My life is forfeit, you may do with it, as you please, I just ask, one thing, of you, let me be, the only one, you take. Spare Fenrir, spare Morrigan, spare my troops, they will leave, they will go, and bother you, no more.”

Fenrir let out a growl, as if to say ‘NO’ and tried to cover her with his massive muzzle even as he rolled over exposing his throat in a clear sign of ‘Take me instead.’

“No!” Shouted Morrigan from the ground, trying to crawl over to her boss “This is my fault, I brought this on us, don’t make me live through this without you. If someone deserves to lose their life to this, it should be me.”

“Or we could just kill all of you.” Artemis flatly declared.

“Yeah, but then we’d have to fight them” Gaige said indicating the troops shifting nervously around the door “And that would be a pain.”

“Not to mention a waste of time and bullets.” Artemis agreed. “But it’s up to you. Just listing options.”

“I know.” She turned back to the figures in front of her and said “Alright. You, get over here and then both of you, toss your weapons over there, then, we’ll see about what to do.

Quickly they responded, doing what they were told and while they did, Artemis slid up to Gaige and whispered “Do you think we can trust them?”

“No, but it’s hard to kill them after they’ve surrendered. But if they make a move, we take them out, until then, let’s see what they have to say.”

She turned to the women “Alright, you’ve surrendered, now what? One of you had better get talking.”

Hel looked at them and said “What do you, want to know?”

“Well, I guess, why we shouldn’t kill you all, for starters?”

“That is a hard one, no matter what I say, you have to trust, that we won’t, stab you in the back, as they say, so what can be said, to make you, trust us, and let us go?”

“You have a point, but that’s your job. Convince us.”

“I cannot, I am not a person, who is good with, words, so I do not think, that I can do so, but I can be, totally honest with you, if you like, and answer anything, you want.”

“As someone who also isn’t a people person, I understand where she’s coming from.” Artemis muttered to Gaige “How do you convince someone that you’re sincere?”

“Yeah, I get that. Alright, so if you couldn’t convince me, why did you surrender?”

“I do not want, to waste the lives, of my friends.”

“That lines up with what she said before this all started.” Gaige muttered softly, knowing that Artemis would hear, and when she nodded slightly, she looked at Hel and continued “So if you care about them, why do you do what you do? Why be part of this gang of killers?”

“We do what we do, so that we can live, where we are from, there are laws, which we still follow, even if they do not, anymore where we came from, we leave to follow our laws, and live how we want, and to protect our friends, be they human, Wulf or Corvan, one law says to follow, the strong, I was a fool, and faced The Baron, his army was to strong, we surrendered before the fight. We couldn’t win, against those odds, so we followed him, but you defeated me, fairly, or close to it, so now I must choose, follow the one I surrendered to, or the one who defeated me, and I have chosen to, let you choose.”

“What if we don’t want followers?”

“We will do, what you like, if you do not want us, you may choose, what to do with us.”

“One second.” Gaige said, motioning for Artemis to join her “And babe, if they move you have permission to use that to kill them.”

“Urrg”

The girls moved a little ways away and keeping an eye on their captives Gaige asked “So, what do you think?”

“I don’t know if we can trust them, but it is kinda hard to kill them now that they’ve surrendered and tossed their weapons away.”

“I know right, plus it sounds like they aren’t that bad, she just wants to look out for her own, which I get, but where does that leave us?”

“Well in the end it’s up to you, you’re the one with the debt, and you said that if we got all the bounties it would be about enough to pay off your debt…”

“I know, but she is the lowest bounty on the list and I did kill one of the second in commands who was worth almost as much as her, plus if we can sell some of the gear we’ve found it could make up the difference. Besides, we still need to see what they have to negotiate with and if they can’t convince us, we could just turn her in alive. That is still an option.”

“But that would mean that we have to deal with her for the rest of the time we’re here. And there’s no telling what she’ll do if we run into another one of them.”

“True, but, be honest, do they really seem that bad to you?”

“Maybe not, but I have no idea of what they’ve done.”

“True, I don’t know, maybe they just remind me of myself and Mordecai, what with them caring for their friend or animal companions.”

“So, I guess it falls to me to be the mean one.” She turned to the sitting women and yelled “What’s in it for us if we let you go?”

“You want us to barter for our lives?” Morrigan shouted back, sounding indigent.”

“It is a fair question, hers I mean, we have asked them, to let us go, we have a price, on our heads, they are entitled to, some compensation, if they let us live, are they not?”

“Maybe, but it’s a disgusting thing to ask.”

“Perhaps, but then again, is what we do, any better?” She turned to her captors and continued “If we have something, sufficiently valuable, to you, you will let us go?”

“Not necessarily. If you can convince us, you could just walk away, otherwise, yes, if what you offer is of enough interest to us, we promise to let you go.”

“We could swear, to give up, this life, find a planet, bother no one, who doesn’t bother us, first.” Hel said “We could just leave, never look back, we didn’t want this anymore.”

“So why did you stay?”

“Like I said, we lost to, The Baron, and we thought, maybe we could, help keep him from, doing anything, too bad, to counter some of, the harsher, more bloodthirsty voices, around him.”

“And did it work?”

“To some degree, but his time is, over and others, eye the throne, bloodthirsty ones, vicious to the core, those who live only, to inflict pain, so we wanted to leave, we couldn’t fight them, they’re are too many, and we, too few, and we feel each lose, as a friend, while they don’t.”

Gaige leaned in and whispered “I say we let them go, get the promise out of them and say goodbye.”

“You’re the boss here. But if they betray us, I won’t be held responsible.”

“Fair enough.” She straitened up and declared “Alright, say I believe you, what next?”

“That depends, on you.”

“Aren’t you the boss of these troops? If so, make a choice, what do you want to do?”

“I would like” Hel paused and seemed lost for a moment “I do not know, it has been so long, since I chased what I wanted, that I have forgotten what it was, but like you said, I am a leader, so I must, think of my, as you called them, troops and what is, best for them, so if I had a choice, we would leave, look for a planet, to settle on, or to adventure on, but one that we could, do that together.”

“Alright, fine. If you swear to give this life up, and I mean all of it, the crime, the name, no more gangs, no revenge, none of it. If you can swear that, we’ll let you go. Oh, and I mean all of you.” Gaige said meeting Hel’s eyes.

“I swear, on my honor, on my life and on Fenrir’s life, that I will live, a clean life, as best as I am able, for the rest of my days.” She said closing her eyes and bowing her head.

Fenrir let out a bark and bowed his head.

Morrigan looked at her boss, before reaching up and taking off her helm and tossed it to Artemis’s feet. Underneath she had a surprisingly youthful face, with large red eyes and short black hair. The most notable thing about her though was the scars under each eye, a crescent just wider than her eye bisected by a vertical scar running halfway down her cheek.

She looked at Artemis with hatred, before sighing and bowing her head “You have won, fairly. I will follow Hel wherever she goes. So, if she wants to give up this life, I will too. So, I swear the same thing she has, on my honor, on her life and mine, I will live a clean life, as best as I am able.”

When she raised her head, her eyes were clear, the cloud of hate was gone and she turned to her boss and picked her up, slipping her onto the back of the giant Wulf.

As one, the rest of the troops tossed their helmets and repeated the promise.

Hel looked at the girls and said “You may feel, more comfortable, if we let you, go first, we will wait here, till you’ve gone, and then leave this place, for good.”

The girls nodded and grabbed their things, before waiting for Deathtrap to collect the parts that he had set aside and they left.

After they had gone Morrigan watched the door and leaned over “You didn’t warn them about that one.”

“Nor did you.”

“Maybe I still have some resentment towards them.”

“I think, I might, as well.”

She looked at the door they had left through and added “Still, I wish them well.”

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Chapter 25

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Technologies Department

“So, why did you let them go?” Artemis asked as they walked through the store rooms.

“In truth? Probably because she asked us to spare her troops. If she had tried to sacrifice them to save herself, I would have just shot her, but it seemed that she had genuine affection for them, and that they felt the same for her. And before you ask, no I don’t feel bad about killing any of her troops.”

“I don’t think you did, I think that was me.”

“Wait, you’re right, that’s probably why I don’t feel bad.”

“I don’t either, does that make me a monster?”

“No, and stop calling yourself that, alright? You aren’t a monster, you’re not evil, or ugly or any of that stuff that you keep saying.”

“Sure.” Came the response, but it was clear that she didn’t mean it.

Before Gaige could reply, a familiar voice came from her ECHO. “Beware, there, ah, seems to be a gathering up ahead, in the central area, and I though you should know about it.” A.I.ngel’s voice said through it.

“Got it.” Gaige whispered back and nodded to the other two, whom had flattened against the door frame.

Artemis peeked around the corner before scampering over to one of the partially melted pillars and crouched in the shadows behind it. As she peered around it, she could make out a collection of leaders on the other side of the room. Straining her ears, she could barely make out what they were saying.

“Look Mici.” The thin black man said to his huge companion, who looked like a bandit with his heavily tattooed rippling muscles and the skull he wore over his face. Across his chest was a string of cyber-eyes and optic sensors.

“I keep telling you it’s Miclantecutli” He snarled to the smaller man.

“And I keep telling you, no one can pronounce that.” The well-dressed black man replied in a smooth as butter voice. He wore a suit, no doubt armored, in black, with a purple shirt with gold tips on the collar and a thin green tie. A thin cigar hung from his mouth as he tugged his cuffs while he talked and across the room, Artemis could see the gold and jeweled cufflinks shine. In his other hand he held a cane, which was an odd sight on the battlefield and his face was covered in white chalk, creating an almost skull like image.

“Anubis can.” Came the grating reply.

“Yes, but he’s him, and what he can do, should not be held as an example of what normally can be done.” Came the smooth reply “That said, we should get moving.”

“What about the women.” Came a harsh metallic statement from the last of the leaders, a black armored man even bigger than Mici. His armor stretched from head to toe, reveling not a speck of skin and strangest of all was his helmet, which was shaped like a narrow-faced dog. It turned and moved in a way that Artemis had never seen a helm do, almost like it was alive. His ‘ears’ twitched and the ‘eyebrows’ shifted over glowing red lenses. It would have taken a lot of work to construct something like that, but the effect on intimidating an opponent would make it worth it.

“Hel is exploring the storage area, trying to find something there, and as for Shiva? Well we’re better off havin this discussion without her, aren’t we?”

“I suppose.”

“Right I am. So then, as I was sayin, Mici, you take your men and secure the lab, that one to be precise” The thin man said motioned to the Bio-lab with his cane. “Anubis, you back him up, but focus more on keeping this area under control.”

“And what’ll you be doing while we do all the work.” Mici sneered.

“Why Mici, it almost sounds like you don’t want to go in there to kill all those things. Would you prefer that I give that honor to Anubis? Or Shiva? Now I’m sure she would be more than happy to take that job.”

“You leave her out of this.” Came the snappy reply “That psycho bitch can keep doin whatever it is she has been doin. I never said I didn’t want to do it, I just wanted to know what you’d be doin, while I do the killin?”

“Ah, is that so, well my good Mici, I have to go and find out exactly what that ‘psycho’ as you called her, has in fact been up to. Then I need to coordinate with Hel and see if we can find out what’s been killin all of my lieutenants.”

“This is an acceptable division of tasks.” Anubis growled.

“Fine by me.” Mici said sullenly “Is that all? All right boys, let’s go.” He yelled to his band of bandits and psychos, leading them into the Bio-lab with a whoop.

“I will never understand that man.” The thin man said to Anubis before placing his hand on the big man’s shoulder and walking away. Anubis stood for a moment and then turned and walked out himself, no doubt to organize his troops.

Artemis took advantage of this to motion frantically for the other two to get going and followed them quickly across the side of the room and through the Tech department door.

“What was that about?” Gaige puffed leaning against the door.

“Seemed to be a meeting of three of the remaining leaders.”

“And what, you didn’t think we could take them?”

“No, we had enough trouble with one of them, and her two subordinates.”

“I was kidding. Even I’m not that overconfident, least not yet.”

“So how is the Anarchy going?”

“Oh, I’m getting up there. Still got a ways to go though. But enough about that, we should get going.”

They pushed off the wall and headed up the stairs, stopping briefly to close the blast door behind them before proceeding up till they reached the top, when Gaige stopped them and said “Well, this is our stop. Just let us know when you’re ready to place the connector in there.”

“Will do, you two be safe, let me know if anyone comes knocking.”

With a wave Gaige headed into one of the labs to start collecting the parts they needed for the machine, while Artemis led Deathtrap into one of the machine shops, where he dropped off the items he had been carrying. He nodded to her before flying back to help Gaige, leaving Artemis to her work.

She clamped one of the pieces in place and set about working on it with one of the precision tools there, slowly measuring and slicing it until it was the exact size she needed and not a micron off, with perfectly parallel sides. Setting that aside she went to work on the connectors, splitting three of them into parts and working the edges till they were perfect. The lenses came next and then the power connector, each piece had to be precise, they all had to fit together perfectly.

When she was finished with that she sat back. She had lost herself in to work, focusing completely on it to the point of losing the rest of the world. Glancing at the clock she was surprised, she had forgotten to check the time when she had started, but she was sure that at least an hour must have passed. Looking around she dug into her bag and pulled out a sandwich. Taking it and a canteen she moved to another bench and ate with gusto. She didn’t bother savoring it, taking large bites and washing them down so that she could get back to work. She wondered if she should take some down to Gaige, the other girl must be getting hungry as well, she’d have to take something when she went to check on her later, but for right now, she needed to finish what she was working on.

At a third bench she quickly assembled the last things she needed and started transporting them up to the office where A.I.ngel was waiting.

“Ah, hello. Is everything going alright? Was my tip helpful? I was worried since no one came to see me.” She said from her screen.

“Wha…Sorry. We kinda got distracted, everything’s fine, we got the parts we needed, and my part of the assembly is done. I just gotta move the pieces up here and do the final assembly here.”

“Really. So you mean that it will be ready soon? I can not wait.”

“Well, we are still missing the parts from the Bio-lab.”

“Oh.”

“We thought that since that would rile them up, those Pseudo-Sirens I mean, that we should get everything ready first, so that we just have to dash in and get what we need from there.”

“Ah, yes, I seem to remember that was what was decided before you left. I am sorry.”

“It’s fine. We’ll just finish assembling everything here and get you transferring before we go.”

“Um, what happens if you do fail?”

“Well, to be honest, it depends, if I fail when I’m trying to do the connection, then the room explodes, killing you and maybe me, depending. If we fail in the Bio-lab, then we’ll have transferred you already and will just take the computer or whatever we’ve got you stored in with us and can build you a new robot body.” She paused and looked at the girl on the screen “I’m sorry, I’m not that good with, well dealing with people. I should have got Gaige for this, she’s way better at dealing with people then me.”

“No, it is alright, I kinda prefer it this way. You were honest about it, which is much better then what most people I have met would do.”

“Yeah well, I appreciate you trying to be kind, but I should get going, still a lot to do before we can get out of this place.”

“Ah, well, I should let you get back to work then.” She said sounding a bit down.

Artemis couldn’t take that, so she quickly added “Yeah, oh, one more thing, that heads up you gave us was greatly appreciated. So, thanks for that.”

“You are welcome.” She replied suddenly beaming.

Artemis turned and went out only to find herself face to face with Gaige.

“Aw, that was sweet.” Gaige said with a smirk.

“Oh, shut up.” Came the snappy reply.

“What, I was being serious, I thought it was nice, the way you were trying to cheer her up. You might be getting the hang of this talking to people thing after all.”

“Did you need something, or are you just here to blow hot air?”

“Or maybe not.” Gaige said with a shake of her head “I came up here to try and figure out where the machine could go, but I’m not having much luck. I think it’s gonna have to go down a floor, which means that we’re gonna need more cables. How’s your end coming along?”

“I was just bringing the parts up to assemble and then we get to see if it works or just blows everything up.”

“Well there’s a cheery thought.”

“Yeah, well, I was just about to finish this and then come find you.”

“Oh, what for?”

“Uh, to let you know that I was about to start. Oh, and I was gonna ask if you wanted something to eat.”

“Yes! I didn’t want to interrupt your work, since it was the most delicate, but I’ve been starving.”

“Fine. Follow me, I’ve got food in my pack. I’ll dig some out when we get to the workshop.”

She led the way back to where she had been working and riffled through her bag before tossing another sandwich to Gaige, who tore it open and dove in.

“Oh, that’s good.” She moaned through a mouthful “I wish Deathtrap was here, I could use a drink.”

She caught the look the other girl shot her and clarified “What? He’s got root beer on tap you know. I switched out the margarita mix before we came here.”

“Should have kept the alcohol.”

“What? You want a drink? Here? I’m shocked.”

“No. It’s just that alcohol has a lot of uses. Disinfectant, Molotov cocktails, cleaning parts.”

“I should have known.”

Artemis picked up another handful of things and looked around “Well, I think this is the last of it. I’m gonna go set things up, and get started. No one come upstairs.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

“No, seriously, be careful. If you think you can’t do it, just stop and walk away. We can think of some other way to go about this.”

“Something that the Doctor couldn’t think of in months?”

“New eyes on an old problem, it does work. Sometimes.”

“So, did you think of anything while we were getting all this stuff?”

“Well, no, but I wasn’t really trying.”

“Didn’t think so.”

“How about you?”

“Not really, I figured this was the only way that the Doc could think of, that meant she probably had already considered anything I could think of. Like if Angel is Jack’s daughter, would there be a way to separate his DNA out from hers to use on the scanner?”

“Wow, that might actually work.”

“Do you have any idea how to do that?”

“Well, no, but”

“So that’s out.”

“Wait. We could go get Timothy. He might be able to override things.”

“That would work? The only problem would be having to go get him. We’d have to leave her here while we went, and who knows what the things in this place would do while we were gone.”

“OK, point, but it is a valid backup plan that the Doc couldn’t have thought of. So if you don’t think you can do it, promise me that you’ll walk away and we’ll go with that, alright?”

“Fine.”

“Promise.”

“Alright, I just said I would.”

“You don’t seem to understand how this works. You have to say that you promise to walk away if you don’t think you can do it and we’ll go get Timothy.”

“Jeez you’re persistent, fine, I promise that if I don’t think I can do it, I’ll walk away and we’ll go get Timothy to do it. Happy?”

“I guess.”

“All that for an I guess, sheesh.”

Gaige stuck out her tongue at her before taking another huge bite of the sandwich.

Artemis rolled her eyes and gave a wave as she left.

Gaige watched her go, a gnawing worry filling her stomach like lead.

Artemis carried her stuff up to the office and set them on the desk before turning to the screen where A.I.ngel was looking at her.

“Alright, I’m gonna get started in a minute, just as soon as I get these things put together. Once I tell you, I need you to be quiet. I mean really quiet. Not a sound. One wrong move and boom, that’s it for you, and probably me too. And since I don’t want to go boom, silence. Got it?”

“I understand. Not a sound.”

“Good.”

She got to work assembling a small adjustable device and once that was good, set it aside and pulled out some of the tools she had on her. Crouching down she got to work on the panel at the base of the monitor. Carefully removing it, she checked its back for wires and traps before setting it aside and looking into the space.

Wires and circuit boards filled much of it and she didn’t see what she needed to. Digging out the goggles she had brought with she slipped them on and saw the problem that the Doctor had warned about, the space was nearly filled with cris-crossed laser sensors. Looking past them, she spotted the port she needed and then charted the path she needed through the sensors. It was a narrow path, too small for the plug she needed to fit into the port, but that had been taken into account.

She brought over the device and set it up in front of the opening and after adjusting it to be precisely where she needed it, anchored it to the floor. She took a couple of deep, calming breaths before opening her eyes and getting to work on the hard part.

First, she took one of the pieces she had made in the workshop and attached it to the end of the precision bar she had made. Then she carefully fed it through the devise on the floor which allowed her to slide the part forward without it wavering as she did so. It slid between the sensors with barely a page’s width to spare. With a turn and a tap, it slid into the connector. Detaching it from the bar she slid the bar back and attached the next piece.

She felt the cold sweat running down her back as she slid the next piece into place, lining it up with the first and connecting it to the port as well. The next piece attached to the backs of the first two, connecting them and with a little finagling, it was set. The last piece was the lens, which she had to screw into the connector to finish the device.

Not relaxing till the bar was free and the brace was moved away, she finally slumped against the wall and let out a great shuddering breath. She couldn’t relax too much since she had one more thing to do, she marked where the line through the sensors was and marked it on the plate she had removed from the wall. She took the plate out of the room and a minute later came back with it, with a newly cut hole in it. She reattached it to the wall and stood up carefully.

She looked at the screen where the girl was giving her the universal look of ‘Is it OK?’.

“We should be good.” Artemis said with a small quiver in her voice.

“I am so relieved that nothing went wrong.”

“Yeah, that makes two of us.”

“So, what happens now?”

“Now I need to get the other part of this contraption, as well as a computer to store you in.”

Seeing the confusion on the girls face she elaborated “Alright, how this works is, I just set up a laser transmitter in there, connected to your memory storage. I’ll set up another one out here that’s connected to a computer, thought the original plan was to not have that and instead connect it directly to the thing that Gaige is building, but we figured that we should do it this way in case something went wrong, we could still take you out of here if you were in a computer. So anyway, we’ll transfer your consciousness from where it is now to that computer. We then take that and hook it up to the device that will make your body, or if that doesn’t work for whatever reason, we can take it with us and build you a new robotic body. Not ideal, but better than being stuck here. Any questions?”

“Will I be conscious for this?”

“I have no idea.”

“Oh, OK”

“Sorry this isn’t my area of expertise, I should go get Gaige, she might be able to answer that for you.”

“Alright. But if I can ask, what is your area of expertise?”

“I’m a hunter. Or at least I was, I’m, well we’re, kinda between jobs at the moment.”

“I see.”

“Be back in a moment.”

She exited the room and was surprised that her leg was still jelly like when she got to the stairs, almost folding under her as she tried to descend. By leaning on her left leg, she managed to get down and almost tripped over Gaige, who was pacing at the bottom of the stairs.

“Oh thank goodness.” She said grabbing the other girl “How’d it go?”

“Well, nothing blew up, so there is that.”

“I kinda figured that one out on my own, thank you very much.”

“The device is in place. I just need the second part, and the computer and we are good to go.”

“That’s great. Of course, I wasn’t worried, had complete faith in you.”

Deathtrap buried his face in his hand at the transparent lie, before giving Artemis a pat on the shoulder.

“Thanks bud, I think I need to sit down for a minute though.”

“Root beer?”

“That sounds…good, thank you.” She took the proffered glass and sat down “How’s your end going?”

“Well, we’ve got all the parts, at least the ones on this side, and are just about done with the pre-assembly. We just need to get them here and put together.”

“Have you decided where you’re gonna build it?”

“Well, initially we were thinking to build it in the waiting area, but that would require us to drag all those parts upstairs, then we thought about building it here. Nice open space, looks good right? But then Deathtrap pointed out that if we’re transferring her mind to a computer, we don’t need it to be right next to the room, right? So why get all those cables and all that stuff if we could just build it where we were working.”

“That’s, pretty smart actually. Good catch.”

“I know right? He’s not just a pretty face. So why don’t you finish setting up and get the transfer started while we go put the machine together.”

“Yep.”

“Finish your root beer first, your part can wait a bit, at least till you catch your breath.”

“I can’t argue with that. Oh, A.I.ngel wanted to know, will she be conscious for the transfer, or being locked in the computer?”

“It should be like falling asleep for her.”

“Well that’s good.”

“Yeah. Well, I should get back to it, take as long as you need. We’ll leave as soon as everything’s ready.”

Gaige and Deathtrap left for their work area and once they were secured in it, he turned to her with a look and a “Ugrru”

“I know.” Came the reply as she toyed with a wrench “I’ll talk to her later about it, I just don’t want to distract her when she’s working around explosives.”

He shot her a look.

“I swear, I’m not just putting it off.”

“Urgu”

“Damn it, fine, it’s a bit hard to bring up, I mean look what happened when she tried.”

“Urru”

“Fine, as soon as we’re done here and the transfer is started, I’ll talk to her, OK?”

He nodded with a look that said ‘you better’ and let the subject drop.

“Now, let’s get this thing assembled.”

While they worked, Artemis headed back up with the last armload of equipment, being careful to set it on the far side of the room, away from the work area in front of the computer. A few minutes of quiet working latter and she had it all assembled and ready to go.

Double checking everything she tried speaking with the girl on the screen.

“So ah, everything’s just about ready. When you’re, ah, ready for this, let me know, and we can start, that is if you’re sure you want to go through with this.”

“I am. Sure that is. I, well I want to thank you, all three of you, for trying to do this for me. You did not have to, but you put yourselves at risk for me and I can not let that go to waste. I am ready when you are.”

“Well then, I’m gonna flip the switch, Gaige says it will be like going to sleep, and when you wake up, you’ll be in your new body, whatever that turns out to be.”

“That sounds nice. Please proceed.” The girl said with a smile.

“Alright, here goes, something.” Artemis said pushing the button while whispering “At least I hope.”

The screen went dark and the machines started humming as a glowing line appeared connecting the device on the outside with the connector in the terminal and the indicator on the computer started counting as the transfer started. She sat there watching for a minute to make sure that nothing went wrong before scooting away from it and picking herself up, careful not to bump anything and heading down to where the others were working.

She walked into the lab and was greeted by a crazy machine. Wires and circuit boards stuck out in weird places and three large bars rose almost cage-like in the middle of a huge tank, each one covered in lenses and injectors.

Deathtrap was carrying over the last of the parts as Gaige lay half under the base of the device, tightening something. Not wanting to interrupt Artemis left and went back to the lab where she had been working and packed her stuff up.

By the time she came back down the other two were just finishing up and doing the final check. Noticing her, Gaige gave a small nod and finished her inspection.

“All set upstairs?” She asked rubbing the grease off her hands and onto her shorts.

“Transferring as we speak. You set here?”

“You know it.”

“So, shall we go get those last parts and see what kind of nightmares the Bio-lab was up to?”

“Ug, I suppose we must.”

“Urrgur” Deathtrap said giving Gaige a nudge in the back.

“Fine, right. Before we go there’s just one thing.”

Artemis turned with a confused look on her face.

Gaige sighed “We need to talk.”

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Chapter 26

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Bio-lab

‘How is it that three little words can elevate the heart to new heights, but simply by adding one word can plunge it into ice?’ Was what flashed through Artemis’s mind as Gaige looked at her awkwardly. ‘We need to talk. Have those four words ever preceded anything good? Have I ever heard them used in a tone that wasn’t angry or sad? Have they ever been said except right before someone’s spirit gets crushed?’

Her short-circuited mind finally snapped back into gear, she knew what this was about, she had in fact knew it was coming for some time. Gaige was going to leave her. But Artemis didn’t think she could handle that, not right then, so some part of her screamed ‘Stall!’

So she said the only thing she could. “Can we put this off till after. I mean, I don’t think that I… we need any distractions right before we, uh, do things, and, um, well, get this done?”

‘Brilliant’ she thought bitterly ‘Now I just proved why she should go and gave her another reason to do it. Great move you idiot.’

“Um, oh, OK, I guess.” Gaige said, not knowing how to start this conversation anyway. She knew what had to be said, but how was she supposed to convince the other girl anyway? Still it was no reason for her to be nervous, she just had to tell her straight out, that she didn’t owe Gaige anything anymore, that she needed to stop being pushed around by her, that she understood if she wanted Gaige to leave the ship when this was over. But even though she could play the conversation in her mind, for some reason when she was confronted by the person herself, she found that the words died in her throat. She was sure that she would say it wrong and that the other girl would take something misspoke the wrong way. Gaige wasn’t all that good with truly emotional things, sure she was great at yelling at people and work-related stuff, but when it came to what she supposed would be called a heart to heart, she felt at least as awkward as she thought Artemis felt. So, some part of her was grateful to have more time to fail to come up with a way to say what she needed to.

Deathtrap on the other hand buried his head in his hands. He wished he had hair, so he could pull it out. Why was this so hard, she just needed to say a few simple words, he would back her up, and clarify things if she misspoke, but it had to be her that said them, he couldn’t instigate this any more than he already had. At times like this he wished he didn’t have the crystal in his face so he could go beat his head against a wall. Still there was only so much that he could do, so he shot Gaige a dirty look, and shook his head, but that was the extent of it. She would say it, he knew that, he just wished she would get it out so that the other girl would have time to think about it, preferably before they got all the way back to Eden 5.

“Well, uh, good.” Gaige said “Lets, uh, get out of here. Shall we?”

They headed downstairs and across the lobby, cautiously checking to make sure that there wasn’t anyone there, and over to the door. Peeking out Artemis spotted movement and held up a hand to stop anyone else from moving. She slipped around the door and slunk silently through the shadows over to one of the pillars and peeked out.

She recognized the two men that were holding a meeting of some kind, the tall thin black man and the massive dog headed Anubis.

“Miclantecutli is facing stronger resistance than expected, I have sent half of my men to back him up, but they seem to be having trouble.

It seemed that the boss must have just arrived and was getting a status report from the dog headed leader.

“I see, I don’t have many troops to spare, but I guess I’ll have to send in what I can. Clean up this mess as fast as you can.”

“What about the women?”

The boss sighed and spread his hands in a gesture of surrender “Hel’s left us and Shiva’s down below looking for something, so don’t expect help from them.”

“What do you mean that Hel has left, is she terminated?”

“No, I mean she left, as in she got on her ship and got the heck out of here.”

“I do not follow, I thought she was loyal to you?”

“Yeah, well, so did I. But it seems that she’s done with this line of work or something like that. I don’t know, I was a bit busy trying to deal with Shiva’s latest whim and trying to organize the troops I could scrape together from what was left of Hades and Kalma’s gangs into something usable, to figure out what she was saying. All I got, was that she must have lost to someone and made a deal to save her skin.”

“…Will we be hunting her down after this?”

“Depends on how this goes.” He sighed “Look you keep holding this area until Mici finishes in there, I’ve got to get back to the ships, the best I could do, was to get the remnants to defend them, but they won’t hold long without someone to hold their hands and kick their butts.”

“Understood.”

With that they moved back towards the ships before separating and Anubis thudded up the stairs as the boss vanished down the hall.

Once they were out of sight Artemis snuck back and slipped back around the door.

“What’s up?” Gaige whispered.

“Seemed to be a meeting of the minds. Two of the ones from earlier were havin a chat. Seems that Hel was good on her word and left, both the station and the group. Other than that, one of them is a bit of a problem child and is looking for something down below, and more importantly, it seems that they’ve run into a bit of resistance trying to take the Bio-lab.”

“That should be good news for us, right?”

“I hope so, but we should get goin before any more reinforcements arrive. Keep your eyes open though, one of them is guarding this area.”

“Maybe we should just take him now.”

“Yeah sure, why not.”

“Jeez, I was joking, I mean, it sounds like reinforcements are on the way and I don’t want to get trapped in a fight.”

“Yeah, fair enough, but we’re still gonna need to take him at some point. If we want to get paid that is.”

“I know, but the fewer troops he has with him the better.”

“Fine, it’s your call, let’s go.”

Gaige watched the other girls back, sensing something was wrong, but she didn’t know what, so she just had to shrug and follow along as best she could.

They slipped around the outside of the room, darting from pillar to pillar at Artemis’s signals. They kept an eye out for troops, spotting a number of them patrolling around the upper floors and eventually managed to get to the door to the Bio-lab without incident.

The doors stood open, like a dark maw inviting them in. They slipped in and scanned the room, guns drawn.

The entrance area was much the same as the Tech department, an open area leading to a desk, with a stairwell to one side and doors around the room. The similarities ended there, this room had been ransacked, it was stripped of almost everything. The walls had been stripped down to the metal frames, the counter top had been ripped off and even the shelves behind it were torn out. The other main difference was the place looked like a battlefield, bullet holes and pockmarks covered nearly all the exposed surfaces except the floor, which was covered in corpses, both of bandits and the Pseudo-Sirens.

It seemed that the bandit troops had just left their dead and kept pushing forward and the Pseudo-Sirens must be throwing most of their numbers at them in an attempt to drive them out, since there was only one worker collecting the dead.

The creature paused from dragging one of the bodies and turned to look at them. Artemis didn’t hesitate and dashed forward, popping her blade as she did. The creature dropped the body and threw its hand out at her, the arm unfolding along the lines as it did. She ducked underneath and spun, slicing the arm off before plunging the blade into the things neck. She viciously tore the blade sideways, letting the headless body slump over.

Giving her arm a shake she retracted the blade before turning and motioning for the other two to follow.

Gaige frowned and shook her head, that was way more vicious then she was used to the other girl acting, she usually made an effort to be as efficient as possible, but this was somehow different. Not knowing what to say, she moved into the room, as she did so, Deathtrap floated over to the stairs and glanced up before moving to a more central location as Gaige stepped around the ruined desk and glanced behind it.

Behind the counter was as bad as she though it would be, it seemed that someone had not only tore up anything they could, but broke apart anything they couldn’t and took the parts. Only the metal remained. She stepped carefully over the dead bodies and looked closer. In the end she found nothing of use and sighed before stepping back out, to a sigh from Artemis.

“What?” Gaige whispered.

“If you’re done wasting time, can we get this done?”

“Geez, somebodies in a mood.”

“I heard that.”

“Good.”

Artemis glared ahead for a second before sighing and turning back “So where are we going?”

“How would I know where they kept things?”

“Fine. Which way do you want to go?”

“Well the fighting; still probably going on upstairs, so we should use that to sneak around and find what we’re here for.”

“Obviously. Pick a path and let’s go.”

Gaige sighed and looked around, trying to think when Deathtrap did his best to roll his eyes and flew towards the door at the back of the room with a “Urrrgur” of disgust.

“Fine” Artemis said “Least someone made a decision.” And followed after him, leaving Gaige there by herself.

“What’s with her today?” She muttered as soft as she could before chasing after them.

The gathered around the door and hit the button to open it. As soon as it slid open the girls swung through it, sweeping the room with their guns.

The room itself was massive, stretching out in front of them. It was the size of a small hanger and was filled with tubes, each of which was big enough that a badass psycho could fit in one without much difficulty. Each one was lit with a blue light that illuminated the bubbles lazily drifting upwards through the viscous liquid that filled them, and in each one, was a body. They were all females floating in a fetal position, each one at different stages of development and were connected by an umbilical to something that was at the top of the tank.

They seemed to be in groups. The ones directly in front of them all appeared to be in their teens, each one’s left arm showed deep scoring. The ones a little further in were children. To one side were ones that looked like they were about to be released, and to the right were ones so small that they couldn’t even be identified as people.

“This is where they’re made.” Gaige let out in a whisper.

Artemis bit back the comment that rushed to her lips and after swallowing it instead said “Should we destroy them?”

“As much as I’d like to say yes, that would alert some…thing of our presence and we need to avoid that for as long as possible. We should take this time to find where the tanks of, well, biological material are and see if we can extract some.”

“I’ve been thinking about that.”

‘Oh joy.’ Snapped through Gaige’s mind but she kept a straight face and motioned for the other girl to continue.

“That stuff has been grown and broke down an unknown number of times, right? How stable is it? I mean I don’t want to use that stuff and have it break down on her right away.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know. I doubt that would happen, I mean it’s probably being broke down to just the basic building blocks, but I have no real knowledge about this Bio stuff. What do you think babe?”

“Urgurr”

“Yeah, I suppose that could work. Why don’t you sneak back and grab a few of the bandits while we look for the proper place to do it. But be careful while you do it.”

“Grab a few of the female ones.” Artemis chimed in “What, I don’t want her to be made out of a guy if we can help it.”

Gaige just shook her head and said “Come on, let’s see if we can find where they’re keeping the stuff.”

Artemis looked around and quickly spotted the pipes and tubes leading off through the grating on the ceiling and headed off, following them while Gaige trailed along after her, keeping an eye on their surroundings. The pipes led them deeper into the room, twisting and turning, joining with others as it went till finally it went thought the wall, leaving them standing in front of a blank section of the wall.

Looking around, Gaige spotted a door part way down the side and moved over to it. Artemis joined her and leaned in to listen through it and when she didn’t hear anything motioned for it to be opened.

Gaige mouthed a count and slid the door open for the other girl to burst through. She stood scanning the room for a moment before sliding carefully in. Sneaking over the catwalk that ran into the room from the door she came to an intersection and looked around.

The room was large, narrower than the last one but taller, going both up and down a full story from where she stood. Large vats filled the room, accessible from the floor above, with steaming pipes running everywhere. The steady drip of condensation echoed around the room and made the place an auditory nightmare, which also led to the place being uncomfortable humid. Artemis could already feel her clothes sticking to her and despite being used to jungles, she was caught by the unexpectedness of it. And then there was the smell, an indescribable mixture of caustic burning the inside of her nose with a raw meaty undercurrent that nearly caused her to gag.

She tried powered through it and moved forward, but her senses were going haywire. She regretted not having her mask on hand, it had been in the bag with her cloths that she had thrown at Fenrir, so she paused and slid off her arm wrap and tied it around her lower face. The tang of sweat greeted her as she did, but it was much better than the burning smell she had been facing.

She eventually came to a set of stairs and softly padded up them to find herself facing a large open area, the tops of the vats ran just above the catwalk and control pillars stuck up at random intervals. She scanned the room, spotting two drone workers trudging along between the controls, turning dials and punching buttons as they went.

Switching to her rifle, she lined up the shots, waiting to make sure they were alone as well as calculating where they would be able to run to if things went wrong. Squeezing the trigger, she fired off a shot that slammed into the nearest ones head before ricocheting into the second one, dropping both as their heads vanished.

Seconds later Gaige came flying up the stairs behind her. “What happened?” She panted.

“Had to take out the workers.” Came the muffled reply.

“Whats with the scarf you look…oh god what’s that smell, I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“How did you not smell it on your way up here?”

“I’m gonna…Oh man, I was, running, focused on getting here, thought you, might need, hurk , help, I gotta go, can’t, nope…” And she stumbled back down the stairs, heading for the door.

“Huh, I mean it was bad, but that was a bit dramatic.” Artemis said watching the other girl go. She thought about it, ‘OK’ she thought ‘so if she ran without catching the smell all the way up, and then took a big breath, maybe it would be worse, but still, it’s not that bad, right?’. She pulled down her improvised mask and took a breath.

“Oh god” she choked out gagging “That’s so much worse, I think I’m gonna…I’m gonna wait, in the other room, just until Deathtrap catches up, yeah, that’s it.” She said to herself as she made a dash for the door.

Slipping through she tore the cloth from her face and took a great gulp of air, savoring the sensation of it, ignoring the smells of oil and the strange liquid from the tubes as she did, it was glorious compared to the room she had just been in. She took a second deep breath and looked to where Gaige was slumped against the wall, her head at knee level and then to her dismay at Deathtrap who was just floating up to them with a pair of female corpses under his arms.

“You took your time choosing.” Gaige said in direct opposition to how Artemis was feeling. “Still, those should do nicely.”

She turned and looked back through the door before shooting a sidelong glance at Artemis and asked “Don’t suppose you have another of those masks in your pack, like the one you were wearing in the sewer? What happened to that one anyway?”

“It was in the bag I threw at that Wulf. And no, I didn’t pack a second, which is why I’m using my arm sleeve for a respirator.”

“Oh. Do you have anything I could use?”

Artemis sighed and opened her pack to sort through what she had and eventually came up with her last spare sleeve and grudgingly handed it over. As long as she was in her pack, she pulled out a canteen and took a swig before turning back to the door with a sigh.

“I suppose we need to be headed back in there.”

“Ugg.” Came the reply.

“You need to head in there too, I have no idea how to run one of those machines.”

“Uh, neither do I.”

“Yeah, but you’re the mechanical expert.”

“Darn it, sometimes it’s a pain to be good at something. Well, lead on.”

Artemis shoved her stuff back in the bag before tying the cloth back around her face and sighing again. It seemed to her she had been sighing a lot lately.

The room was no better the second time, if anything it was worse now that they knew what was waiting for them. The only one without a problem was Deathtrap, who floated along behind them, and even he wasn’t having a good time, the bodies kept slipping, forcing him to hike them up before he could keep moving.

They quickly found themselves back on top of the machines and after a little looking found one that didn’t appear to be in use.

As Gaige got to work examining the controls Artemis looked around and said in a muffled voice “What do you suppose these things were originally for?”

“What do ya mean?” Came the equally muffled reply.

“Well, if they were originally for breaking down stuff, that would have been weird right? I mean, if that was the case then why was there so much organic material around the place? I mean, that creature in the trash, for instance? Wouldn’t they have just de…whatevered it?”

“Probably.”

“Right, and if they had to reper, reaper, repurpus, whatever, something, then why make so many of them, and what did they use as the base? I mean what was this room for?”

“I have no idea about most of that stuff, but I can tell you that this was a modified machine. If I had to guess, I wouldn’t know, but it might have been something like a purifier? No idea really. As for why so many? They must have needed a lot of genetic material.”

“Huh, guess even you can’t figure everything out.”

“Harsh.”

“Not what I meant.”

“I know, it’s just that we really do need to have a talk, about a lot of stuff, but for right now, I need to concentrate on figuring this out.”

“Sorry.”

With that the girls fell silent. A few minutes later, which felt much, much longer to everyone there, Gaige sat back and stretched.

“OK, I think I’ve got it. Babe, place the bodies here. I think we’re gonna need to strip them before we proceed any further.”

“Should’ve told me that while you were working on the controls.”

“Oh, I’m not finished with them, it’s just that I’ve gotten to a point where I think I can successfully operate the device, so we should move forward.”

“Right. I’ll get on this.”

She crouched down and got to work first taking the corpses gear off and doing a quick check, dividing the ammo as she went, what little of it there was. She then got to work stripping the bodies, revealing the scared and tattooed flesh. She wasn’t surprised by how tautly muscled they were, nor by how dirty, but that raised a question for her.

“Not to interrupt”

“Too late.”

“But will the dirt on them interfere?”

“Do you see a hose around here anywhere? If not, then all we can do is hope that it doesn’t.”

“Just asking.”

“Right, well, I’m done here, push them in, one at a time. And be careful, that chemical probably won’t do you any good.”

“Gee thanks.”

Artemis braced herself and carefully rolled the first body over the edge, letting its feet slip into the slimy looking liquid before letting the arms go. It slipped beneath the surface with a blurp and vanished from sight.

She looked over and when she got a nod, did the same thing with the second body. This time she was aware of Deathtrap’s hand hovering just behind her, ready to snatch her back if anything happened. She was deeply grateful to have someone watching her back.

Next Gaige punched some buttons and turned the dial, which caused the liquid to begin bubbling and hissing, releasing a smell that was far worse than anything they had encountered. Coughing and gagging they fell back and quickly made their way downstairs. They headed all the way down, to the lowest level and found the base of the machine they had been working on.

Gaige looked at it and quickly turned a few of the valves, gripping them with both hands and turning with all her might. The last one Deathtrap had to help her with, since it turned so hard. As soon as the last valve was closed, she directed the robot to grab one of the containers stacked against the wall and covered in dust. Following her directions, he attached it to the port on the side and turned the valve over it. Moments later it began filling with a hideously viscous pinkish liquid.

The girls looked away and when it was full, Deathtrap turned the valve to shut the flow off, before replacing the container with a fresh one and repeating the process.

Soon they found themselves in possession of two canisters of broken-down human, something that none of them had ever thought they would need.

Strapping the canisters together and around Deathtrap’s back so that he could carry them without interfering with his movements, at least too much, they headed back to the room with the tubes and pulled down the cloths around their mouths.

“Right, now all we need is an original DNA sample from Angel.” Gaige said after taking a sweet breath of only mildly contaminated air.

“So far so”

“Don’t say it. Just don’t.”

“Right, superstitious, anyway, where would they keep it?”

“Again, how would I know?”

“I was thinking out loud this time. They would have to have it on hand somewhere around here, right? I mean they are making all these, well, things. The Pseudo-Sirens, right?”

“Hopefully. Let’s look for the main controls and see if we can find anything useful.”

This time Gaige led them till she was standing in front of a bank of monitors. Leaning over she quickly tapped at the keyboard, causing the screens to flicker through all kinds of information, none of which Artemis could make heads nor tails out of, but that Gaige, at least, seemed to be getting. Instead of continuing to waste her time watching the screens, she took her rifle and moved to the nearest tube and kept watch.

It took Gaige quite a few minutes to find what she needed. She let out a soft curse and stood up while stretching her back before she said anything.

“No luck?”

“No, they’re using a programed code for each of the different types of Pseudo-Siren. Which means not only do they not have the data we need here, they don’t have any actual samples.”

“So where does that leave us?”

“Not as bad as it could be. While they don’t have anything here, I was able to confirm that they at least did have the samples. I was right, they must have brought them when the place locked down.”

“So where are they now?”

“That’s the bad news, they’re in an office.”

“Where?”

“They’re in Dr. Pretorian’s personal safe, in her office, which is both figuratively and literally at the top of the department.”

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Chapter 27

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Bio-lab

They headed out to the lobby area as quietly as they could. Artemis still was lamenting their destination. They were going to have to go all the way to the top, or as Gaige had clarified, ‘This sides equivalent of where they had found A.I.ngel’. Which meant that they were going to have to face or sneak past everything in the entire department. She felt another sigh building up, but for the sake of silence, pushed it back down.

Checking around the door she found the tail end of a group of troops rushing up the stairs and this time couldn’t suppress the sigh that escaped her lips. Catching the look from the other girl out of the corner of her eye she turned and whispered “Another group of troops just went up.”

“That might actually be good news.”

Artemis just shot her a look that spoke of confusion and incredulity.

Sighing herself, Gaige explained in a tone usually reserved for children “If we follow them from a distance, they should deal with any of the Pseudo-Sirens we would have run into. Less fighting for us, and best case, they take each other out, or we have to pick off the survivors. Get it?”

“Yeah, I got it.” Came the sullen reply.

Deathtrap did his best to roll his eyes at the back of the group and nudged Gaige. She looked back at him and after a moment, let out a breath and said “Sorry, I know I’m bein a bit of a bitch, I’m not doing it intentionally, I’m just, I donno.”

“It’s fine. Let’s get this over with. We can talk about it later.”

And with that she slipped out and moved over to the stairs, making no noise as she stepped through the battlefield. Gaige followed as best she could, moving much slower, but eventually got over to her. Deathtrap brought up the rear, floating over the corpses while keeping his lens on the entrance.

Artemis ghosted up the stairs and paused at the corner. Glancing around she found it empty and just as she started around it, the sounds of gunfire erupted just above her. She threw herself back around the turn and watched the walls. When no bullets tore into them, she peeked around and looked up. Focusing, she could tell that the gunfight was still a ways away, probably another floor up and a little over, so she slipped out and padded up.

Sweeping the top with her rifle, she made sure that nothing was waiting for them. Seeing that it was clear, she motioned for the other two to join her. In the seconds it took for them to climb up she checked out the area. Straight ahead was an open door leading to a kind of air-lock, with another set of doors at the end of a six-foot room, which also stood open, leading to a massive laboratory. It had no doubt once been separated into work areas, but after the lock down all the partitions had been removed, turning it into one giant area. Wires hung from the ceiling and snaked across the floor, hooking into all kinds of machines that she couldn’t identify. From large ones that rose past where the ceiling panels had once been, to small ones lined up on the tables that were shoved against the wall. Ones that had glowing lights and ones that were worn metal, they filled every conceivable design.

Throughout the room were computers with cables trailing over each other to the point where she couldn’t see the floor. Thick ventilation ducts were carelessly taped together and all fed into a central duct at the far end of the room. Chalkboards were affixed to the walls and any other available space was covered in dense writing. From where they were standing, she could read only one of them, scribbled in big letters was ’ Six Sirens, Six Galaxies, Is There A Connection? '.

The entire place gave off the faint smell of chemicals and sweat.

Gaige moved up next to her and took a glance into the room before shrugging and motioning them to keep moving on.

Artemis glanced to the sides and spotted another open door. Taking a step towards it she saw that it had once been a janitorial closet. The shelving had all been stripped, though the marks where it had been attached to the walls were still visible. In their place some kind of contraption was set up. Taking a second, she identified it as some form of water purifier. Probably it had been set up to filter and ionize the tap water for use in the lab.

She turned back to the stairs and moved up cautiously, once again pausing when she reached the turn. Listening, she could hear the sounds of the gunfire tapering off leading her to believe that the fight was almost over, though she couldn’t tell how it had went.

Gripping her rifle, she glanced around the corner and seeing the cost was clear, swung around. Keeping against the wall, she made her way up just as the last shots echoed away.

The sight that greeted her was a bloodbath.

Pieces of bodies were thrown everywhere, many of them burnt beyond identification. Streaks of blood and ash painted the walls and ceiling, and a head was slowly spinning like a dying top. She swallowed hard, tasting the carbonation in the air, before carefully stepping over what might have once been a string of intestines, but were now burned beyond proper identification, and scanning the area.

The lights in the room ahead of her were off, leaving the room pitch black. Despite that she swore she could see something moving within the shadows. Straining her eyes, she picked out the shape of a person moving towards her and from the lack of armor on their frame she was quick to surmise that it was one of the Pseudo-Sirens.

Suddenly a pattern started forming on its left side, one that bore a striking similarity to the ones on the others she had seen before, only this one flickered, and shimmered, like a mirage.

Acting entirely on instinct she yelled for the others to get back as she dove to the side, tucking into a ball as she rolled across the corpses. It turned out to be the right call because the area she had just occupied rippled slightly and the splatters of blood suddenly hissed and turned to dust, along with the body parts that were strewn across the area. The wave of heat hit her a second later causing a cold sweat to burst out across her skin.

The Pseudo-Siren continued to walk forward, as if she was unconcerned with the creature in front of her, despite the fine features of her face twisting into a snarl. It seemed that she didn’t like missing.

Artemis wasn’t about to let her have another chance to…do whatever she had done again, so she finished her roll in a crouch and fired off a shot at the things head. The creature turned aside nearly as fast as Artemis could have, catching the bullet across the forehead. It skimmed off the side of the head, leaving a bloody trail but nothing else. The creature let out a hiss and seemed to be weighing its options when Gaige and Deathtrap crested the stairs. The Pseudo-Siren looked at them and seemed to realize that was outnumbered. It’s tactic of super heating the air might not work, especially against the big metal thing, so instead of trying that again, it opted to vanish.

The girls blinked, the Pseudo-Siren had been there one second and then the next it was gone. Artemis had noticed the pattern on its side flicker just as it had vanished, but she had no idea what that might have meant. Meanwhile Gaige thought that something about the vanishing was awfully familiar, but couldn’t place it, or maybe she didn’t want to.

As quickly as it had vanished, it reappeared directly between the girls and unleashed a nova of fire as it did. The wave washed over them, singeing their hair and blistering their skin, even through their shields.

Gaige froze, the thing was right in front of her, but she couldn’t fire, not just because she might hit Artemis on the other side of it, but because she knew where she had seen that trick before. It was Lillith’s power. This thing must have been made with the DNA of Lillith she realized with horror. She could see it in its face, in the way it moved. This was the third subject, the one that had been caught right after the second one had died, she should know after all, she had been captured by Jack right in front of her.

Artemis had no such compulsions. She ignored the flames licking her and dove straight at the back of the creature, tossing her gun aside and popping her blade as she did. The thing seemed aware of her and twisted to the side in an attempt to dodge her, but it seemed that she couldn’t vanish again so soon after using the power, so Artemis was determined to take advantage of the brief time she had and take this thing out.

Her blade slid across the things right arm, cutting deep into the muscle, slicing to the bone. The creature staggered a bit and spun, its left arm glowing brightly as she thrust it forward, forcing Artemis to duck as a flaming fist sliced through the air where she had just been and burning off a few of her hairs. As she did, she noted in the back of her mind that the creatures arm was blistering and blackening, as if it couldn’t stand its own heat.

She spun and slashed her blade across the creatures’ leg, cutting across the thigh while she pulled her pistol and fired off a shot at its torso. It staggered and twisted its pretty face into a horrific visage as the waves of heat starting to come off it forced Artemis back. She unloaded her pistol into it, staggering it back and breaking its concentration. She lunged forward and drove her blade upward into its chin, killing it instantly.

Letting the fresh corpse fall she picked her rifle up and took a moment to reload before continuing on.

Gaige watched her go, a feeling of unease building as she did. She had seen the other girl fight before, but this seemed a bit different than normal. She also regretted not helping, even though it had resembled her friend, she knew it wasn’t and should have done more to help.

Deathtrap watched as Gaige struggled with her thoughts. He understood, even he had noticed the similarities between the Pseudo-Siren and the missing Crimson Raider commander, but he also could tell that this had been an enemy, and as such needed to be dealt with. He hadn’t helped though, and he felt bad about that, he had been trying to maneuver around when Artemis had went nuts on it, which also worried him. Something was bothering her and it would have to be dealt with soon, but right now, they needed to keep up with her.

As Gaige started to move away from the corpse, she made one last glance at it and something caught her eye. The visible lines on its body were cracked and blackened, but were still glowing. In fact, as she watched the glow grew brighter and brighter. Swearing she took off running, dashing past Deathtrap while yelling “Move!”.

She flew up the stairs and tackled Artemis around the corner and slammed her into the far wall. Just as she started to hear a muffled yelling coming from under her and Deathtrap shot around the corner and moved up the stairs, a massive explosion erupted from downstairs. The wave of fire flashed up the stairs and licked the wall mere feet from where the girls were.

Watching the flames die out, Gaige leaned off the other girl, only to find herself being shoved back with no small amount of force by Artemis, who was drawing her pistol with a dark look on her face. Gaige nearly panicked, trying to explain what had happened when the gun went off twice and the body of one of the black armored troops came thudding down the stairs.

Without a word, Artemis popped the cylinder and slipped two new rounds in before snapping it shut and holstering it. Readying her rifle, she moved up the stairs leaving Gaige to stew.

“A thank you wouldn’t 'ave been missed.” She muttered picking herself up and dusting her bottom off. She puffed up her cheeks in frustration before letting it out as another sigh and looked to Deathtrap, who just shrugged, before she continued up the stairs, chasing after the retreating form of the other girl.

Artemis moved up the stairs with little sound, but in her mind, she was stomping up them in disgust. First she had missed the Pseudo-Siren, then she had missed her footsteps after she had went invisible, something she wouldn’t have done if she wasn’t so caught up in her own head, and then she had not only missed the creature turning itself into a bomb, but she had to be saved by Gaige. And to top it off, she couldn’t think of anything to say to her, she knew she should thank her, check to see if she was alright, but the words died in her throat, leaving her feeling worse than she had in a while.

She knew this was going to be their last adventure together, that the other girl was going to leave once it was over, probably never looking back, at least Artemis wouldn’t have blamed her if she didn’t. She knew that she should be enjoying it, trying to make it a good memory for both of them, or that she should be trying to convince her to stay, but somehow, she found that she couldn’t smile, that nothing was coming out right, so instead she trudged on, pushing forward to the next floor.

What greeted her when she got there was a door. Not a large one, like had cut off the Tech Department, but a small one, a bit bigger than one of the office doors. It was metal and would separate along a diagonal line bisecting it from upper right to lower left in a kind of squarish ‘S’ shaped wiggle. A trail of blood went through the doorway, as if something had been drug through it. The area around it looked like it had recently seen a gun fight, with bullet holes and pockmarks littering the area. But there were no corpses, from either side. In fact, other than the blood pooling on the floor, there was no sign of anyone.

Gaige stopped and looked around, it was obvious to her that the troop that Artemis had shot hadn’t been part of this fight, if he had gotten away from here, he would have been further away by the time the corpses had been taken. No, she figured that he must have been part of either another group, or the remnants of this group and had previously fled upward. She figured that he must have been sent to call for reinforcements, or that he was the lone survivor and had decided that that was the time to make a brake for it. Maybe he had thought that the shooting he heard was someone coming to back them up and had come to lead them to the rest. It didn’t matter really, he was dead and they would move on, the only thing that changed is whether anyone was waiting for him to return.

All three of them looked at the room and each silently came to the conclusion that they didn’t need to find out what was on the other side of the door, so they turned and proceeded up, though they all did wonder what had happened.

This time they moved even more cautiously, since it was clear that any survivors would be fortified on either this floor, or the next, and since their destination was the office on the next floor, they would undoubtedly have to go through them to get there.

Artemis poked her head up, ready to pull back at the first sign of trouble. She scanned the area quickly and ducked back down, motioning for the others to follow her she headed back to the landing.

“It looks like they didn’t see me.” She whispered so lightly that the others had to strain to hear her “I think there were about thirty or forty of them in there, but it seemed that they were busy. Lots of wounded. But I think if we’re quick we can slip in and make it to the desk.”

“Right, babe, I need you to stay here. I know, but you’re the most likely to be spotted, plus we can’t have those tanks being ruptured. Be ready to cover our retreat if anything happens.”

He nodded sadly, knowing that she was right.

Gaige turned back to Artemis and whispered “Lead on.”

The girl nodded and slipped back up the stairs and after popping her head up again, took off in a low crouch. Gaige marveled at the speed she managed as she tried to keep up.

As she ran, she glanced into the room. She could see troops grabbing tables and setting them up in barricades or tending to the wounded, she even spotted a few of them grabbing corpses and throwing them into a pile, like they were sandbags.

Turning away from that she dove over the security desk and rolled up to the wall. Luckily for them the desk was reinforced metal, so it hadn’t been pried up and thrown in the vats to be broken down. Now, with cover, they were able to proceed in a crawl, without having to worry about being spotted.

Slinking their way over to the stairwell, Artemis glanced up and finding it clear, oozed around the corner before ascending the stairs.

Coming out on top, she found a room that had once been almost identical to the one in the Tech department, but now was all but destroyed. The wood paneling had been stripped off, the secretaries’ desk was gone, even the carpet had been pulled up. About the only thing that was still there was the empty pot that had once held a tree.

The door on the far side sat open and through it she could see the office. To her surprise it was still intact, at least what she could tell from where she was, but she could make out the heavy desk with its inverted ‘U’ shape made up of two thick pillars of drawers and a two-inch slab connecting them. Behind it she could make out shelves covered in books and the hardwood floor was still there.

Cautiously she moved forward, scanning the first room as she went and made her way over to the wall next to the door. She was quickly joined by Gaige, who moved as silently as she could.

Artemis glanced in the room cautiously, something was bugging her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it till the large hand shot out and grabbed her rifle by the barrel and drug her into the room. With a whipping motion it sent her flying, and as she watched her gun spin in a different direction, it came to her, if the room was untouched, why was the door standing open?

Gaige gasped aloud as the other girl got sucked into the room and as she unconsciously stepped forward, a huge man appeared in front of her and grabbed her gun before tossing her in as well. She hit the ground and rolled to her feet as he tossed her gun aside and stormed towards her. He had at least a foot and a half on her and was about two of her across. His face was hidden behind a mask that looked like it had been fashioned out of a skull, though where he would find a head larger than his, she couldn’t guess. But the most disturbing thing was the necklace of cyber-eyes and lenses that he wore across his naked tattooed torso.

Letting out a bellow, he charged, dashing across the room as she tried to draw her weapon, only to be slammed in the side as Artemis shoved her out of the path. Gaige stumbled, dropping her gun as she spun in time to see the man slam the other girl into the bookcase that circled the room. Without stopping his bellow, he drew back and grabbed the small girl, slamming her against the wall again and again.

Gaige pulled her pistol and charged his back. Closing in she fired once into the meaty back, trying to be careful and not hit her friend. It was enough to cause the man to toss Artemis to the side and spin, catching Gaige with a backhand hard enough to send her flying into the corner, where she landed in a pile.

Artemis staggered to her feet and woozily tried to get her pistols out of their holsters. Just as she managed to clear them the big man spun back around and grabbed her before slamming her into the wall again and after seeing Gaige getting back up threw her onto the desk with enough force that she bounced off and landed in a messy sprawl on the floor.

He grabbed the wicked looking knife on his belt and drew it as he spun around to face Gaige, raising the knife as he did so, only to have his hand get caught by her hammer. She had drawn her melee weapon and charged while his back was turned, and swung it at him as he turned. She managed to hit his fingers as he brought his knife up and felt a disgusting, if satisfactory, crunch as the fingers broke, sending his knife flying from his grip. He roared in pain and slammed a left-handed punch into her chest throwing her back into the pile of books.

Artemis had nearly blacked out when she had hit the floor, but managed to shake it off, powering through and pushing herself to her feet. She saw the big man punch Gaige and popped her blade while she shoved herself forward into a sprint, dropping at the last second and sliding under the desk and slashed across the back of his ankle, biting deeply enough that she felt the blade scratch bone.

His howl went up a pitch as he spun, grabbing the desks middle drawer as he did and tearing it from the desk, sent it hurdling into Artemis’s face with enough force to shatter the drawer as her head crashed into the bookcase.

He spun back to see what the other girl was doing and met her charge with a backhand that might have lacked his usual force, but was still enough to knock her away. But the force of the blow caused him to shift his weight onto his injured leg, which nearly buckled beneath him. His hand shot out and he barely managed to brace himself against the desk when Artemis drove a letter opener she had pulled from the shattered drawer through his hand near the wrist and deep into the desktop.

He spun with a grunt, driving his elbow into the girl, knocking her back, before letting out a growl of pain and bracing himself. He looked down at his hand and seeing he couldn’t pull it up with the letter opener in it, he grit his teeth and reached over to pull it out, when the other girl flew at him with a scream. She drove his own knife at his chest and only years of fighting allowed him to react enough to get his arm between it and his chest.

He let out an involuntary roar of pain as the blade sank to the hilt through the center of his forearm, but at least it wasn’t fatal he thought as he drove his injured legs knee into her, knocking her back.

He swayed a bit as he tried to steady himself. He knew that the first thing he needed to do was to free himself from the desk, then he could deal with the knife, so he reached across to grab the letter opener when something sprung off the desk behind him and landed on his back. Whatever it was wasn’t heavy enough to do much to him, but then the arms shot around him and grabbed his left arm, the one with the knife through it and started pulling on it. He realized, rather disconnectedly, that it was the purple haired girl, she must have her knees against his upper back and be using that for leverage to try and pull the knife blade into him. Normally he would have simply thrown her off, but the injuries and lack of mobility stopped him, leaving the best that he could manage to be preventing her from gaining ground.

Unfortunately for him, Gaige pushed herself up and grabbed her hammer. Charging she gave a mighty swing, hitting the pommel of the blade and sending the tip into his bare chest. It pierced less than an inch before the tension on his arm pulled it out, but her follow up swing hit it again, this time sending it deep enough that he felt it scrape his ribs.

Desperately he thrashed, sending a kick at her that forced her to stumble backwards. Unfortunately for him, Artemis used that distraction to adjust her grip and with a mighty heave pulled the blade tip upward, towards his throat. He thrashed and attempted to tear his right hand free from the desk, but to no avail. This time when Gaige came at him, she let out a manic bellow of her own and swung vertically at his head, hitting him cleanly on the crown and driving his head down, poking the tip of the blade into the soft flesh of his throat before it popped back out.

The second blow followed immediately and drove the blade in again, this time sinking deeper before it again pulled out, splashing his front with blood. And again she swung, this time her impact was accompanied by a hideous crunch as his mask split and the blade vanished into the side of his neck. He toppled over, landing with a meaty thud, the impact of which drove his arm around, tearing the blade through the side of his neck and sending the his life blood spurting out over him as he lay there, one arm still pinned to the desk, and with one last gurgle, the life left his eyes and the girls collapsed on either side of him and the growing pool of blood.

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Chapter 28

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Bio-lab

They sat there catching their breath, Gaige watching the man for any sign of movement and Artemis flat on her back with her eyes closed. When she was absolutely sure that he was dead, Gaige slowly pushed herself to her feet. Places she didn’t know could, hurt. And she knew that she had gotten off lucky, at least out of those in the room. She let her eyes trail over the dead man and noted that the blade that had torn through his neck had caught on the cord of his necklace. Her eyes continued past the books that had been knocked off the shelves, that were now drinking the blood, staining their pages red, and on to the other girl, who lay sprawled out where she had fallen when she had pushed off the man’s back. Gaige watched as the pooling blood spread to her boot before calling out to her.

“You OK?”

“Still breathing.” Came the reply in a thin voice.

“Take one of your Insta-Health vials.”

“I’ll be fine” She said finally pushing herself into a sitting position “Sides, if I use them too much, I won’t have one when you need it.”

“And if you don’t take one now, you might not make it through the next fight. Take it.”

Artemis met her hard stare for a moment before sighing and started fumbling to draw one. Satisfied that she would carry through, Gaige turned and examined the room while she staggered over to start picking up the scattered guns.

It didn’t take much for her to put together what had happened. The man’s gun was sitting on one of the tables against the wall, no doubt where he had left it when he started searching the room, after he had broke in, he must have been on the opposite side when he spotted them coming on the monitor, which showed the waiting room, so he had done the best he could and ambushed them.

She handed Artemis’s guns over as she walked past and took a look at the gun that the man had been carrying. It was a large crude looking gun, a C.O.V. by the look of it, some kind of rocket launcher with its barrel wrapped in twisted spikes of metal and barbed wire that looked like they would spin when it was powered up. Other than that, she couldn’t tell much, except that she had no interest in it. Launchers didn’t mesh well with her Anarchy. And she figured that Artemis wouldn’t use it, they seemed even less her style then Gaige’s, but she might want it, so she offered.

Artemis stretched in a way that reminded Gaige of a cat and padded over to look at the gun. Hefting it up she looked at it skeptically and asked “Why would I want this thing? I wouldn’t use it. Why do you want it?”

“Not really, just thought I’d offer.”

“Is it worth anything?”

“Probably, launchers are usually worth more than other guns, why?”

“Cause you let Hel go, and we need to make up that money somewhere.” She said pulling out one of the guns from her bag and set it aside, before strapping the new one to it.

“It’s all about the money with you, isn’t it?” Gaige said before stopping and thinking ‘No, no, no, that came out wrong, that wasn’t what I meant.’

“I’m not the one in debt.” Came the cold reply.

“Sorry, I wasn’t implying, I didn’t mean…forget it.” She said with a sigh, turning away to look around so that she didn’t have to face the other girl. Her eyes landed on the corpse, more like she couldn’t help but look, and she said “He was a tough bastard, wasn’t he?”

“He should be, he was one of the heads of this messed up group we’re fighting.”

“Really?”

“I think so. He was part of the discussion by the ones that seemed to be in charge. I think the one guy called him Miki? Or something like that.”

“Miciantl…Miclatecutie? No that ain’t it, Miclantrocolti? Still not right.”

“Yeah, it was something like that, the one guy said that no one could pronounce it, so he just called him Mici.”

“So, he was one of them. Well, we need proof of death to collect the bounty and then we need to find where the sample is.”

“Right, that’s what we’re here for.”

“I know, I nearly forgot, nothing like getting your bell rung to make you forget things.”

“Wait, that happens to you often?”

“No, what? I was just trying to be sympathetic…and you knew that, bitch.” Gaige finished looking at the smirk that crawled onto the other girls’ face. “Let’s just find this thing and get out of here.”

Artemis stood up and joined in, scanning the room and trying to find where the samples would be kept. The room was, by all appearances, normal, with a large desk and shelves of books lining the walls. Interspersed throughout them were knickknacks and strange artifacts, and on one wall, near the door, was a monitor setup that showed the waiting area on one monitor, but the rest were showing static.

It took her a minute to realize what was out of place, and as she checked the floor, Gaige asked “What?”

“There’s no computer.”

“Sure there is, it’s over there…that’s the security monitoring system, you’re right, a person like this would definitely have a personal system in their office. So where’d they hide it?”

“And why?”

“Probably to keep anyone else from accessing it.”

“Then where’s the decoy?”

“OK, point, maybe someone took it?”

“And then relocked the room?”

“I have no idea. Just look around for anything out of place.”

They went back to looking and since Gaige was unconsciously avoiding the corpse, Artemis went to that side of the room.

After a few minutes Gaige turned in frustration to find the other girl standing still, arms crossed, looking at the shelves where Gaige had been tossed into them.

“What’re you doing?” She said with an equal mix of frustration and exasperation.

“You hit that wall pretty hard, right? I mean hard enough that you brought at least a shelf of books down with you.”

“Yeah, and it hurt, what’s your point.”

“Why didn’t the sphere fall off?”

Gaige followed her finger and saw a ball sitting on a nearly empty shelf. Artemis was right, if she had hit the shelf that hard, wouldn’t that have fallen too?

Walking over she examined it closely, being careful to not touch it, and spotted a strange squiggling shape carved into the otherwise smooth surface.

“Ah crap” She muttered “One of these puzzles.”

Turning she continued “Look at the rest of the junk on the shelves for any strange symbols, but don’t touch any of them.”

It didn’t take long to find eight more of them, now that they knew what they were looking for.

“Now we just need to figure out which order to activate them in.” Gaige murmured. Then to her horror Artemis started turning them.

“What are you doing!” Gaige yelled out.

“What?” Came the reply as she turned the fourth one and the bookcase behind the desk slid back and then slipped aside.

“Wait, how’d you know the order to activate them in?”

“Eh, it was carved into the blade of the letter opener.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah, I recognized some of them, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Plus, those ones had a small amount of wear on them, where the others didn’t.”

“I give up.” Gaige muttered and stepped around the body to look into the opening.

Inside she found a dead computer sitting next to a stack of ECHO logs and below it, a locked safe.

“Any ideas on the combination? Forget it, don’t answer, it was a joke.” She said crouching down and looking at the safe. “I’ll get this open, why don’t you collect the ECHO’s and see if you can find the hard drive for the computer while I work.”

As they set about their tasks Artemis chose one of the ECHO’s that had a different mark on the label and popped it into her player.

Success. I have finally managed to stabilize the decay problem and get the sample from Subject 1 to bond with Dr. Heinrich’s work.

And it finally has emerged from the incubation tank.

Though at first, I thought it was another failure, despite having survived, I must confess my surprise when it displayed a power much like that of the Subjects, but different.

I have assigned one of the lower workers to keep an eye on it while I try and see what we can do with making clones of it, perhaps I will try mixing in some of the third sample in the next one.

My only regret is that it has not furthered the original goal and I find myself no closer to understanding the source of their power, nor why this one worked but the previous ones failed.

But none of that matters now, I have things to try.

So many possibilities. I can’t wait.

While it played, they continued to work and before long Gaige clenched her fist in triumph as the lock gave. Opening the safe she was hit by a wave of cold air, which was a good sign, it meant that the sample would probably still be usable. She looked inside and found the one labeled ‘Subject 2’ and carefully removed it and slipped it into a case that seemed to be designed to transport the samples.

Standing up she carefully slid the case into her pack and looked over to see Artemis’s narrow backside. It appeared that she was waist deep in the computer and a moment later she popped up, hard drive in hand.

“Alright, store that and let’s get out of here.”

“What’d you want it for anyway?”

“That’s probably got all their research on Sirens on it, so it’s better to take it with us then risk it falling into someone else’s hands.”

“Fair enough. Let’s get out of here.”

They quickly made their way back down the stairs and after a quick check, dashed over to where Deathtrap was waiting. He gave them a near frantic once over and made a low burbling noise.

“Sorry babe, it took a bit longer than expected. But we got it.”

“Urr”

They slipped down the stairwell and when they came to the next floor Artemis slowed. Something was wrong, something was different. It only took her a second to realize what it was. The door was open.

She pointed and glanced back, but Gaige just nodded and made a shooing motion, so she sighed and moved out. Turning the corner to continue down she found herself face to face with a Pseudo-Siren and not just one of them, but a whole group.

Normally she could have just fought her way through, but this group seemed like it was intent on not letting them through. In the front were three of the armored ones and directly behind them were two of the fire ones. Another five of various kinds backed them up, including one of the shield generating ones.

She leaped back at the sight of them, swearing as she did so.

Gaige was about to ask what was up when she saw the other girl dive out of the way as one of the Pseudo-Sirens leaped over its allies and brought its malformed, blade-like arm down. Gaige wasted no time in slamming her shotgun into the creature head and fired. Even as the body fell, she saw the mass of them in the stairwell push forward, even as the crackling dome of the shield spread, filling the stairwell. Not wanting to get caught by them she turned to go back up only to hear the thundering footsteps of the troops that were up there, charging after them.

She made a call and dashed for the open door, hoping that the two groups would wipe each other out. She grabbed Artemis’s arm as she went and Deathtrap fell in after them.

The instant he was through the door, it slammed shut and the lights in the room came on. Turning slowly, they realized that they had fallen into a trap. The room was filled with the different kinds of the Pseudo-Sirens lining the walls. Across the large room, near the far wall, was what could only be described as a throne. Wires, cables and tubes all fed into the massive pile of machinery that burbled and gurgled.

Sitting on top of it was a woman. Pale beyond anyone that they had seen, even paler than Hel, she looked like she had been formed out of snow. White skin, white hair, even her right eye was white. She wore a dark band around her chest and a pair of dark pants tied off around her knees. But what made her look even more odd was that she was missing her left eye, as well as her left arm. Over the rest of her left side were oozing black lines, in a similar pattern to the rest of the Pseudo-Sirens, only hers looked like they were sunken in slightly and leaking ink.

The creature cocked its head, causing its long white hair to cascade over its shoulder, before hopping off the throne and seeming to fix its eyes on them with a glare.

The girls readied their guns and just as they were about to attack, the creatures missing eye started to glow, filling with a white-blue light that seemed to trail out of the empty socket, followed immediately by lines forming where its left arm should have been, tracing down the air in a similar pattern to the rest of the Pseudo-Sirens, wrapping around the missing arm and down to the fingers. It raised this spectral arm and flexed its fingers, before leveling it to one side and swinging it forward in the universal charge motion.

The Pseudo-Sirens on that side bound forward as if they were one mind, sliding around each other and forming into an organized attack pattern. Then without a sound they attacked.

Moving as a collective, they charged. Gaige spun and opened up with her assault rifle, tearing into the mob, while Deathtrap started picking off the armored ones with caustic lasers. Artemis meanwhile snapped a shot off at the leader, only to have her make a motion with her non-arm and one of the extendy ones jump in the bullets path, dying instantly.

“Oh, your gonna die.” She muttered and fired again, only by this point one of the remaining armored ones was there to take the shot.

The boss tilted her head as if to say ‘Is that all?’ and made another motion with her non-arm, causing the horde to warp and shift like a living thing, and change their attack pattern.

Gaige found herself desperately fighting to not get cut off from her friends as the mob pressed closer to her. Even her deadly rain of bullets wasn’t killing them as fast as they were being replaced.

Seeing her in trouble, Deathtrap dove into the fray, swinging his Digi-claws and firing lasers without holding back. But even with that, they weren’t gaining much ground.

Gaige felt one of the Pseudo-Sirens slam into her gun, knocking her aim off, not that it really mattered with the Anarchy laced bullets ricocheting around the room, but if she wound up shooting them in the torso or limbs, the bullets wouldn’t bounce, thought they tended to shred whatever they hit, but it was more of an annoyance. So she slammed her cyber-hand into its face. The fist that could destroy concrete demolished the skull of the creature, even as her rifle never stopped firing.

Artemis noticed what was going on out of the side of her eye, but knew that if she let up on the leader, things would only continue to get worse, so she fired again, this time aiming to one of the creatures off to the side and slammed the bullet into its head, ricocheting the shot and bouncing it into the bosses head. The trick seemed to take it off guard, since it didn’t react in time and the round tore into its face, causing a spray of blood. It let out an otherworldly howl and the ones around it closed ranks, blocking it from view as two of the fiery badass Pseudo-Sirens leaped into the fray.

Grinning malevolently, Artemis changed her tactic and rushed the nearest one, catching it off guard and shouldering it in its middle. She slammed her fist into its chest and popped her blade straight into its heart. The thing looked at her with a mixture of sadness and surprise as it died.

Ignoring that Artemis used her lower stance to heave the body up and putting everything she had into it, threw it into the crowd.

Turning she spotted the other one circling towards where the other fight was going on and as she watched, it turned invisible, no doubt intent on catching them in its fiery nova. She had no intention of letting it get away with that, so she brought her rifle up and watched for a second. Just as she had expected, the other Pseudo-Sirens were aware of where it was, so when a few of them took a step around a seeming empty area, she fired at the space. With a spray of brains and blood the creature returned to the visible spectrum and slumped to the ground.

As she popped the cylinder on her rifle and began reloading, Artemis was forced back by the wave of creatures that started swarming her. Forced to abandon the reload, she spun the assault rife off her back and pulled the bi-pod open, even though it would slow her down, she felt that the increase to damage would help more, and opened fire, tearing through the front rank in a hail of bullets.

She backed up slowly, and soon felt Deathtrap’s metal hand catch her shoulder. Over the noise she yelled “Explosions in a few seconds.” And getting a nod from the other girl continued firing.

Seconds later she caught the high-pitched whistle of the first firebomb and a second later was hit by a wave of heat as the corpse exploded in a ball of flaming gore. The shock wave tore through the nearest of the creatures and then incinerated the next chunk. The nearly solid wall of flesh absorbed the impact so that the girls barely felt any heat.

Just as they were catching their breath, the second explosion hit them from the other side. This one was closer and they were hit by steaming chunks that had just been alive.

The twin explosions had done a fair job at thinning the numbers around them, allowing them a second to catch their breath.

Taking that second Artemis grabbed for her grenade, thinking that now would be a good time to toss one at the boss, only to have her fingers brush the wrong thing as she realized that she had never gotten her mod back. Cursing herself, she let the sigh die in her throat and switched back to her rifle.

As she reloaded, she slid up to Deathtrap and asked him “We need to stop their leader, or this is never going to end. Do you think your deathlaser could drop her?”

“Urrgu”

“If I could get her to hold still, do you think you could take the shot?”

“Urru”

“Would it drain you too much?”

“Urur”

“OK, let’s try for it then. Unless someone’s got a better idea?”

Gaige took the chance to chime in “No, you two try that, I’ll hold off the rest of these things.”

“Why don’t you use a grenade on them, a firestorm would probably do the trick right about now.”

“Urk.” Gaige made a noise that couldn’t be called a proper reply as her hand involuntarily went for her belt. ‘Yep, the mod is still there’ she thought with a drop of cold sweat running down her back ‘She’s can’t be happy about that. I really am a terrible friend.’

With that though in mind she pulled a grenade and let it fly. The projectile traced a lazy arc before falling into the crowd and exploding in another wave of fire and death, and then the rain of fireballs started.

The other two took advantage of the confusion to make a charge for the boss just as a shield dome sprung up around the boss. Artemis switched to her pistol as they moved, slamming into the wall, feeling it give, as a wave of electric energy washed over her, rapidly eating her shield. She ignored it and shot the nearest bodyguard in the head, killing it and staggering the one next to it. Diving into the opening she spun, slashing through the torso of the one generating the shield before stabbing the injured one in the neck and pushing through to the one on the far side of that one.

With the opening now wide enough that the rest of them gave up the encirclement strategy and instead tried to mob her, only to be violently thrown by the massive robot following her as soon as the shield was down.

He grabbed the nearest two and tossed the first straight up where it met the ceiling with a sickening crunch and he spun the second like a club into a third, sending the two corpses sliding across the ground. Popping his own Digi-claws he tore into a fourth.

Artemis wasted no time, weaving between the remaining creatures, flying towards the leader. She knew she had one shot at this, and a rapidly dwindling time frame to do it in, so she went for the surest shot. She fired her pistol twice, killing the two nearest guards and while the shots were bouncing to the boss she fired a third at the howling creature.

While it had yet to engage in direct combat, she had no doubt that it could defend itself, so she took the split second while it got hit, to drop into a slide and slip around it. Popping up she jumped onto the creatures back, twisting her legs around its to impede its movement and dropping her pistol, latched onto its right arm. Her left arm passed through its non-arm, so instead of trying anything there, she wrapped it around the things throat, pulling its head up and back.

“NOW!” She yelled at Deathtrap. “FIRE!”

He spun, the crystal in his face glowing, only to pause. This wasn’t what he had agreed to. He couldn’t hit the Pseudo-Siren without hitting her. He couldn’t do it, he knew that it probably wouldn’t kill her, but he couldn’t take the chance, so he froze.

“What are you doing?” She yelled at him “Fire!”

Gaige looked over and swore aloud, the Pseudo-Siren thrashed in Artemis’s grip, trying to get free as she shouted at the robot. She couldn’t believe it, there was no way that Deathtrap could fire like that, and even if he could, he wouldn’t. Did she actually want to die?

The next instant the Pseudo-Siren brought its non-arm up and grabbed the other girl and with a heave tossed her over herself, slamming her hard into the ground. Crouching down it punched her hard, once, twice and after the third time she grabbed her by the throat and picked her up.

Artemis was seeing stars when she felt the hand clamp onto her neck, suddenly all the air stopped getting into her lungs and she dimly felt herself being drug up, till her feet were clear of the floor. Blinking she found herself facing the Pseudo-Siren leaders snarling face and as the world swam and darkened, she found herself taking in every detail, the way the glow in the empty socket didn’t light anything up, the way it seemed to leave a trail as she moved, the way her teeth looked like they had melted together, the way the gouge where she had taken the first bullet was already nearly healed. But quickly she found it harder to focus, the pain in her neck was terrible, almost to the point where she wanted to die just to end it.

She focused and popped her blade, slashing through the creature’s wrist. Only the blade bit into nothing, the arm didn’t really exist, it was pure energy. She abandoned trying to cut her and fumbled for her backup piece, only to find that her fingers weren’t responding and the gun clattered to the ground.

Realizing that she was out of moves she tried to kick at it, but her legs just swung ineffectively and the creature flexed its fingers, as if to get a better grip and started to apply greater pressure. They squeezed off the flow of blood in her neck, pressing inward till they were crushing bone. She heard the vertebra in her neck creaking and making awful noise. Dimly she thought ‘Ah, she’s gonna break my neck.’ as things sank into painful blackness, then the pain started to fade, leaving her in increasing darkness with only the grinding of her bones echoing around her.

Then there was an explosive noise, and the pressure stopped, she felt herself hit the ground and to her surprise she could feel air flowing into her lungs again.

Gaige was screaming as they watched the creature killing Artemis, she unloaded her rifle at it and shots tore into it, spraying blood, but not seeming to faze it. Meanwhile Deathtrap took advantage of the situation and fired his deathlaser into the creature’s head, staggering it and causing it to drop its intended victim. The secondary explosion took half of the things face off, and he didn’t miss his opportunity. He dove in and popped his Digi-claws, slicing deep with the first swipe, and finishing the decapitation with the second.

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Chapter 29

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Technologies Department

The instant the headless creatures body hit the floor, the rest of the Pseudo-Sirens stopped their attack and started to move about listlessly, like automation that had the central control go down.

Gaige didn’t care about that, instead rushing over to her fallen friend. She slid up next to her and was instantly relieved to see the color returning to the girls’ face, as well as the fact that she was breathing, even if it was making a strange whistling noise as she did. Wishing that she had taken more medical training beyond the basics of First Aid, she spun to Deathtrap and managed to get out “W-wh-what d-do I d-do?”

He gently pushed her aside and ran his fingers down the unconscious girls’ neck, checking for fractures before turning to her and telling her what to do.

“Urarrragur”

“R-right, sorry, I just, I thought she was…”

He patted her on the shoulder and looked around, they needed the girl to regain consciousness quickly, before these creatures regained whatever it was that drove them, or the troops upstairs figured out that these things weren’t moving and came down.

Gaige looked down and lightly tapped the other girl on the cheeks till her eyes started fluttering. Spotting this Deathtrap gently placed his hands on the girls’ forehead and sternum to prevent her from sitting up suddenly. Which is what she tried to do.

“Easy.” Gaige said as Artemis started to panic. It only took her a second for her eyes to stop flicking around the room and focus on Gaige.

“Wha?” The voice came out as more of a croak then anything.

“Can you feel your feet?”

Artemis paused and tried looking down, only to be held in place by the large metal hands.

“Wha happen’d?”

“You nearly died, now can you feel your feet or not?”

“Um, I can’t feel my left foot.” She managed to get out, wincing in pain.

Gaige glared at her and hissed out “That’s cybernetic.”

“Oh yeah. Yes, I can feel my feet, why? Shouldn’t I?”

“Nope, I mean, yes you should, you know what, never mind.” And she injected her with a pair of Insta-Health vials.

Artemis looked like she was about to complain but Gaige cut her off with a “Shut it.” which she did.

Seconds later the scrapes on her skin vanished and Deathtrap removed his hands and offered one of them to help her up.

Once she got to her feet, Gaige slugged her in the shoulder.

“Ow! What was that for.”

Gaige held her fist up again causing the other girl to back away, rubbing her shoulder.

“That was…that was…” Gaige was trembling slightly and Artemis spotted what she thought might be tears at the corners of her eyes.

“Urrgur”

“You…you’re right, we are gonna have words.” Gaige said shaking her finger at her in warning.

“Can’t wait.” Artemis whispered hoarsely and took her guns back before following the other girl out of the room, with Deathtrap falling into place as the rearguard.

They slipped out of the room, checking for any sign of the troops and finding none they made their way down the stairwell, encountering no one till they found themselves in the lobby. They were about to start across when Artemis paused and cocked her head, before wincing and rubbing her neck.

“What?”

“Somethin’s different.”

Gaige stopped and looked around and a second later realized what the other girl was talking about, all of the corpses were missing. She looked around the room and shrugged, one of the worker creatures must have drug them off while they were upstairs. Creepy, yes, but not unexpected.

“Come on, let’s go.” She said heading for the door while Artemis followed her, still rubbing her neck.

When they got to the door, Artemis placed a hand on her shoulder and stepped in front. She leaned towards the opening and after a few seconds had passed, poked her head out. The rest of her followed and she slipped over to one of the pillars, a little louder than normal.

Just as she got there, gunfire erupted from above. Flattening herself against the pillar she froze. A second latter she cocked her head and looked out. Two floors above she could see the flashing lights of multiple muzzle flashes from what sounded like an entire squad of troops cutting loose. Leaning out slightly further she saw bits of white flying down and shattering against the Central Hub’s floor. It took her a second, but she eventually recognized it as part of the weird mannequins. It seemed that they had already found their way to the third floor.

Shuddering she turned and motioned for the others to make a break for it. Gaige slipped out and started tactically moving between pillars, so Artemis dashed over and hissed “Move.” before sprinting around the outside of the room, hugging the wall.

They made it around in no time and without being spotted and found themselves leaning against the inside of the Technologies department door. Gaige looked like she was about to start in on her when Deathtrap floated past and shook his head, motioning upward. Catching his drift, she shut her mouth, but set her lips in a displeased frown and followed along after him silently.

When they got to the next floor, she paused and shut and locked the blast door before moving on and quickly they found themselves outside of the room where Gaige and Deathtrap had been working on their device.

“Urggurarru” Deathtrap declared before floating off leaving the two girls standing awkwardly in the room.

“Uh, let’s check the download first.” Artemis said, nervously sliding over to the stairs, being tracked by Gaige’s flat glare.

“Fine, but the instant you’re done…” She said with a meaningful look.

Artemis swallowed painfully, though not near as bad as it had been when she had regained consciousness.

They made their way up the stairs and found the computer sitting on the floor and checking the screen attached to it, found that the download had finished.

Reading this, Gaige rounded on Artemis and thrust a finger into her chest with enough force to cause her to stagger back.

“What’s the big idea?” She yelled.

“Huh?”

“Why are you trying to kill yourself?”

“I’m not”

“Bull, I’ve seen how you fight, I know what your ‘Fight like you don’t care if you live’ looks like, and this ain’t it. You’re acting like you actively want to die.”

“It’s not”

“And then you drag poor Deathtrap into your suicide attempt and try and get him to kill you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Uh, just now, with that Siren thing, you wanted him to kill you both.”

“No, he wouldn’t 'ave killed me.”

“If he had fired, you’d be dead, and just think of how that would make him feel. Having killed one of his only friends.”

“He wouldn’t have hit me, I have faith in him.”

“And what? More than he has in himself? Is that it? You don’t think that he knows how good his aim is, is that it?”

“I never said”

“No, and you didn’t think it either did you? So what is it? Why do you want to die?”

“I don’t, it’s just that, well, I donno, I might be,” She sighed and tried to collect her thoughts before continuing “It’s just that you wanted to talk and”

“Oh, so this is my fault?” She practically shouted.

“No. It’s just that, well, I know what you’re gonna say, and I guess I didn’t want to hear it. But you’re right, it is unfair of me. So, when we get to Eden 5 I’ll try to smile and say good bye.”

“Huh?”

“Huh?”

“Wait, what? What are you talking about? What about Eden? What do, what did you… What did you think I was going to say?”

“You were gonna tell me that you finally realized that you don’t need me, that I’m a failure, that I’m just dragging you down and that you’d be better off without me. You were gonna tell me that once we got to Eden 5, we should part ways. That you were gonna stay there for a while and I should continue on. And I don’t blame you, I am a failure. Haven’t done anything right in a long time.”

“Stop! Stop stop stop stop stop stop. That’s what you thought I was going to say to you? And what? You were going to kill yourself because of it? That’s just…”

“No. I wasn’t thinking of killing myself. It’s just that, I guess some part of me figured it would be easier on you this way. Well, not easier, but you could have my ship, do whatever you wanted with it, maybe sell it or some of the stuff on it to get back home.”

“You think I want your ship?!”

“Yes.”

“Well your wrong. I mean I do want your ship, but I want you with it. Wait that came out wrong.” Gaige took a moment and took a deep breath before continuing “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want your ship, I want to travel in it, with you.”

“What?”

“Oh, for the love of…How do I put this so you’ll understand, I don’t want your ship without you inside it. I like traveling with you. Deathtrap likes traveling with you. We don’t need to go to Eden 5, but if we do, I want you with, and I want to leave there with you. Understand?”

“I uh, I think so. But wait, if that wasn’t it, then what did you want to talk about?”

“First, I want you to think about something. If, and I do mean if, at some point, way, way down the road, I do decide to leave your ship, how am I supposed to do it with you acting like this? Do you want me to feel trapped by you? Don’t you think that I might start resenting you for it?”

“Urk. I uh…no, I just… sorry.”

“Just think from now on.” Gaige ended with a dramatic sigh. “What I wanted to talk about was something along these lines anyway. I just, I don’t really know how to say it. I think that’s why I let you convince me to put this conversation off, and that’s on me. It’s just that, now that I’ve got to say it, I can’t really, I mean the words…”

Artemis held her silence.

“I want to…I guess there’s a few things I want to say, kinda related to each other, and I guess in their own way to what we were just talking about, so here goes, I think, well…I want you to stand up for yourself. To me. To others. You need to stop letting me push you around. I mean if you don’t want to do something than say so, don’t let me tell you to do something and you just do it, offer suggestions, say no, and don’t always try to sacrifice something. If something is yours, it’s yours, you don’t need to try and give it to me, or offer to sell your stuff or give me things, I don’t know if you think that’s part of being a friend or if you think that it’s because you still feel that you owe me or what.”

“That’s another thing, stop acting like you owe me something, you don’t, and even if you think you did, you’ve long since payed it back and then some, if anything I feel that I owe you now, and I don’t want to, fell that I owe you or that you owe me I mean, I want us to be equals.”

“Just stop for a second and think, what if I kept giving you things and saying that I owed you, I mean you helped me stop Holloway, you saved me from becoming a wedding day sacrifice, you put everything on hold to help me raise the money so that I can go see my parents, and you’ve never asked for anything in return. In fact, not only haven’t you not asked, but you’ve takin the short end of the stick every time. Hell, it wouldn’t have surprised me if you wanted to throw me off your ship. I mean I’ve been a terrible friend.”

“Stop, no you haven’t”

“Don’t interrupt me, and yes I have, it’s just that you don’t really have anyone to compare me to. And that sounded way more like an insult than I meant, see what I mean, I’m terrible at this. I mean, since you’ve met me, you’ve had nothing but bad things happen to you. I mean, you broke your wrist, got stabbed through the gut by exploding vehicle parts, nearly died I don’t know how many times, including just now, gotten slapped, insulted, and beaten up more times than I can count, and that’s just in the few weeks since we met, oh and I made you crawl through a sewer pipe, and some vents, run through a room of nightmare mannequins, and I’m probably forgetting something, that all adds up to me being a terrible friend who’s led you to nothing but one bad thing after another.”

“Is that what you think?” Artemis asked sadly “Really? That I’ve had nothing good happen to me since we’ve met? That…really hurts. I mean I thought we were having fun, at least some of the time. I thought you were feeling better, smiling more…genuinely, but I guess you didn’t feel that way, I shouldn’t be surprised that I misinterpreted what you were feeling, I just thought that, well, we were having a good time.”

“I, that’s not, I mean, there were some, it’s just that, well, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that”

“That just because some bad things happened, I should what? Hate you? Resent you? That’s not very fair to me, I broke my wrist, that was my choice.”

“You only had to make that choice because of me.”

“Or because of Holloway, or because of the tech who invented the EMP grenade, or because of your client for holding their wedding that day, or, or, or. But I made the choice to be there, I made the choice to intervene, I made the choice to use my backup piece, I made my own choices. Each time. Me. Not you, me. Blaming yourself is no different than Holloway blaming you for his daughter’s death, yes you played a part in it, but you didn’t steal the plans, you didn’t bribe the judges, you didn’t push yourself, yes, you made Deathtrap, and you may have miscalibrated something, but the rest of that was outside your control. So, let my choices be mine, if you don’t like something, then stop it. If you don’t want me to crawl through the sewer, don’t tell me to. I’m not doing it because you told me to, I did it because I figured that you knew more about this than me, so I agreed to follow your plan. I did it because I have faith in you.”

“Wow, uh, OK then. But you do need to speak up more, ask me if there’s another way.”

“I thought I did.”

“Did you? Maybe you did, but the other part still stands, you need to stop trying to give away what’s yours, it makes me feel like you think you need to bribe me to be your friend, and that just, it feels wrong.”

“I just wanted to help.”

“What happened to all that energy you just had? I expected a bit more push back on that.”

“What can I say, I thought I was trying to help, it’s just stuff.”

“But it’s your stuff.”

“Exactly, so why can’t I give it to you?”

“Because it feels like your trying to bribe me, that you don’t think I’d be your friend if you weren’t giving me stuff. Like you don’t think I’d want to be around you if I couldn’t get things from you.”

“I didn’t mean, I don’t think of, I, I…I don’t know how to be a friend. I thought that I was supposed to help, I didn’t realize that made things worse.”

“Oh, for the love of… You didn’t make things worse, and does it sound like I know how to be a good friend? I just said that I’m a terrible friend, so don’t feel bad, I just…Let me start over. What do you want? Do you want me on the ship? Or do you want me to leave?”

“Stay, please.”

“Good, cause I wanted to stay. It’s just that, well, I don’t know what I have to offer you, other than pain, I mean, I’m hitching a ride on your ship, asking you to go wherever I want, and what are you getting out of it? Actually, I think that’s what I really wanted to ask you, beyond all the rest of this stuff, which did need to get out there, what I really wanted to ask was, why do you put up with me? What do you get out of this? And please don’t say it’s because you owed me.”

“Uh…” Artemis’s eyes flicked around the room as she bit her lower lip “I get…well, I guess, maybe, that is to say, um…I get to spend time with a person I like.” She eventually managed to squeeze out, her face turning bright red.

“Wow, uh, not what I expected. You’re really doing all of this because you like being around me?”

The other girl nodded.

“Huh, now I feel like a bit of a jerk for saying some of that stuff.”

“No, you were right, I do feel that I owe you, I understand that you don’t want to hear that, but it’s how I feel, I can’t help it, but more than that, I just want to be with you.”

“Aww, now I’m gonna blush.”

They fell into an awkward silence before Artemis cocked her head and asked “Would you really have been OK with not going home?”

“Why did you actually not want me to go?”

“No! I want you to be able to see your family again, it’s just that I, well, I kinda thought that you’d be more excited to be going back.”

“I am, it’s just that…”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nah, it’s dumb.”

“After all this? Just tell me.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Tell me.”

Gaige sat in silence thinking and after giving her a few seconds, Artemis pressed “If we’re clearing the air, as you put it, then how do you expect me to talk to you unless you’re willing to talk to me, so tell me, please?”

“Fine, you’re right, but it’s stupid, but it’s just that, well, I’m a little scared is all. I mean I want to see my family, I really do, it’s just that, well,” She mulled over what she was about to say before letting out a sigh and continuing “What if I’ve disappointed them? I mean, they’ve, and my dad in particular, sacrificed so much for me, helped me get away, my dad sabotaged Holloway’s assassins at one point, then dedicated himself to getting the charges against me lessened, and what’ve I done? I did the whole Vault Hunter thing, but then what? I tried to do all kinds of things, Influencer, Engineer, I worked in an office for a day, I mean I did a lot of different jobs, and quit them all. The only one I had any real success at was the whole wedding planner thing, and I’ve quit that. And now I’m trying to go home, but what’ll they think of me? I’m scared they’ll be disappointed, that they’ll think I’m a failure. I mean, at this point, I’ll bet that two thirds of my high school class are married and more than half of those have kids, well I’m meaning the ones who are still alive. And then there’s me, no job, no marriage, not even a date in years. They’ll think I’m a loser.”

“Really?” Came the reply in a tone that was a lot less sympathetic then she had expected “You think that your dad, the one who did all that for you, him, would be disappointed to see you again? You think that just because you quit a job that you weren’t enjoying anymore, he’s gonna think you’re a failure? Sure, he might wish you were doing more with your life, but that’s cause he’s your dad. He always wants the best for you.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because I’m proud of you, and I’m not even related.”

“Thanks.”

“Besides, do you really think that being married with kids is the mark of success? That that automatically makes them happy?”

“No. It’s just, well, a goal for a lot of people.”

“Is it for you?”

“Well, I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“But do you think they’re happy? Or do you think that they wonder how their lives ended up like this?”

“I suppose not.”

“See, that wouldn’t necessarily make you happy. You don’t think that they would be envious of you? Being able to pick up and see the galaxy, to not be tied down by some dead-end job that they hate?

“But I can’t, I don’t have a ship.”

“But I do, and you’re part of the crew.”

“I suppose.”

“Feel better?”

“Not really, I mean I get what you’re saying, and I know intellectually that you’re probably right, but that doesn’t eliminate the worry, wish that it did, but sadly it doesn’t work that way.”

“Of course it doesn’t, if it did, we wouldn’t still have all these problems. You wouldn’t still be looking longingly at that margarita glass and I wouldn’t think that I’m a monster all the time, but we can’t just wish our problems away, we need to work at them, confront them when we can, and work through them as best we can, even though you know that they’ll rear their head up again the instant you’re down. That’s why it’s important to talk to me like this. And don’t worry, I’ll be there with you when you go home.”

Gaige leaned over and gave her a hug and whispered “Thank you, and you’re not a monster, just a freak.”

Pushing apart they found Deathtrap floating there looking pleased with himself.

“What’s up babe?” Gaige said with a lopsided grin.

“Urrgur”

“Really. Wait, how long have you been floating there listening to us?”

He turned his head away and tried to look as nonchalant as possible while he shrugged and under her persistent gaze eventually relented and answered “Urrg”

“Babe, not cool.”

“Eh, it’s alright, he was just concerned about us.”

“That might be, but he needs to learn some manners.”

“Well, why don’t we get this plugged in so that it can be, doing whatever it’s gonna do, then you can try and teach him?”

“Fine, you’re right, let’s go.”

They unplugged the computer and headed downstairs and entered the room where they found the finished device. It sat in the middle of the room, a series of mechanical devices that looked like arms either holding or curled in a massive tank, large enough to easily hold a person, that was filled with a strange slightly blue-green color. The two tanks of Bio-mass that Deathtrap had carried were sitting to the side with tanks filled with various other components, connected by long hoses. Electronics sat out on the floor, looking like a series of disassembled computers wired together.

Carefully stepping around the scattered bits, Gaige made her way to one of the parts and taking the computer that held all of A.I.ngel’s mind, carefully attached it. Stepping back to where the lone monitor was wired in, she slid in the ECHO’s they had found with Dr. Luca’s effects that was labeled ‘A.I.ngel body program’ and waited for it to boot up.

A moment later the screen lit up with all kinds of data flying past and eventually changed to a wireframe of the tank with a prompt over it asking if they wanted to continue.

Gaige took a moment to look to the other two, and when they both nodded, she reached over and hit ‘accept’. The instant she did the prompt disappeared and the tank started to bubble. The screen stayed the same, but a percentage bar on the side started counting up the hundredths of the percent as well as starting an estimated time remaining clock that read one hour and thirty minutes.

“Huh, faster than I thought it would be.” Gaige said sitting back before rounding on Deathtrap, who glance around like ‘Who, Me?’ and she said with a bit of menace. “Now then.”

“I’ll, uh, go prep some food up by the secretaries’ desk, so, ah, take your time.” And with an apologetic look to the robot, dashed out of the room yelling back as she cleared the door “Try and be gentle with him.”

Leaving Gaige to her lecturing, Artemis made her way upstairs and started to dig through her pack. It didn’t take her that long to have the food and drinks sorted, and the spread laid out. Not wanting to start before Gaige got there, she stepped into the office that had until recently been A.I.ngels home and looked around.

Other then the black screen on the other wall, she really hadn’t looked around that much in the previous times she had been in the room, so this time she started with the shelves, looking at the books that lined the walls, which mostly consisted of various tomes on robotics, electronics and metallurgy. She didn’t find any of them too appealing, but made a metal note to ask Gaige if she wanted to keep any of them. It took her a few minutes to circle the room, taking extra care to avoid the case where A.I.ngel had lived, since the bomb was still active, and when she made her way back to the door realized that she hadn’t found anything personal on any of the shelves.

She looked around the carefully wrapped up body in the corner and cautiously poked around her effects, but found only scraps of paper and some dirty cloths. She glanced at the pile of waste in the corner and the odd little machines that had been set up around it, which as best she could tell helped eliminate the odor that must have once been coming off of it.

She sighed and walked over to the door and poked her head out, the other two still weren’t there. And a thought ran through her head, had she mistaken where they were going to meet? Was she supposed to come back down, or where they still talking? She didn’t want to go down and interrupt them, but if they were waiting for her, then one of them would have to go and find the other. Well, she decided, Gaige knew where she was, so she would just wait.

To distract herself she went over to the computer that had been on the desk in front of where A.I.ngel had lived and spun the monitor around while grabbing the keyboard. She started flicking through the different cameras to see what the others still on the station were up to.

On one of them she saw the large dog headed man still standing in the Central Hub giving orders. On another she spotted the hall where they had first encountered one of the Pseudo-Sirens. And then she found one that showed the other side of the security door that they had closed behind them. It turned out that it had been a wise move, because on the other side of it was teeming with troops. Most of them were dressed in heavy black armor, though there were a few bandits and even one of the first group they had fought in the mix. It seemed that one of them was relaying orders and others were hauling tanks over to start trying to cut through the door.

She stood up and turned only to see Deathtrap floating in the doorway, waiting for her to notice him. She gave a wave and walked over and after stepping out, found Gaige looking at the food longingly. Noticing her the other girl declared “About time. You trying to torture me, setting out all this food and then making me wait to eat it?”

“Yeah, you need to wait a little longer.”

“Awwwwwwww”

“You need to see this.”

Gaige walked over and followed her into the room, and then at her direction looked at the screen.

“Well that’s not good.” She declared.

“You know more about this then I do, how long is it gonna take for them to cut through?”

“Depends on a lot of factors, but I’d say we have at least an hour, probably two, depending on what they’ve got in those tanks.”

“Enough time for the process to be finished?”

Gaige thought about it “Should. But not much more than that.”

“Well at least that’s something. But we’re gonna need to either fight them, or find another way out of here.”

Gaige stopped and thought about it for a moment before turning to Deathtrap and asking him “Babe, do you mind checking something for me? I need you to go down a floor and test the walls around the door. The one on that end. Yeah, the sealed one that leads to the Central Hub. Thanks.”

As he floated off, Artemis cocked her head and asked “If that way would be easier, then why are they cutting through the door?”

“It could be one of a few things, they may have got to the security door and got fixated on getting through it. Or they might have tried what I’m thinking of and figured out it wouldn’t work. Or, and this is what I’m hoping, they just didn’t think about it.”

“And what are you planning?”

“Before I answer that, what would you do?”

“Let’s see, you said something about the walls, are you planning on going through the wall?”

“Close, I was going to try and use some of the tanks of gas still in the labs, strategically placed, and blow the wall.”

“That should work.”

“Depends on the wall. Now, changing subjects, while he’s testing that, can we eat?”

Chapter 30

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Technologies Department

The girls had almost finished eating by the time that Deathtrap returned to give his report.

“Urrgurru”

It seemed that the plan would work, so the girls finished their meal and went down to get prepared. Gaige sent Artemis to find the best tanks she could and haul them up, getting Deathtrap’s help with the heavy lifting. While they were busy collecting them, she was busy working on breaking the wall as best she could. Her hammer ended up doing most of the work, even though her cyber-arm could have punched though as easily, if not more so, she was worried about breaking the anti-electric layers in it.

After they got back, the other two started helping, using their Digi-claws and crowbar to slice through the broken surface as best they could and pull the chunks loose and toss them off to the side.

It didn’t take long for them to have the wall stripped down to the frame, exposing the solid metal core along with the support beams.

Gaige directed them in placing the tanks and then did the wiring herself.

Satisfied, she stepped back and whipped her brow.

“Well, that’s about as good as we’re gonna get it. Now we just need to find out if it works.”

“How long do we have left?”

“Huh? On what?”

“On what? Till Mercenary Day. What do you think I meant? The body construction thing.”

Gaige rolled her eyes and checked her watch “About ten minutes, at least until that countdown is done. I have no idea if there’s another step or something.”

“Right, I guess we should get ready then. Pack our things and be prepared to get out of here as fast as we can once she’s up. I feel a bit bad about that though, I mean, she’s gonna be newborn, and we’ve got to rush her out of here, probably won’t have even enough time for her to say goodbye to her friend.”

“Yeah, I get that, but nothing we can do about it. Well enough of that, lets get going.”

“Oh yeah, you should check the office out, see if there’s any books there that you want.”

“I have time, I think I might.”

“I’ll come with, I wanna check the monitors anyway.”

They headed back to the office, neither one wanting to spy on the girls’ body as it was being constructed, or grown or however it would come about. Gaige got to looking at the shelves of books, scanning the titles quickly. While she did that Artemis walked over to the monitor and started flicking through the screens, checking where the others still on the base were.

“How’s it look?” Gaige called over, already with a stack of books in hand.

“Well, it looks like they’re making progress on the door, but I’d guess that we’ve still got twenty to thirty minutes before their through. It looks like their boss is still patrolling the Central Hub, and nothing seems to be happening in the dock. Wait…”

“What?”

“Something about the image is buggin me.”

“Let me look.”

“Sure, wait, what’s this?”

Gaige walked over and set the books down before leaning over and looking to where the other girl was pointing. There was a small blinking line of red pixels at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes it was only a few, others it was wider. Something about it struck a chord in the back of her brain.

With a few quick keyboard shortcuts, she managed to clear the screen of the video feeds and revealed what was blinking. A small clock at the bottom of the screen was counting down, and above it read, ‘Manager Alert, Self-Destruct has been initiated, alarms have been disengaged, time remaining’.

“Well, um, that’s not good.” Artemis managed looking at the clock

“Still, nice of them to set it for two hours.”

“I didn’t even know that self-destruct systems went that high, I always thought that they had like a twenty-minuet upper limit, if they even existed. What? I thought that they might be another movie contri…cotrave…”

“Contrivance.”

“That’s it, a movie contrivance, like a duct that someone can actually fit in.”

Gaige winced at that and nodded. “Still all the more reason to get out of here as quickly as possible. Now let me see that other screen.”

She quickly brought back up the security feeds and with Artemis’s directions she found the one of the docks. She stared at it for a moment “Your right, something is wrong here.”

“There, at the corner.”

Gaige followed her finger to look at the bottom corner of the screen and saw what she was indicating, and what it meant. “This isn’t live. Wait, does that mean that the rest of them…”

Her fingers blurred as she worked the keyboard, and then sighed “No, it seems that that’s the only one, but why would someone do that?”

“What wouldn’t they want to be seen, isn’t that what you’re really asking? And why turn the alarm off for the self-destruct?”

The both thought for a second and then in unison declared “Someone’s sneaking off.”

They nodded to each other. Though they didn’t know who it was, the most logical thing would be that someone had set the self-destruct, placed something over the camera, destroyed or disabled the ships and left, probably hoping to kill the rest of the organization. Why, they couldn’t guess, but that meant that they would have to hurry, since the structure itself was interfering with their ability to fast travel, they would have to make their way out the way they had come in before they could get back to the ship, which would take some time. Longer if they had to fight their way out. Even so, they had enough time to do it without having to panic.

Right then Gaige’s watch beeped, letting her know that there was only a few minutes left, so they grabbed the books and hustled out, heading back down to the incubation chamber.

Arriving they found Deathtrap already waiting near the tank that was filled with opaque liquid in which they could see the dark shape of a humanoid in the fetal position with lines that were likely wires and tubes leading to the top. The mechanical arms were still moving, but as they approached, they slowed and folded back down. The readout on the screen showed that they still had two minutes left so they carefully checked the things Gaige had left out for when the person would emerge. Towels, which she had found in Artemis’s pack, clothes that she had found in a sealed case that made her wonder what they had been for, especially since she had found them with half the parts. If she had to guess, based on the notes that had been scattered around that work area, she thought that they had been working on making a bio-organic body and that Dr. Luca had taken that research and finished or modified it, while figuring out how to implant a mind off a computer. It had been a fair bit of work, Gaige could tell just by working on constructing the machine itself, and most of the organics parts of it had went way over her head. Part of her was actually glad that the place was going to explode, some part of her didn’t think that this research should get out. Enough of her in fact, that she had planned on destroying the machine herself.

The clock hit zero and then popped up another timer with ’ Final Testing ’ over it and five minutes on the clock.

“Seriously?” Artemis groaned as Deathtrap’s shoulders slumped.

Gaige however seemed to take it in stride and went over to the books she had collected and started going through them. Artemis stepped over and asked “You want all of those?”

“No, I was going to narrow it down a bit, but I got distracted.”

Artemis nodded and fell silent as Gaige went through the books, setting them into two piles. A few minutes later she set a small stack to the side and turned to the other girl with the larger stack “These are the ones I want.”

Artemis groaned internally, she knew how much room she had left and how much the books would weigh, but she would see what she could do before telling her to cut some more.

She opened her pack and silently stacked the books in, being careful not to damage any of the other things she had in there. She ended up setting out three of the empty canteens to make room, but in the end, she managed to fit it all.

She pulled the bag back onto her back just as the timer hit zero and a message popped up declaring ’ No Anomalies Found’ with a prompt below it. Gaige crouched down next to the screen and pressed ‘Finish’. The instant she did, the tank began to noisily empty, the liquid sucked out into another tank leaving only a film of matter against the glass. There was a series of clunks as the locks on top disengaged and with a loud hiss, it rose a few inches before hinging up, trailing the wires and tubes with it.

The girls leaned forward and the tank split down the middle, hinging out reveling the person withing.

The viscous liquid dripped off her pale skin as she seemed to float in air, being suspended by the device running down her back that was still connected to the rows of thick cables and wires.

She slowly stirred, her head twitched sending a great glob of the liquid splatting against the grate at the bottom of the tank and her eyelids fluttered slightly. Her fingers twitched and started to curl into small fists before flexing back out.

Eventually she coughed and a blob of the gunk came out. The girls looked at each other for a second, worried that she might choke, but she managed to take a deep gasp of air, before resuming coughing a few more times.

Her painfully thin legs unfolded, and the device carefully set her down. Her eyes tried opening, but there was still some of the goo on them, so she kept squeezing them shut.

Artemis grabbed a towel and moved forward to help her as she took a good look at what had been created. She was slightly taller than Artemis, just a hint shorter then Gaige, with skin so white that it appeared to be almost transparent. She was stark naked and completely hairless, without even eyelashes. Her skin was marked with subtle lines around the joints and around her ribs. Even though she couldn’t see it at the time, the girls back was the only place that really gave away that something was different about her, with small nodes sticking through the skin, a line of them down her spine, two on each shoulder and one on each side, near the hips, which she felt when she wrapped the towel around her.

As she did, she saw that the left arm had a pattern in the skin, like something had been pressed into it leaving a slight indentation. She recognized it as something similar to what the Pseudo-Sirens had.

Carefully she wrapped the towel around the girls’ torso, before taking the second one and gently wiping her face.

The girls’ eyes finally opened and took a second to focus on the face in front of her, with her large clear blue eyes. Once they focused, a smile broke across her pretty face, one that they both recognized from the monitor, and she opened her mouth only to let out a thin wispy sound.

“It’s OK, here, watch your feet, we’ll get you sat down and you can get a feel for your new body.” Artemis said leading the girl carefully to a chair that had been shoved aside.

Setting her down, she spotted Gaige shaking her head in disbelief as she muttered “I thought you were supposed to be terrible with people?”

“I’ve been practicing.” She retorted.

The girl cleared her throat and tried again and this time managed to get out in a thin voice “It seems that it was successful.” She smiled and as she talked her voice gained strength “It is good to see you three again, properly. And I must thank you for going through all this for me.”

Her voice trailed off, like she was losing energy.

Gaige stepped up and kindly told her “Easy, it’ll take you a bit to get used to having a body again. Although this is technically the first time for you, but you remember having one before and, wait now I’m confused.”

The girl giggled in a clear bell like tone and leaned into the chair with her eyes closed before saying “You are right, it takes a moment, to get used to feeling again, the small movements in the air, the roughness of the towel against my skin, the way the chair feels like it is clinging to my skin, the smells, the taste of the air, it is all so new and yet so familiar.”

“Well, not to rush you, but we should probably get you cleaned off and dressed. Not to put to much on you, but we need to get moving and rather soon.”

“Oh?”

“Some of the other people on the station are trying to get in, and that’s not to mention the fact that the place is gonna blow in, what is it now? Just under two hours?”

“Oh dear, then I suppose we need to get moving.”

She stood up smoother than she had moved a minute ago and looked around “Um, is there a, shower?”

“Unfortunately not, the best we can offer is a wet towel and a dry one.” Gaige replied.

“That will have to do, where should I do it?”

“Babe why don’t you help her, we’re gonna go check on the progress of those downstairs.”

“They are trying to get in downstairs? Why do you not reactivate the security system and let the loaders slow them down?”

The girls looked at each other before Gaige said “Because we didn’t think of it. Come on, let’s get this working while they do their thing.”

Artemis shrugged and followed along, trailing the other girl upstairs. When they had made their way into the office Gaige walked over to the computer and started typing before throwing over her shoulder “So, what do you think?”

“I think I shouldn’t 'ave stopped moving for that long, I think I’ve got rigor mortise.”

“I know what you mean, I gotta face it, I’m not a kid anymore. I know, I know, I shouldn’t use that phrase, but it seemed appropriate.”

“Nah, this is a totally acceptable time for it. Still, we’re too young to be this old.”

“Old? Speak for yourself, I haven’t even hit my prime. At least I hope not. Though with the diminishing number of guys hitting on me, I’ve got to wonder.”

“Nah, you’re still young. Plenty of people still find you attractive.”

“Thanks, but back to what I as originally asking, what do you think, about her I mean.”

“Ah. In what regard? If you mean do I think we should give her a gun? Then the answer is definitely not. I have no idea about her combat abilities, nor about any of the other things we’ve gained over the years. Situational awareness, reload timing, taking appropriate cover, and a bunch of other stuff I know that I’m forgetting. To mention, I mean, not actually forgetting. But if you mean do you think we can trust her? I hope so, so yes. If you mean do I think she’s pretty, then yes. If you mean do I want to see what kind of potential she has, then also yes. What about you? You seemed to know her in the past, what do you think of this version of her?”

Gaige fell silent, pretending to focus on the screen, trying to sort out what she was thinking. She agreed with Artemis about most of what she had said, A.I.ngel didn’t have enough experience to be trusted with a weapon at this time, not that either of them had one that she could even use. The Angel that she had known hadn’t gotten out of her tank in years, so it was doubtful that she had any experience at all with weapons anyway. But somewhere along to list her attention had started to fall off, like she didn’t want to hear the rest and she couldn’t put her finger on why. Actually, she did, deep down, she knew it was fear. Fear that her friend would spend more time with the new girl, fear that she would end up pushed to the side, and that eventually Artemis would realize that she didn’t need Gaige around anymore.

Insecurity has a way of gnawing away at one’s confidence. Covering all the memories that would tell you that something isn’t what that person believes about you. And Gaige was slipping down into the dark depths of her mind when Artemis continued.

“Oh, but if you were asking if I want her to join the crew, I really don’t know. I mean, she seems like a nice enough person, for the two minutes I’ve spoken to her, but I don’t really want to change things on the ship that much. On the other hand, it would be kinda rude to toss her out at the first station we arrive at. But I, ah, well, I like how things, well, how they are now, and uh, I kinda don’t really want to change things, so um, yeah.”

Gaige laughed to herself, she should have known that she wouldn’t be rid of Artemis that easily, still, it was nice to hear. She turned her attention back to the task at hand and a few keystrokes latter hit enter with a flourish.

“I haven’t said this in like forever but, it’s super robot violence fun time!”

On the screen they watched as loaders started to Digi-struct behind the troops. One of them noticed and a shout must have went up since they spun around and started fighting. And while the troops probably held the advantage, they were taking casualties as well as having to stop working on the door.

“You seemed to enjoy that a little too much.” Artemis said with a small smile.

“Of course I did, brings a tear to my eye.” She said turning to face the other girl before suddenly dashing past her and grabbing a book of the shelf. “Oh my god, she had a copy of ‘The Engineer’s Guide To Guns, Electronics and Cybernetics’? Do you have any idea how rare this book is? There was like one store in the six galaxies that got any of them before they were banned, then all the stock in the warehouse was destroyed.”

“Yeah, but is it any good?”

“How would I know, it’s so rare that there aren’t even bootleg scans on the ECHO. We are totally taking this.”

Artemis sighed, her pack was already heavy, but she sat it down and started looking through it for something else to take out.

“So why was it banned?”

“Something about trade secrets being revealed in it I think.”

“Right, hand it over.”

She took the book and placed it in her pack before repacking the rest and heaving it onto her back with a grunt. “Right, let’s get out of here.”

Gaige took one last look at the monitor, flipping back to the Central Hub cameras to try and spot the rest of the troops before following along.

They made their way down the stairs to find Deathtrap and A.I.ngel waiting for them. She had cleaned up and put on the clothes that Gaige had found for her, which turned out to be a gray bodysuit that was missing its arms. It was covered in a tight geometric pattern and hugged her body, but had some reinforcement around certain areas. Since she had been looking away when they came down, they got a look at her back, which had small holes cut out of it where the nodes on her back showed through.

She turned and looked at them with a little sadness in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Really?”

“It is just that, well, I did not realize that I had no hair and was wondering if it would stay that way?”

“Well, uh…”

“Now that you mention it, some of the Pseudo-Sirens didn’t have hair either, but others had hair of varying lengths. It might be some part of the growing process that you come out without hair.”

“You really think so?” Her face lit up with hope.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Urrgur” Deathtrap added patting her shoulder.

“Well, we’ll find out for sure if we get out of here. I hate to be the one to keep pressing this, but we should get moving.”

They headed into the lab and ducked behind some cover that they had prepared.

“Everybody ready?” Gaige asked.

“One second.” Artemis said holding up a hand. “One last check before we go, cause once we blow that door, we won’t be stopping for long till we get out of here.”

“Fine.”

“How are you on ammo?”

“I’m good on SMG, pistol and sniper rounds, looks like I’m a bit low on assault rifle, and a bit on shotgun, you?”

“Let’s see, down about a third on sniper, down to a third of assault rifle, down a little on pistol, don’t think I’ve touched the rest. Here, take the shotgun and assault rifle rounds.”

“You should keep the assault rifle.”

“Nah, I’ll switch to SMG from here on out, but I would take your sniper rounds.” she said taking her bag off and pushing it against the cover before strapping her guns on.

“Here you go. Oh and take these.” She said pulling her goggles off her head “You lost yours helping me, and since accuracy is more important to you and you’re gonna be running into the dust, you’re gonna need them more than me.”

“Speaking of accuracy, hows your Anarchy doin?”

“I am almost topped out.”

“Really? You’ve been holding back the crazy talk pretty well then.”

“Bite me. From here on out I’m gonna be yelling some crazy ■■■■. With that out of the way, are we ready?”

“One last thing.” She turned to the new girl and said “Once we blow that door, you need to stay hidden, we’re gonna go out and deal with the troops that are out there, but you need to stay here until one of us comes back. Do not come out. Don’t try any heroics or any of that crap. If you go out there, you will get in the way.”

“Damn, harsh.” Gaige said.

“That might be, but better to be a bit harsh now and have her live.”

“I get that, but maybe be a little nicer.”

“You wanna try?”

“Nah, you got this.”

“Then don’t interrupt.”

She was interrupted by a soft giggling. Turning she saw the new girl laughing.

“It is a sign of your good friendship to hear your banter.” She said. “Do not worry, I will stay here, much as I would like to help, I understand that you three know what you are doing, and how to best support each other. I will stay out of the way.”

“Good, thank you. Everybody ready now? Good, let’s blow this joint.”

And with that Gaige pressed the button and the wall vanished in a giant explosion.

Chapter 31

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Central Hub

The wave of dust flew back at them as their ears rang from the concussive blast. Raising up, they couldn’t see through it, but they could see a dark hole where the door had previously been.

Not wasting any time Artemis darted forward, her feet easily avoiding the rubble that had flown their way, her rifle in hand. As she entered the cloud of dust, she felt a wave of gratitude for the goggles that protected her eyes, feeling the thin coating of powder attaching itself to her skin.

A few more steps and she hopped through the hole and landed on a particularly large chunk of the wall still concealed by the dense cloud of dust. Scanning both ways as fast as she could, she spotted a number of dark splatters against across the floor where some of the troops had been to close when the explosion happened. Others were coughing and waving their hands in front of their faces. But the ones that were further away were waiting. Waiting for the dust to clear or waiting for someone to come rushing out she didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to wait to find out either so she snapped her rifle up and started firing.

She aimed for the ones at the front of the furthest away group, particularly the ones that had long rifles set up. Her first shot carved through the head of one of them, before hitting another that was armed with a SMG. Before the rest of them could register what had happened, she fired twice more, dropping another two of their snipers and killing a second SMG wielder. She hopped off the chunk she had been standing on and slipped to the other side of the opening in a smooth motion before firing off three more shots in rapid succession as the troops opened up on where she had just been.

She ducked back around the wall and started reloading as Gaige rushed forward to the other side of the crumbling opening and leveled her assault rifle around it, before firing blindly, trusting her Anarchy to guide the rounds. In fact, Artemis could see that she had her eyes squeezed shut against the dust.

“Aim down a little more.” Artemis yelled and as Gaige followed her advice, the bullets started hitting the ground near the railing and reflecting into the nearby troops with more consistency.

“We’re gonna need to move out, that dust is gonna clear before long.” Gaige yelled over the sound of the gunfire.

Artemis snapped the cylinder into place and spun around the wall, using it for as much cover as she could and sniped one of the troops as he pulled back to chuck a grenade. “They’re already trying to flush us out.” She yelled back just before the grenade exploded, killing one of the troops and throwing another over the railing.

“What’s it look like?”

“We got a mass to the right, facing out I mean, and there’s a smaller number on the left. Couldn’t be sure, but there are probably more down a floor, maybe on every floor.”

“I’ll take right, you go left. Try and take care of yours quickly and come back me up. Babe? Get into the center and slow the ones coming up down. I mean slow the ones coming from below down. Stupid language. But don’t hesitate to fall back if you have to. Alright?”

“Urru”

“Good let’s go.”

Artemis spun her rifle onto her back and followed Gaige out while switching to her SMG. She didn’t have a full set of elements with her so she was forced to use the caustic one that she had buried in her bag. She jumped over the debris and as soon as she was over most of it dropped into a slide to exit the cloud of dust while unloading on the closest troop.

Behind her she caught out of the corner of her eye, Deathtrap shot out from the cloud and spun around in the central shaft before firing his laser at something below.

Gaige finally opened her eyes after stumbling over another chunk of the wall, part of her regretted giving away her goggles, no matter the reason, the other part of her wished she had Deathtrap carry her out. Either way, she found herself squinting against the dust to the point that everything was just dark shadows. Still that was enough for her to move.

The troops didn’t take the attack idly and were returning fire, even as she stumbled forward. Spotting a planter that was already being used for cover at its other end, she dropped down next to it. The troops at the other end didn’t take kindly to that and started rushing her only to meet their end against the wave of fire she was able to output, especially since she didn’t have to even lean out from cover to do it.

Artemis didn’t have that luxury, so as she ran at her opponents she jumped on top of one of the planters on her side and immediately dropped into a slide, shooting one of the troops and ending her slide by kicking another in the head. It didn’t kill him but did knock him over for long enough to pull her pistol and finish him off. Keeping her pistol out she fired into the next troop as she dove for cover behind another planter.

Holstering her gun as she came up, she switched her SMG back to her right hand and thrust her left hands blade into the troop that was trying to flank her. Holding his corpse up in front of her she pushed forward, firing around him as she went.

Gaige finished off her clip and reloaded as the troops she was fighting continued to swarm. She could hear shouts for reinforcements, but she could also hear the sounds of fighting coming from below. Finishing her reload she peaked out and spotted a huge figure near the back, obviously giving orders to the troops, so she took a bead on him and opened fire, not expecting anything, but figuring that it was worth the try. Predictably the shots went all over, hitting everything but what she was aiming at. Still that meant that a number of troops cried out in pain as the ricocheting bullets slammed into them.

That seemed to get the bosses attention, and he made another gesture. His troops seemed to know the hand signal since they all started charging at once. She swore and cut loose, trying to take as many of them down as she could while yelling over her shoulder for help.

Artemis heard the cry and glance behind her, even as the corpse in front of her continued to get shot. Spotting what was happening and seeing that Deathtrap was flying up to assist she reached for a grenade to try and finish off the troops she was facing, only for her hand to find the same thing it had the last few times, she still hadn’t got her mod back.

Swearing, she shouldered her SMG and spun her rifle off her back. She retracted her blade but let the corpse fall against her as a shield as she took aim and fired at the dog headed leader. Almost like he was expecting it, he moved one of the closest troops into the line of fire, killing him.

Artemis swore, these kinds of bosses were the worst. Even as she thought that, she had to step back as a spray of chips from the railing assailed her. It seemed that the troops down a level didn’t take someone shooting at their boss kindly, and with Deathtrap being occupied trying to help Gaige, they were free to do what they wanted.

She spun around the corpse shield and fired the rest of the rounds she had in her rifle at the ones to the left of the door, killing most of them. Taking a moment to reload her guns she yelled out to Deathtrap “Switch.” and started running back towards the door.

He glanced at her and nodded, just as she came to the railing, she jumped over it and curled up. Falling through air she didn’t have time to think about how stupid what she was doing was, but then again, neither did the troops that had been down a floor.

She traveled across the corner and down a floor and just as she came down on one of them, she popped her blade and used her increased force to drive it through him, before landing on him and rolling up. As she did, she drew and fired her pistol into the nearest ones before diving forward. Holstering her empty gun, she rolled up with one of the dead troops rifles and opened fire on the rest of them, throwing them into chaos.

Gaige had no idea what was going on, but she was grateful that Deathtrap’s laser was scything through the troops, buying her time to reload again. She popped back up and surveyed the situation, the number of troops in front of her had diminished slightly, but it seemed that the boss had moved forward, getting himself surrounded by troops that he could use to protect himself with, which meant that a large block of troops was moving up towards her. Even with her Anarchy empowered shots, they weren’t dropping very fast, so she was considering switching to her normal shotgun, but she felt that she should wait on that for as long as she could.

Artemis sliced through the throat of another troop, catching his gun as it fell from his hand and spun with it firing. The piles of bodies around her was growing, but her real intent had been to disrupt the flow of troops going upward, and that she had already achieved so she threw the gun into the next troop and made a hand signal to Deathtrap. He caught on and nodded, dropping back down and firing a laser into the remaining troops.

Taking advantage of them dying, she ran for the edge and placed her foot onto the railing before jumping at him. He swooped in and caught her foot with his palm and at her signal chucked her up and over the railing of the top floor.

She hit the ground and rolled up where she had wanted to be, on the far side of the boss, effectively flanking him. He immediately noticed and ordered his troops to that side, but that took pressure off of Gaige, who took advantage of it to lay into the remaining troops on her side.

Deathtrap meanwhile spun back up and finished off the troops that had been on Artemis’s original side before dropping back down and continuing to keep the lower floors occupied.

Artemis dropped another troop while watching the boss. Something was bothering her, for all the troops that were getting killed, it didn’t seem to bother him, nor had he drawn a weapon. In fact the only one she could see on him was a large gold colored blade on his back with a strange curve to it. Other than that he just seemed to be directing his troops on where to fire. Which led her to another thing that was bothering her, none of the troops seemed to mind that they were being used as human shields. Not even when he grabbed them and physically used then to intercept bullets. In fact, they weren’t making any noise that she could hear. The only sounds coming from them was the sound of their guns firing and the creak and groan of their bulky armor.

No matter what, he was going to have to do something soon since he was running out of troops.

Eventually Anubis had enough and reached over his shoulder and unhooked his blade. The golden weapon gleamed in the light as he easily hefted the long weapon. The blade itself stood at nearly three feet in length, running straight from the handle for about a foot before it made a great curve out, like someone had stuck a flattened half a circle onto the blade and hooked back at the end. Neither of the girls had ever seen a weapon like it before in all their travels, so they both eyed it cautiously.

Anubis held the blade casually in one hand and raised it to shoulder height, parallel to his shoulders in front of him. In his other hand he held up a strange device that looked like a pair of scales that tilted and rocked slightly.

Even as he did this, both girls continued firing upon him, only to have more of the troops step into their lines of fire.

Ignoring this Anubis shook the scale and his eyes glowed briefly and he intoned in a voice that seemed to rumble up from the depths of his armor “Duat protocol engaged.”

Both girls paused in their shooting to make sure that whatever was about to happen, they could react to it immediately, but nothing happened. They sat there staring at him for a good few seconds, as the scales rang slightly. And then the first of the corpses twitched. Then a second. Then almost all of the started to twitch and thrash till the first one slammed its hands into the ground and started to push itself up.

Within seconds all the corpses in the entire area were getting back to their feet. Some of them were missing limbs, others had holes in their chests, and more than a few had only the partial remains of their heads left, but that didn’t seem to matter to them, as they pushed themselves upright with the clanking and clunking of their armor and slowly brought their guns back up.

“Are you kidding me? I thought ■■■■ like this was supposed to stay in the movies!” Artemis yelled in frustration. As her wits returned to her, she threw herself flat just as the wave of poorly aimed shots tore through the top of the planter she was behind. Taking a moment to calm herself, she popped up and fired off a shot from her rifle. The bullet slammed into the head of the nearest resurrected troop but instead of bouncing to the next one, the bullet just tore straight through, shattering the shoulder of the next one in line.

To her horror, the one that was now missing its head didn’t stop shooting, instead it turned towards her a bit more, like it was correcting its aim and continued to fire.

She ducked back down, partially to let her shield have a moment to recharge and partially to try and figure out what was happening.

Trying to put her preconceived notions and thoughts of zombies out of her mind, she looked around. The troops on the far side, where she had originally started were still down, so it stood to reason that whatever was bringing the dead back had either limited by range or number that it could affect. Looking at the ones that were closer, she could clearly see that their resurrection had nothing to do with the integrity of the troop, since some of them were missing limbs or heads. Which led to the fact that these undead couldn’t be stopped by destroying the brain.

But what about the ones that hadn’t gotten back up? She looked around and couldn’t see any immediate connection between them. There was two of them that she had melted with her SMG, so that might be effective, but there was also three of them that Gaige had pulverized and another that had only been shot through the torso, so no real connection that she could find.

As she tried to work it out, some part of her mind marveled, she should have been freaking out, here she was fighting a hoard of the undead and she wasn’t screaming or fleeing in terror. Instead she was clinically trying to figure out what was happening. She supposed it was in part because of all the freaky things she had fought before, but even with that, this was a whole new level of weird.

Still, she wasn’t getting anywhere on her own. She needed someone to bounce ideas off of, and the only people around were on the other side of the hoard, so she would need to get to the other side. And the best way to do that would be to run around the perimeter, but since that would take too long, she instead went for the fastest option.

She yelled out to Deathtrap and as soon as she heard his familiar reply, charged forward. The undead were slow to react, allowing her to dash forward, slipping around them as they tried to track her with their fire. Anubis seemed to notice this and spun, raising his Khopesh and bringing it down at her. Pivoting like a dancer she slipped sideways away from it as the blade sliced through one of the troops instead. As she leaped onto the railing, she noticed that the sword had went clean through the body, bisecting it on a diagonal from shoulder to hip and that as it slid apart, there was no spurt of blood. In fact, the little blood that did spill out was only pulled out by gravity.

Ignoring that for the moment, she spotted Deathtrap and jumped. He swung around and caught her foot, before chucking her to the other side of the hoard. She caught the railing and used it to pivot, landing in a roll that placed her next to Gaige.

“Stop doing that.” Gaige chastised her as soon as she landed “If you screw up at all, you’re gonna be splatted all over the floor, plus it puts a lot of stress on Deathtrap’s mind worrying that he might screw up.”

“Sorry, but it was that or I would’ve had to run all the way around.”

“Fine, alright, what was so important?”

“What? You didn’t notice the dead getting back up to shoot at us?”

“No, I noticed that. Is that all you needed to say?”

“No. I was hoping to try and figure out what was going on.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that I was wondering if you had any ideas.”

“Chemicals?”

“No, they’re dead. I mean still. Some of them are missing their heads and the one that just got chopped in half didn’t spurt blood.”

Catching the confused look on Gaige’s face she continued “Blood spurts only happen when there is something, usually the heart, forcing the blood to move, something applying pressure, uh, think a hydraulic system, it doesn’t work without pressure, but if it’s shut down, there’s not always pressure in the lines right? If you cut a line that’s in use, you get a gout of liquid, but if the system is off, you might get a little from the residual pressure, but it will generally just trickle out. Same thing with a body.”

“Why do you know that?”

“Because I’ve cut up corpses before. What, I’ve harvested meat and skins, plus taken heads as trophies. You pick up all kinds of things over the years.”

“OK, so they’re dead, what else do we know?”

“Well, the ones on the far side, over there, didn’t get back up, so it either has a range or number limit, other than that, I can’t figure out why some of the ones here didn’t get back up.”

There was a momentary pause from the other girls so she looked over and asked “What?”

“Nothing, it’s just, well, do you think we’re jaded?”

“How so?”

“It’s just that, well, we’re fighting an undead hoard, but instead of freaking out, we’re sitting here discussing how to tell that something’s dead.”

“Huh, when you put it like that, maybe we are. But if we weren’t, I don’t think we could be fighting, we would’ve taken one look at the situation and ran away screaming.”

“Fair enough.” Gaige said and peeked out, scanned the area before ducking back down “Well, on a completely unrelated note, thanks to you, we’re gonna have to move.”

“What?”

“Without you flanking him, he’s started pushing the mass of troops forward towards us.”

“Well that’s not good.”

“No kidding.”

“On the plus side they’re terrible shots.”

“Great.”

Artemis popped up and unloaded with her SMG at the front of the hoard, soaking them in caustic liquid before dropping back down to reload. Peeking out she watched as the troops sizzled and melted and after a moment one staggered, but they continued to trudge forward, so she leaned out and unloaded again. This time three of them melted into goo and another one fell over as its legs dissolved, but the rest of them continued to fire indiscriminately.

Swearing she pulled back and slapped a new clip in before tossing her SMG to Gaige and said “Hear, this seems to work, if a bit slowly.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Try and reduce their offense.” And with that she pulled her rifle and leaned out. Taking aim, she fired, smashing through the troops arm just above the elbow and severing it. The gun in its hand fell to the ground as the undead troop continued to stagger forward. Nodding to herself she repeated the process on the next five that weren’t currently melting before ducking back just before her shield broke.

Gaige held the SMG over the top of the planter and unloaded while Artemis waited for her shield to recharge. Once the gun was empty, she pulled it back and replaced it with her own assault rifle and emptied that one as well.

As soon as she pulled back and started reloading Artemis leaned out and fired. Pulling back, she started sliding fresh rounds in and declared “We can’t stay here much longer. That hoard will be hear any second now.”

“Right, give the signal and we’ll go.”

Slapping the cylinder closed and drawing her pistol, Artemis nodded and sprung up “Go.” She said and opened fire, once again aiming for the gun arms of the oncoming troops. As soon as she had fired the sixth shot, she holstered it and swung her rifle up and continued firing as she backed up.

Gaige dashed back and dropped into a slide before catching the corner of the next planter. She popped up and as soon as she counted the sixth rifle shot, she opened fire as Artemis spun and dashed back to where she was.

As soon as she slid around the corner, she had her bullets in hand and was reloading. Gaige turned to her and shook her head “We need to speed this up.”

“That would mean taking out the boss.”

“But how do we get close enough so that he can’t shield himself?”

“I should’ve been aiming at their legs. They might still be shooting but they couldn’t be used for shields then.”

“Well, better late I guess.”

“On it.” And with that she leaned out and started shooting through their knees, each shot taking at least one of their legs out from under them, and a few shots managed to cut through the first leg and take out the one behind them. She ducked back and reloaded her rifle and looked over to Gaige, who shrugged and nodded as she held the SMG over the top and fired, melting another couple of them.

Despite the reduction in the number of troops that were coming, they still trudged forward and to the girls horror, the ones that were missing their arms stepped into the front of the hoard, as if they were trying to shield the ones that could still shoot. In fact, after a moment they realized that the ones in the back had picked up the ones missing a leg and passed them forward so that the ones with only one arm could carry them as they continued to fire.

They were forced to fall back again as the hoard continued its slow advance, even as they continued to take out the legs of the shooters. Gaige’s shots took out a few including some of the ones that were carrying their allies, when they realized that their situation had suddenly gotten worse. They had fallen back to the point that they had turned the corner and were backing away when the group that had been on the left of their original entry point started to get up.

Finding themselves flanked the girls had to make a snap decision. Gaige pulled out the triple barreled shotgun and nodded to Artemis, who sighed and took back her SMG. She took a breath and dashed out from the cover, running towards the railing and jumped up onto it while firing at the hoard. Getting both feet on the narrow ledge, she took off running down it, straight towards the hoard like she was trying to go around them on it. Predictably the nearest troops tried to intercept her, bodily throwing themselves at her. The first one flew over the rail and went tumbling into the darkness below, while the second and third landed across it as she put the brakes on. Leaping over them she didn’t bother reloading when her gun went dry, instead focusing on maintaining her balance. The next group didn’t intend to let her have a chance and four of them charged in a wave, throwing their hands up in an attempt to catch her, but she had made it far enough to jump across the corner.

Just as she leaped, she felt the hands of one of them nearly catch her leg. While it didn’t manage to get a hold on her, it did disrupt her jump enough that she only just caught the edge of the railing, slamming her chest into the face of it. Grunting as the air was forced from her lungs, she knew that she didn’t have time to spare and gave a heave, pulling herself up. It helped that her cybernetic arm didn’t require any assistance as she pulled herself upward till she planted her feet against the side and kicked. Using the added momentum, she rolled over the top and landed in a heap on the ground.

The hoard hadn’t missed the opportunity and the back ranks had massed where she had come over the rail. Cursing as she tried to get feeling back into her narrow chest, she rolled away drawing her pistol as she came up and fired, not at the troops in front of her but at their boss.

This seemed to catch him off guard since the first shot hit him in the face, tearing a line from his eye off the side of his head. By the time the second shot flew at him he had managed to grab one of his troops and threw them at her, forcing her to abandon the rest of her shots and throw herself out of the way.

During that time Gaige hadn’t been idle, she had almost ran out when Artemis had nearly missed her landing, but that had worked out in the end, because while Anubis was distracted by the shot that scrapped against his head, she had dashed out at full speed, weaving between the remaining troops and slid to a stop next to him and before he could react, slammed the triple barreled shotgun against his head and pulled the trigger.

His head exploded in a spray of metal. His massive body swayed for a moment before toppling over and slamming into the ground with a mighty crash. Moments later, almost all of the troops collapsed, like their strings had been cut. The remaining few were still alive and hadn’t been reanimated.

Seconds later they joined their comrades on the floor.

The girls looked around at the mess on the ground and shook their heads. Gaige wanted to find out how he had been able to raise the dead, and Artemis just wanted to get out of there.

As she checked her guns, she watched as Gaige started to examine Anubis and the scales that had fallen next to him.

“Hmm, this is interesting.” She muttered.

“What?”

“The scale is just a plain metal set of scales.”

“So, it didn’t actually have any part in bringing them back?”

“If it did, it wasn’t from them.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means that if it had anything to do with it, it must have been some other, I donno, mystical use?”

“Are you suggesting that he used magic? Really?”

“All I know is that we were just fighting the undead and that there are Witches and Warlocks on Eden 6.”

Gaige ignored the eye roll from Artemis and moved to one of the troops and started examining him. Artemis walked past her and leaned over the ledge to wave to Deathtrap who floated up and asked

“Urrgur?”

“Yeah, we’re good up here, you good down there?”

“Urrrugur”

“I know, same thing happened up here. Creepy right?”

“Urur”

“We just gotta wait for her to finish then we’re outa here.”

Deathtrap floated back down and swung out of view with a “Urggur”.

“Thanks, you do that.” She called back down and turned back to where Gaige was working, carefully taking the helmet off of one of the corpses with a disgusted look on her face.

Sudden movement from behind her caught Artemis’s attention, as Anubis suddenly sat up and raise his Khopesh to strike Gaige from behind. Reacting instinctively Artemis dove into her, knocking her sideways as the blade crunched into the corpse she had been looking at.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Gaige yelled as the leader’s headless corpse lumbered to its feet.

Artemis sprung up and drew her backup pistol, slamming it into the massive torso and unloaded all three shots. The body staggered with each hit, and as the third sent sparks and circuits flying out his back, the blade slipped from his fingers and the massive body toppled over, landing in a spreading pool of oil.

Chapter 32

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Central Hub

“Well that explains it.” Gaige said looking at the corpse “He was a robot.”

“Is he dead, for real this time?” Artemis asked sliding the blade away with her foot, keeping her gun trained on the still body.

“Yeah, but just to be sure, I’m gonna have Deathtrap fry his circuits when I’m done.”

Gaige continued poking around the corpse as Artemis reloaded her guns before adding “Thanks, by the way, for, yeah know, saving me and all.”

“Don’t mention it. Oh, speaking of apologies, I owe you one.”

“Now what’d you do?”

“Nothing, it’s for earlier, well I mean when we got here.”

“What about it?”

“When I made those comments on your, um, backside.”

“Speak carefully now.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that you thought you had a weight problem, I was just teasing, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“First, who says I’ve got a weight problem?”

“Um, well, Deathtr”

“Don’t try and shift the blame onto him!”

“Uh, but he”

“And don’t say butt!”

“Uh, OK, well, he did tell me to, ah, that you were, well, concerned about your weight.”

“You traitor!” She yelled at the central shaft.

“Urrrrrr”

“Oh, you don’t get to try and talk your way out of this one mister, that was private.”

“Um, I, ah, I’m glad he told me” She stopped and took an involuntary step back as Gaige swung around and fixed her with a glare.

“And why might that be?” She hissed.

“Eeep. Because I, uh, didn’t realize how, um, sensitive you were about it, and cause if he hadn’t, I might have continued to make cracks about it without realizing that I was, uh, hurting you.”

“Oh” Gaige calmed down a bit “Well, in that case. Did you really think I’d say that? OK fine, I put on a few pounds since I stopped Vault Hunting. It’s cause I don’t get as much exercise working in other fields, and cause I got to eat at the weddings, all that cake wasn’t good for my waistline, alright, happy, there I admitted it, I got fat!”

Artemis looked at her for a second and then said “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“This.” And with that she punched the top of Gaiges’ head.

“What the heck!”

“You are not fat. Get that through your head. You have a great figure, I mean look at me, I’m all sinew and bones, you at least have curves in the right spots.”

“What are you talking about, you’re lithe.”

“Another word for skinny and flat.”

“Petite.”

“Same thing.”

“Urrgurur”

Both girls looked over to where Deathtrap was peeking over the railing, like he was afraid that he might get something thrown at him for interjecting. But it seemed to work, both girls shoulders slumped and they looked back at each other.

Artemis spoke up “Look there’s nothing wrong with your body. And I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with mine, not really. But what I was trying to say was, there’s nothing wrong with your figure, I personally think it’s very, um, attractive, flattering, uh, it looks good on you, I mean…Look, if you want to lose some weight, that’s your choice. I’ll even do what I can to help. I mean we’ve both probably lost some weight on this job. But for my two cents, I think you look good now.”

Gaige listened and then sighed while turning away from the other girl “Thanks.”

Looking at Gaige’s ears turning red and feeling her own face was warm, Artemis coughed and shifted subjects “Well, enough of that, what’d you find out.”

Clearing her throat, Gaige nodded, grateful that the other girl had managed at least that much social grace and answered “Well, I haven’t managed to figure it all out yet, but I think we weren’t dealing with magic. In fact, I think that the solution is rather simple really, especially in light of the nature of this guy.” She nudged Anubis’s body. “I think the secret was their armor. Not his I mean, but theirs. Look at their suits, pretty heavy right? I think they served as an exoskeleton of sorts.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that when he activated that whatever protocol of his, what he was doing wasn’t actually resurrecting his troops, but instead powering on the suits override system. In other words, the suits were like small robots that he could control.”

“Wouldn’t that take an insane amount of processing power? I mean he would have to control dozens of other robots all at the same time, right?”

“Yeah, but think about how they moved, stiff and jerky, right? Besides, he’s a robot, it might have been impossible for a normal human, but with his processing power split like that, he could interlink all the systems and operate them remotely. Probably why he wasn’t using another weapon himself.”

“Huh, that does sound plausible. Still, that was something that I’ve never seen before.”

“And never want to again. Anyway, we should grab our stuff and get going.”

“Yeah, I feel like I’m forgetting something.”

“Like returning my goggles?”

“Huh?” She reached up and touched her face. Finding the goggles still down over her eyes she tugged them off and looked at them then at Gaige, who did look weird without them on her head “Right, or like returning my grenade mod.”

“Wait, I’ve still got that?” Gaige reached behind her and pulled it off her belt “Well that’s awkward.”

She handed it over and pulled out one of her own, which she promptly equipped. She looked around and said “Well, unless you want any of these weapons, we should get going.”

“You see anything good?”

“Nope.”

“I think I’m gonna take this.” Artemis said crouching down and hefting Anubis’s Khopesh. What? I think it’d look good crossing with my buzz ax on the wall.”

“Ok, I can see that.”

“Right? I just need to tie it to my pack. Which I still need to retrieve, along with our new friend.”

The girls exchanged an awkward look, it was obvious to both of them that they had each forgotten about her in the heat of the battle. They tried to blame it on the shock of facing undead troops, but they couldn’t shake the guilt easily.

Climbing back through the hole in the wall they made their way to where the girl was still crouching. She looked up at them with bright eyes as they approached.

“Is it all over?”

“For now, but we should get going, don’t want to be here when the troops downstairs finally get through.” Artemis replied while strapping the blade next to the missile launcher on the side of her pack and with a grunt, heaved it onto her back.

“I think I’m getting shorter just by carrying this.” She muttered to herself about how much her pack was starting to weigh.

They made their way back through the hole and had to stop as A.I.ngel gagged slightly at the sight of the hoard of corpses. Deathtrap flew over to her and started to guide her away when Artemis held up a hand, her attention directed at the stairwell.

The rest of them took cover as best they could and soon, they heard what had got her attention, a voice carried up the stairs. The voice of someone ranting to themselves.

“You won’t believe this, I certainly can’t. That bitch disabled our ships. Not just one or two of them, but all of them. Can you believe that? Not only that but she ran away. Took her ship and ran. Her. Runnin away. But that’s not the worst part…Hey Anubis, you listening to…WHOA!”

He got to the top of the stairs and had walked a ways out only to spot the bloodbath. Both girls took that moment to pop up and level their guns at him, getting a good look in the process. He was the tall thin black man that Artemis had seen earlier. The chalk on his face had a few runs in it where the sweat had trailed down his face, and his jacket hung open, he had probably opened it while climbing the five floors worth of stairs.

His hands shot up and he dropped his cane as his usually smooth voice shot up in pitch to the point it was cracking as he all but shouted “Don’t shoot!”

He looked at both of them, Gaige with her assault rifle leveled but looking like she was willing to talk, Artemis wasn’t trying to look intimidating, but was fixing him with a cold flat stare over the barrel of her sniper rifle and Deathtrap, who was shielding A.I.ngel with his body and looking every bit the hulking death machine that he was.

Seeing him with his hands up, he suddenly seemed much less intimidating, in fact, the girls thought he looked kinda pathetic. Still they didn’t lower their guns, instead Gaige shouted back “Then drop all your equipment. Weapons, shields, grenades, other things I haven’t listed. All of it. And do it slowly, I won’t hesitate to shoot you, and she seems to be more inclined to shoot than to listen, so let’s not give her an excuse.”

He slowly started to reach under his coat when Artemis’s cold voice stopped him “Drop the coat first.” She said without emotion “Then turn and show us the gun.”

He stopped and with his hands out, let his jacket slip off, wincing slightly as the expensive garment hit the ground. He then turned with his hands still out and showed them the pistol on the back of his belt. Getting a nod from Gaige he slowly pulled it with his first finger and thumb and let it drop next to his jacket before turning back.

“Now drop any other weapons on you, along with anything else that might be considered one. Poisons, explosives, shields, anything.”

“And drop your watch.” Gaige added. Catching the look from the other two she added “What? I knew someone that strangled his opponents with a watch chain.”

“Point. Oh, and drop the cufflinks, rings and belt buckle too.”

“What do yah think I am? Some kind of super spy?”

“No, but I met someone that kept poison in their cufflinks.”

“Really? I read about someone that had poison in their ring. Also, someone else that had a blade hidden in their ring.”

“Fine, if it stops you from shootin me, here.” He said while taking the stuff off and dropping it. “Can I wipe this stuff of my face? It itches worse than you can imagine?”

When Gaige nodded, he carefully pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face, revealing a fairly ordinary face underneath. He let the cloth drop onto the pile of his stuff and resumed holding his hands up.

“Good. Now, convince us not to shoot you.”

“Wha…I thought that’s what I was doin?”

“Hmm, not a very convincing argument.”

“OK, OK just don’t shoot. Look, this isn’t what you think. I’m, well, I guess I need to tell you the truth, about everything, just well, yeah know.”

“I’m not a criminal.” He continued, his voice changing from the smooth buttery tones, and away from the squeaking to settle on a relatively normal sounding voice without any of the accent he had before. “Well, I mean I am one, but it wasn’t intentional. My name is Sam. Samuel Dee. And I kinda got into this by accident and well, my own stupidity. I was a college kid when it started. I was, like many my age, a bit of a, well, a liar on the ECHO. I mean it was all supposed to be innocent, just a bit of a persona, bragging to others about what a badass I was, the things I’d done, how awesome I was. But things got out of control, somehow I got on the wrong page, in the wrong chat, and the next thing I knew, I was planning a robbery for a group. I thought it was a bit of a laugh, like a RPG or something, I didn’t know that they were serious, or that they would do it. But they did, and worse or maybe better, it worked, except I didn’t know that yet. Well, word got around that I could plan, and I was charismatic enough on the ECHO that I started to get followers. And then things went wrong, I let it go to my head.”

“Next thing I knew I was being called to come meet in person. By now I should have known what was going on, but I convinced myself it was just a gathering of like-minded nerds, but for some reason I went in character, which is probably what saved my life. Cause I found myself surrounded by the scariest looking group I’d seen up till that point in my life. So, I did the only thing I could, I adopted my ECHO persona and convinced them that I was the badass that I pretended to be.”

“Next thing I know, I’d brought together six of the galaxies gangs under my rule. And that’s when things got really bad. I mean, I didn’t want to hurt anybody. You’ve got to believe me about that. I never meant for any of the bad things to happen, but if I tried to stop them, they would’ve found out about what I really was, so I had to let them do those things.”

“I’ve been stuck like this ever since. Every day worrying that one of them was gonna find me out. Sick to my stomach about what we were gonna do next. Trying to come up with plans that would work.”

“In a way, I’m glad for this. I don’t have to pretend anymore. I’m actually kinda glad that Shiva wanted to come here.”

He finished and stood with his hands up as the girls looked at him. Gaige leaned over and whispered “So what do you think?”

“I think he’s either a coward or clever, and he bragged about being crafty, so…”

“True, but if he is just a coward…”

“Do we gain anything by trusting him?”

“Well, he is worth more alive than dead, but that would mean we’d have to take him with us.”

“I’ll be honest, I’m leaning towards killing him and being done with it.”

“Yeah, but he’s unarmed.”

“So?”

“So, she’s watching and I don’t want her to think that’s generally alright.”

“Damn.”

“Besides, what benefit would it be for him to lie to us?”

“Get us to lower our guard, and also he doesn’t have a ship, so he would want ours.”

“True. But his follower does want him dead.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, she set the self-destruct and disabled his ships. So maybe there’s something to what he said.”

“You mean like she found out and wants him gone? If that was the case, why not just kill him, or tell the others.”

“Huh, good point. Maybe they already knew? Or at least some of them did?”

“Or maybe you’re trying to salvage a disproven theory.”

“Shut up.”

“In the end, what we do is your call. Trust him or not.”

Gaige leaned back and mulled her options. She let her gaze swing back across everyone gathered there. Artemis was locked onto the man, her gun level and steady. Deathtrap was watching her and nodded to her, letting her know that whatever she chose, he would back her up. A.I.ngel was watching, her eyes wide, trying to figure out what was happening.

She sighed and turned back to Artemis and whispered “Do we have anything to bind his wrists?”

“I think I saw some zip ties and cables in one of the labs. But if we’re doin that, we need to hurry.”

“Got it.” She turned back to Deathtrap and said “You got that babe?”

“Urru” Came the reply and her flew back into the hole.

Gaige watched a second before turning back and declaring “Alright, let’s say we believe you. We’re gonna have to bind your hands and get moving. When we get out of here, we’ll be turning you over to the authorities. That’s not negotiable.” She turned to Artemis and said “That do it?”

Artemis shook her head and spoke up “If you try anything, we’ll kill you. If you slow us down, we kill you. If you do anything that even remotely seems like it could put my friends in danger, I’ll shoot you. Understood?”

“Um, I was kind of hoping that you’d let me go.” They shot him a disbelieving look and he quickly continued “But this is acceptable. I’ll try this.”

Right then Deathtrap flew back in and proceeded over to where the man was standing and quickly bound his wrists before flying back to the girls.

“Right” Gaige said motioning with her gun “Lead on.”

They headed back the way they had originally come in, back through the door and into the storage area. As they reentered the area, the girls looked around. It seemed like forever since they had been going through the area the other way. The elevators were still inoperable and the lights were still mostly off, casting dark shadows everywhere, but they didn’t fear the creatures jumping out anymore. Still, the girls dug out the lanterns and hooked them to their belts before moving on.

As they made their way back through the halls of doors, Gaige looked over and after an eye-roll, got a nod from Artemis, so she turned to their prisoner and asked “Help me understand something.”

“If I can.”

“Why does one of your subordinates want you dead?”

“What? What’re you talking about?” He sounded genuinely confused at the question.

Gaige blinked and replied “Well think about it, someone disabled your ships, effectively trapping you here and with the self-destruct system active…”

“The self-destruct is active?! Then why are we dawdling here? We should be running!” He started to fly into a panic only to stop at the sound of a hammer cocking.

“If it was that dire, we would’ve shot you and left. We still have over an hour left till it goes off.” Artemis stated without any warmth in her voice.

“Ah, well, excuse me then.” He said calming down. Smoothing his shirt down he continued in a much more even voice “To answer your question, that would have to be Shiva’s doing. She always did set the explosives with plenty of time on them, even when they needed to go off soon, she would always wait for the second to last second. She would say that only an idiot would set the explosives without room for something to go wrong, and that only a clueless movie maker or complete moron would set a bomb so that they come running out of a building as it blows up. As for why she wants me dead, well I can only speculate, but I think she never really liked working for me.”

“So why did she?”

“Like I said, I was pretty convincing.”

“So, you keep saying. But if you’re so convincing, then how do we know that you aren’t trying to manipulate us right now?”

“Look, there’s no way to convince you of that, no matter what I say, if I am lying to you, manipulating you, then I’d be saying the same things as I would if I was telling the truth, either way, I’m gambling that you won’t shoot me.”

“So why did you surrender then?”

“Are you kidding me? You killed, what, all of my subordinates? Well, except for Hel. And Shiva, but that’s cause you haven’t met her yet. And that is assuming that you were the ones who killed Mici.”

“We were.”

“Awful way to go, that. Anyway, you killed Anubis, who was the last of my loyal leaders as well as the rest, but let Hel go. So, I figured that you weren’t here just to kill everyone, so I took a chance.”

“That and we had a working ship.”

“OK, that’s true, but I didn’t even think of it at the time, I was more concerned with preventing you from blowing my head off.”

“Fair enough, switching subjects now, who is this Shiva person?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Well, she undoubtedly knows that we’re here, and if she disabled your ships, she wouldn’t want us to get to ours, but since she doesn’t know exactly where our ship is, it would be quicker to wait for us at the other exit. Which is where we’re going to right now. So, if she’s waiting there, we’ll need to kill her. If we need to do that, the more information we have about her the better. And before you think of holding back on us, need I remind you that she wants you dead, so you won’t get any quarter from her. Meaning your best chance is to help us.”

“You really think she’s gonna be waiting for us?”

“I would be.”

“That’s a scary statement. Alright, I’ll tell you what I know, which isn’t all that much really, never really pried into any of their pasts, didn’t really want to know.”

“Anyway, Shiva, don’t even know if that’s her real name, but she used to work for Hyperion, think that’s how she knew about this place actually, she was the one that lead us here, but anyway, she worked for them back when Jack was in charge, was some kind of operative or something. Did jobs for him, off the book’s kind. So anyway, she was out on a job, raiding a Tedior site, they had some artifact or something that Jack had gotten wind of, so he sent them in. Well, he dies right as they’re about to start the jig, and she’s the only one that hears about it, so she leads her team in, and then kills everyone. And I do mean everyone, the scientists, the guards, her own team. Steals whatever they were working on and blows the place up. Becomes a mercenary, renames herself, soon makes her own gang, mostly out of bandits and the like, people that no one wants and that she can use as expendable assets.”

“She’s a cold-blooded killer. Uses the most extreme methods. Doesn’t care who gets killed or how many. In fact, that was why I liked having Hel around, she tended to offset her. And with Anubis on my side, we could often reign her in.”

“Oh, and she uses only Tedior guns. Turns out that the artifact she stole generates ammo in proportion to the number of guns she has equipped from the same manufacturer. Well, it might only work with Tedior, never really knew for sure.”

“She’s evil and she’s smart, in equal measures. Not a good combination for an opponent.”

They fell into silence as they passed through the rest of the storage area and through the original sample storage room. As they walked down the hall, they came to the place where they had first encountered one of the Pseudo-Sirens, even though they didn’t know what they were at the time.

“I still haven’t figured out one thing.” Artemis said looking at the dried stain on the floor.

“What’s that?” Gaige replied.

“Why did the lights turn on for it but not for anyone else.”

“I think I can answer that.” Came the soft reply from the unlikely source of A.I.ngel. “This is just a theory based on what I saw on the monitors. But, most of them seem to be connected by a bio-electric field. That allowed their, for lack of a better term, queen to control them. The puffy looking ones acted as, I guess the term would be, a node, that she would use to extend that control range. That field interacted with electronics, allowing them to open doors and turn on lights around them as they led the others in their jobs.”

“Well that’s disturbing.”

“Oh” The prisoner added “That’s why some of the signels would cut off and things sometimes went haywire.”

“No, the signals interference was caused by the station itself, to prevent any of the employees from contacting the outside and potentially being spies, my fa…It was built to block signals.”

They lapsed into silence again and followed the hall back till they came to the receiving office and the main elevator shaft. They moved through the room and to the torn open door before they stopped.

Artemis fished out her last canteen and took a swig before handing it over to Gaige and turning her attention to her pack. While Gaige gratefully took a pull from the container, she got out her cable and looped it over her shoulder. Gaige passed the container to A.I.ngel who looked at it quizzically before carefully putting it to her mouth. She took a tiny sip and stuck her tongue out, wetting her lips before draining the container in one gulp. The other girls noticed what she failed to see and that was the prisoner looking longingly at the now empty canteen.

“No time for that” Artemis chided taking the container back and hooking it to her pack. While she had been getting her cable out, she had also changed her gear, obviously prepping for a confrontation with the last of the gang leaders. “We need to go out and then up. Buddy, why don’t you go first, take the cable and fly it up, tie it to the same thing we had it on the first time. Then A.I.ngel will follow. Gaige next. Then you. And I’ll bring up the rear.”

“Once someone is out, Deathtrap will help them to the top. Once they’re there, the next person will go. Anyone got a problem with that?”

The only one who did was Gaige who asked “Why doesn’t he just fly everyone up, one at a time? Why use the cable at all?”

“Urk…fine, use the cable to strap them to him, don’t want anyone falling.”

“He wouldn’t drop anyone, would you babe?”

“Urrgurr”

“See.”

“Fine. Whatever. Take her and get going then.”

So, Deathtrap took turns carrying the rest of them to the surface where they gathered as quietly as they could near the door. Once Artemis joined them, she set her pack down and looked to the others.

“Alright, she’s gonna be waiting just out there, which means that we’re gonna need to fight. I want you” she pointed to A.I.ngel “to stay back here, out of sight and out of the battle. Same thing as last time. And as for you” She turned to their prisoner “We’re gonna have to tie you to something, for everyone’s safety”

He didn’t look happy about it, but didn’t put up any resistance while they tied him to a pipe.

The girls looked at each other, checked their gear and moved up to the door. Glancing through they didn’t see anything, so after a moment they slipped through, with Deathtrap close behind them.

They were sweeping the room when a figure stepped out from around the far opening.

“Well you certainly took your time.” She said with a shark-like grin.

Chapter 33

Hyperion Site: Project Odysseus: Faux DHAL Mining Site Loading Area

The woman looked at them with a gleam in her eyes. She was the same one that Artemis had seen in front of the docked ships and she looked the same as she had then.

Something about her did make one think slightly of the military. It wasn’t her stance, which while straight, was slightly slumped, almost bored looking. It wasn’t her hair, which looked like drying blood and stuck out in short, messy spikes, as if she hadn’t combed it. It wasn’t even her clothes which did have a bit of a militaristic air about them, with her black tank top and many pocketed pants. Her feet were covered by heavy boots, with heavy metal toes. It was the way that, even though her clothes looked worn, her gear was all cleaned and well maintained. It was the look in her cold eyes, that she had seen and done things that would drive a normal mind insane. But more than anything, it was the air about her, one of barely contained menace, an open threat of danger and the knowledge of how to apply it in a brutally violent way.

Her face was still caked in white paint, thick enough that even Moxxi would call it too much. But now that they were closer, Artemis felt that it looked more like white mud than makeup. Something about the way it cracked. Still, none of it had flaked off, so what her actual skin looked like, none of them could tell.

“You kept me waiting.” She said in a low, sing-song voice “I don’t like waiting.”

“Well, if you’d 'ave told us that you wanted to meet, we may have been here on time.” Artemis shot back.

“My, aren’t you the bold one. Is it ignorance or arrogance that gives you such confidence, I wonder?”

“I’ve often found that the two are closer related than most people give credit.”

“Well, aren’t we a cleaver one. Of course, that’s why you were so useful. Tell me, other than Hel, are there any other of my” She paused as if mulling over what to say before continuing with an obviously fake smile “comrades, left alive? I simply must know?”

“And why’s that? You don’t seem like the kind that would go for avenging your ‘comrades’, plus there’s the fact that you left them to die.”

“Oh my, so you found me out. I am most curious about how exactly you managed that, but no matter. To answer your other point, I don’t care if you did kill them all, I just want to know who might still be left alive in there, so that after we finish, I know if I have to wait for anyone else or not.”

“I’m gonna assume that it wouldn’t be a pleasant chat if one of them did come out.”

“Oh my, is that how you think of me?”

“Isn’t that how you think of yourself?”

“Ha, truly. It has been a while since anyone’s got me as readily as you.”

“I don’t think that was a compliment.”

“Take it how you will. Now then, answer my question.”

“No, there’s no one else coming.”

“Excellent. So, did you kill them all, or are some of them with?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Quell my curiosity as it were.”

“They’re dead.”

“Even the Baron? Surely you didn’t kill him. I bet he threw his weapons down without a fight. Am I right?”

“If that’s what you thought of him, then why did you follow him?”

“Hmm, I suppose I could tell you that. Alright, I was trying to not draw as much attention to myself, so I found someone that I could manipulate, OK fine, threaten into doing what I wanted and not be the one in charge when the authorities came looking.”

“That explains why you want him gone, but what about the rest of them?”

“It’s time to start over. They were useful for their parts, but they’ve served their purpose. You don’t keep an old gun when it’s worn out do you? No, you chuck it and get a new one. Same with them, disposable parts should be gotten rid of when they’ve passed their usefulness.”

“I still have the second gun I ever got.”

“Ah, I guess we aren’t alike, you’re one of those sentimental types. How are you still alive then?”

“Speaking of which, why did you let me go earlier?”

“Why, cause I still needed you of course. Well, need might be too strong a word. Regardless, you were useful. See, if you were around, the rest of them would be separated, looking for you, fighting you, and if I was lucky, dying to you. And you performed admirably.” She placed the heel of her palms together and clapped her fingertips mockingly before continuing. “That let me do what I needed to do.”

“And did you.”

“No. Turned out that this wasn’t where Jack was keeping it.”

“Keeping what?”

“That you don’t need to know.”

“Fine, then answer this for me, if you wanted them dead, why didn’t you do it yourself?”

“Too risky. I could’ve taken any one of them on easily, but if another one walked in before I finished, I would’ve been in trouble. Not because I couldn’t handle two, but because they would’ve attracted the rest, and then I would be hard pressed to fight my way out. Besides, it would’ve been too much work.”

“But you couldn’t 'ave predicted that we’d be here, so what where you planning on doing?”

“You really ask a lot of questions you know. You’re starting to wear on my patients, but I suppose you want to know why you’re going to die, and you did do me a service, so I can indulge you a little longer. I would have done pretty much what I did anyway, send them into the lab a few at a time while I checked what I needed to and set the self-destruct. Then while they were swarming the lab to take revenge for their fallen comrade, I would have disabled their ships and left.”

“So why didn’t you just leave?”

“Because of you. I didn’t know where your ship was, nor if I could disable it and since I didn’t know what the rest of your team looked like, I needed to wait. Besides I figured that you’d do what I do to prevent my ship from being stolen and disable a vital system in a way that would be hard to figure out, but easy to fix. Take that part with you and your ship can’t easily be stolen. Am I right?’

Artemis nodded.

“Clever girl. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get going, So I’m gonna have to kill you, and then whoever you left back there.”

“Whom.” Gaige said with no small amount of exasperation.

“What?”

“It’s whom ever.”

“Why do you care?”

“Cause I don’t wanna get killed by someone that can’t even use the language they’re speaking properly.”

“I don’t think what you want really matters.”

And with that she spread her arms, the instant she did, they saw the familiar Digi-struct squares appear behind her. They quickly resolved into sets of thin robotic arms sprouting from her back. Six in total. The additional weight pulled her up into a proper posture and in the hands of each one appeared a gun. Two of them held SMGs, while the other four held pistols.

“Well crap.” Gaige said and dove for cover as two of the hands-on Shiva’s back slipped their guns into her normal hands and then slammed into the ground, launching her into the air. As she came down on the cab of one of the vehicles stored there, she opened fire.

Six separate guns fired at the two girls, split evenly between them. They took off running against the hail of bullets, but even more so since they knew what would be coming next. The pistols went dry first and the mechanical arms chucked them even as a new set of guns formed. The tossed guns spun around the room, firing away as they boomeranged around the room.

Gaige dropped into a slide under one of them and fired her shotgun without caring where it was aimed just as the SMGs got tossed. Swearing she watched them fly out and affix to the walls, where they started firing like mini-turrets. Bullets danced all around her as she dove behind one of the wheels, but even there wasn’t safe since the turret turned and started firing at her. She fired her shotgun at it in frustration, not really aiming for it and watched the bullets ricochet off the wall and fly back over the vehicle at her back.

She heard them hit a shield and sighed, this was gonna be a long fight.

Artemis sprinted across the room, dodging the lines of fire from all sides. She knew that she needed to try and cut down the number of angles that she could be attacked from, without limiting her routs of escape too much.

She spun around and fired her pistol twice, watching the bullets hit a shield and spun back around, dashing towards the shipping container against the wall. She dropped into a slid and caught the corner, spinning herself into the opening on the side as the bullets pinged around her.

Putting her back to the wall she quickly switched out her equipment before leaning out and lining up the SMG she had equipped. The line of bright white-blue shots flew towards the stationary woman, slamming into the shield with noticeable sparks as the electric laced shots tore away at the shield.

The shots caught Shiva’s attention and she started to move, turning she brought more of her attention to Artemis, her shark-like grin widening as she laughed.

Deathtrap watched as Artemis was forced to duck back behind the wall of the fake shipping container she was using as cover as Shiva turned four of her guns onto it. When they were empty, she stopped walking along the top of the vehicle that she was on and chucked them at the opening. Two of them sailed in while the other two spun around the room shooting away, less than a second later Artemis dove out with the edges of the explosion singeing the back of her shield.

He didn’t like that, so he took aim at the temporarily stationary foe, whom had all but ignored him up until then and charged up his laser.

The impact of the red beam nearly knocked her off the top of the vehicle, knocking her aim completely off the girl who was dashing away from the shipping crates, and the resulting explosion finished sending her tumbling. The Digi-arms out of her back caught her and rolled her back to her feet as if nothing had happened, but the glare she threw at the floating robot told him that he had succeed in getting her attention.

She was starting to lose her cool, though the smile never left her face, the area around her eyes tightened noticeably. She seemed to be trying to make a choice when shots that had ricocheted off the wall slammed into her shield, helping her make her decision. She needed to cut down the number of opponents on the battlefield. She had no problem fighting against the odds, but at three on one, against highly competent opponents, well that made it a bit hard, even for her. Still, her shield was holding and she hadn’t yet had to get serious, so she felt that she was in good shape.

Looking at her options she ruled out the annoying one that was hitting her around the vehicles, anyone able to do that would be able to dodge away and still fight. She also ruled out the robot, as nasty as that shot had been, he would be able to dodge away in more directions then the others. Which left the one she had talked to, it seemed that she was good at dodging, but lacked any of the tricks that the others had, meaning that she would be the easiest to take down since she needed to be at least partially out in the open to fight back. She would start there, then see if that enraged the others enough that they made mistakes, if not, well then, the robot was next.

Artemis watched in horror as all eight guns turned on her and opened fire. Swearing she did the only thing she could do, dove behind the tire of the nearest vehicle and waited. As her shield started to recover, she listened, behind the gunshots and all the other noises, she listened to the movements of her opponent, calculating where she was and which direction she would be attacking from. Artemis didn’t have any tricks like Gaige, nor any heavy attacks like Deathtrap, so she had to fight the way she could, and if that meant drawing the ire of the opponent, well she would do the best she could at it.

She heard the strike of the Digi-arms against the ground and immediately grabbed the side of the tire and pulled, throwing her body under the vehicle. She felt more than heard the impact of the woman landing on top of the cab and as she rolled the length of the vehicle saw the short burst of fire hit where she’d just been.

Knowing that her opponent would lose interest in her if she couldn’t find her, Artemis threw herself out from under the vehicle and dashed a short distance before firing at Shiva’s back. The rounds once again hit her shield sending out sparks and crackles of electricity. Even as she watched, the woman spun around and spotted her with the look of someone who was about to capitalize on their opponent’s mistake.

‘Good’ Thought Artemis ‘As long as she thinks that she’s directing the fight, I can keep her following me.’ And with that she took off running.

The wave of bullets slammed into her shield, forcing her to change direction. Running at the next vehicle she waited until the last second before dropping into a slide and skidding her way to the other side. As she spun up against the tire, she heard the distinctive sound of the Digi-arms impacting the roof of the other vehicles cab and before Shiva could land on this one, Artemis ducked back under.

Deathtrap watched the chase around the room, quickly grasping what Artemis was doing and helped her in the only way he could at the moment, firing his electo-laser at the multi-limbed opponent. Each shot that connected managed to slice into the field, weakening it bit by bit.

As he watched the woman jumped between vehicles, easily clearing the distance between them in a single bound, her guns always searching for a target. The instant she landed, she was hanging over the edge to shoot the girl that was no longer there. To her credit the second she saw that she spun around and dashed to the other side, ready to catch her prey making a break for it, only this time, Artemis had just rolled under the vehicle, only to roll back out as soon as it was clear. She gave a signal to Deathtrap and the instant he motioned back, booked it, trying to put some distance between herself, Shiva, and where Gaige was hiding.

For his part, Deathtrap fired another elcro-laser into Shiva to buy her time, to which his opponent casually spun two guns his direction and fired, forcing him to dodge. Even as he did, the stream of fire from Gaige continued, bouncing off the walls to hit her shield. He knew that she wanted to get out and fight properly, but she also knew that this was the best way to do it, even if she didn’t like it.

Still, it was only a matter of time before something went wrong, and just as Shiva’s shield was getting near the breaking point, it did.

As Artemis dashed from cover, firing at Shiva, the woman didn’t give chase, instead opting to toss her nearly full SMG in her path. The gun landed and sprouted legs as it turned to the running girl and opened fire, forcing her to dive to the side. Shiva took advantage of this and jumped at her, pulling a pair of blades as she did.

Artemis jumped aside, barely avoiding the initial strike, but then to her surprise, Shiva used the two arms that had the blades to swing herself forward at incredible speed, planting a powerful kick into her gut, sending her flying.

She bounced and rolled before coming to a stop. As she did so she heard the sound of metal against the ground and out of the corner of her eye spotted Shiva coming down at her. Without time to get out of the way, the best she could do was to twist herself so that the limbs landed on either side of her, but unfortunately for her, that trapped her without room to dodge or pull herself out.

Looking up, she saw the triumphant look in the woman’s eyes as she brought the blades down. A fraction of a second before the blade impacted her, something grabbed her and sent her flying.

Deathtrap had seen what was about to happen and had dove in, grabbing the girls’ leg and pulling her out from under the other woman. As soon as he was clear he took off, flying away with the girl still firmly grasped by the ankle.

As she found herself flying, Artemis replaced her dropped SMG with her pistol and fired off a shot at the back of their opponent. Whether it was luck, her knowledge of mechanics, or her natural ability to find weak points, the shot tore through one of the limbs at the perfect angle, shearing it off and sending the severed arm spinning away.

Shiva watched the arm hit the ground with a frozen expression, she had been sure that she had the girl and yet it had turned out like this. For the first time, she had taken major damage to her rig. She had lost an arm. And while that didn’t impair her combat ability that much, it was more of the principle of the thing.

She was mad. Pissed off. It wasn’t like she had been taking the fight that lightly, but now, she was serious. Deadly serious. It had struck home that if she didn’t end this soon, she might not be the one walking away. So, she let out as intimidating a howl as she could and turned to where the robot was setting the girl down.

Gaige heard the howl from where she was shooting from and sighed. It wasn’t like she wasn’t peeking out and keeping tabs on how the fight was going, it was that she didn’t know how to help any more then she already was. Admittedly, when she saw what was happening to Artemis she had tried to help, but her method of fighting relied on more than a little amount of randomness. She wanted to be more in the fight, but she knew what the other girl would say if she tried, ‘This is for nothing if you die.’ and ‘You should’ve stayed in cover, you can fight from there, besides, I should be the one in danger, I still owe you.’. It was the last one that made her leave her cover and dash out.

Shiva’s back was to her, all of her attention was on the other two, so Gaige switched weapons as she ran. She watched as the woman chucked all six of her guns, causing the others to dive in separate directions. Gaige slid to a stop and leveled the triple barreled shotgun at her opponent and fired.

But just as she pulled the trigger the woman spun around, smacking the gun to the side, causing the shots to miss. Without pausing to let Gaige pull back she grabbed hold of her arms and pulled her up so that they were face to face.

“Well if you want to volunteer to be first…” She hissed, her eyes flashing.

Gaige struggled against the unbreakable strength of the Digi-arms as Shiva reached for her knives. Knowing that she didn’t have any time to spare Gaige did the only thing she could, she kicked with all her might.

The spike covered boot slammed into the woman’s rock-hard abs with as much force as she could muster and while it might not have done much damage, it hit her just right to cause her to drop her.

Hitting the ground hard she looked up to see Shiva looking down at her with a psychotic gleam in her eyes, the knife raised to strike down. She raised a boot to place on Gaige’s chest to hold her in place, ignoring the shots that tore into her from the other two and drove it down.

Gaige twisted as she saw it coming and managed to avoid getting stomped on, but she took the follow up kick to the ribs. Rolling over she winced and saw the woman take a step, prepping to kick her again. With no other options springing to mind, Gaige did the only thing she could and punched the incoming leg. Her cybernetic, which could punch through concrete, slammed into the incoming leg and with a sickening snap, the leg bent in the wrong spot.

To her credit she neither screamed nor passed out, probably a benefit of her training, but she launched herself back, skittering away on four of her arms as the fifth held her broken leg in place. Her arms grabbed into the walls, lifting her up as she climbed her way to the ceiling. Holding herself in place, two of her arms held her leg in place while her normal hands stuck her with an Insta-Health vial.

Artemis ran over to where Gaige was getting herself up, firing her pistol at Shiva as she went, trying to keep her from fixing herself, or at least trying to prevent her shield from recharging.

“What the hell were you thinking? You had a perfectly good place to shoot from, you should’ve stayed in cover.”

Gaige sighed as she heard almost verbatim what she had imagined. Rubbing her ribs, she pulled her gun off her back and replied “I was tired of you two taking all the risk, plus I thought I saw an opening, so I took it.”

“And almost died because of it. You shouldn’t rush this.”

“Yeah well, you almost died yourself. If we don’t change things up, next time Deathtrap might not be fast enough to save you.”

“And neither of us might be fast enough to save you.”

“True, but I’m not one to sit around and let others do the fighting for me. I wanna be in the thick of it, it’s how I fight.”

“So, I’m a coward for not wanting to take unnecessary risks?”

“That’s not what I…you know what, we’ll finish this later, right now, I wanna finish this bitch.”

“On that we agree.”

It wasn’t like they’d been standing still while talking, they had been dodging the shots coming from the ceiling and sending back ones of their own. Shiva scuttled around the ceiling, having taken the time to splint her leg, and was now firing away with three of her arms as the other four grabbed onto anything they could, and when they couldn’t find anything, they punched into the ceiling itself to find purchase. Letting go with two of her arms she grabbed hold of the steel girders running the length of the room and pulled out two more guns as she swung between the beams.

The girls split and ran under the barrage of fire. Gaige opened fire on the ground in front of her, letting the Anarchy laced bullets fly. Without looking, she could hear them hitting their target even as she dove into a slide under the nearest vehicle. Artemis meanwhile dove into the scorched container long enough to reload and regret that she didn’t have another SMG on her. She was also regretting leaving her rifle behind, but she had figured that it wouldn’t be all that useful in a close-range fight. She dashed back around the door and opened fire on the woman dancing along the ceiling.

Deathtrap watched the woman clinging to the ceiling and considered his options. His heavy weapon would take too long to charge up to be of use here, and his electric laser might be of some use, but that harness was no doubt insulated, which left him his claws and his caustic laser. The latter would be the most useful, but not against her.

Aiming to where she might go next, he fired off a shot, targeting the beams. The caustic laser sliced into the metal, leaving a green sizzling cut behind. Sweeping around the room he continued to fire away, slicing the beams where he could till, he saw Shiva grab onto one of them. The weakened beam gave way under the additional weight, causing her to nearly plummet along with the metal. Her arms tossed the guns and scrambled to catch anything, barely managing to snag one of the nearby vents, which promptly started to give way, but it was enough to allow her to swing to the next beam and from there she jumped to the wall and onto the floor with a string of curses.

Gaige watched the opponent hit the floor, her Digi-arms absorbing the impact before setting her down. Switching to her assault rifle, Gaige rolled out and opened fire while moving to the next bit of cover. Artemis was right, it might not be the way she preferred to fight, but she needed to change it up to fit her opponent. Besides, she was still fighting in her own way, letting the Anarchy filled bullets bounce around the room till they shredded their target.

Shiva whipped around and spotted the red-haired girl dashing across the open ground, sending sprays of reality defying bullets bouncing her way. Bullets that she couldn’t seem to dodge. She’d made a mistake. She should have dealt with this one first. The other two had to step out to fight her, but this one could just hide, and after the mistake she had made trying to sneak up on Shiva, it was unlikely that she would make the same mistake a second time, so now was the time to nip this bud.

She raised herself on her additional arms and sprung after her, only to catch the other girl out of the corner of her eye stepping forward and whipping something into her path. Her mind, well-honed by years in covert ops, as well as living with bandits, instantly recognized it as a grenade and slammed her arms into the ground to redirect her forward momentum.

She barely managed to throw herself out of the way as the grenade exploded in a wide nova of fire, and then her path after the girl was cut off by the incessant rain of fireballs that followed.

She didn’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed. It was a good tactic, to cut off her mobility as best that they could, but it would only hold her temporarily and if she still had her shield, she would have just bullied her way through.

But, she realized, that hadn’t been their plan. No, what the girl had been trying to do was give her friend time to get out of sight again, and in that she had succeeded. But now Shiva had no open targets but her, so she spun around and brought up her guns again as the girl dove back around the edge of the container.

Gaige had felt the fire singe the back of her ponytails, it had been that close behind her, but it had shaken the woman off her trail so she was grateful. Part of her wished that Artemis had aimed a little further behind her, but she knew that if it had been, the woman would have just dashed through it. Still, she had a new spot to catch her breath, so she poked her head out and took a quick survey of the situation.

Deathtrap was flying around, firing lasers at the woman, even as she nimbly dodged around them and continued to shoot at where Artemis was hidden, slowly moving around to where she would be able to see her directly. The real problem was that each time she reloaded, she chucked the guns into the space, hitting the girls shield. Gaige knew that she couldn’t take much more of that before her shield broke and she started to get seriously hurt, so she needed to move quickly.

She grabbed the side of the cab of the vehicle she was using as cover and pulled herself up, into the narrow gap between it and the back. Planting her foot, she pushed off the side and got her hands onto the top. Just as she did, she heard the sound of one of Artemis’s grenades going off. ‘Clever, trying to use one as a smoke screen’ she thought as she pulled herself up. Peeking over the top, she made sure it was clear, and out of the corner of her eye caught Deathtrap trying to circle around to drive Shiva off of Artemis.

She heaved and pulled herself up, only to be slammed in the side by something. Landing hard in the bed of the vehicle she groggily turned and saw Shiva looking down on her. ‘When did she get there?’ Gaige thought before realizing that the entire attack on Artemis had been bait to draw out her real prey.

Artemis had dashed out in time to see something go flying into the bed of the vehicle as Shiva stood triumphantly on top, meaning it could only be one thing. Not even taking the time to think that the woman had used her own smoke screen against her, taking the moment of being in cover to maneuver to attack, she pulled her gun and fired at her.

The shots both hit, the first in the thigh and the second in the arm. But before Artemis could move any further, one of the Digi-arms flipped something at her and the next second she felt herself slam into the side of the container as her right arm exploded in pain.

The only reason that she didn’t scream was that the pain was so great that it froze her diaphragm, locking the noise inside her. Slowly turning her head, she saw that her arm was pinned to the side of the container by one of Shiva’s blades, which had went clean through her arm, bone and all to hold her in place with the guard. Turning back, she saw Shiva drop into the back of the vehicle, though her arms were still visible as she advanced on the fallen Gaige.

Gaige rolled over just as a metal limb slammed into the bed next to her head, followed immediately by a second on the other side, trapping her. She looked up as a third hand smacked away her gun and the woman pulled her remaining blade. Shiva looked down and the makeup cracked further as she smiled gleefully and raised the blade, ready to plunge it into Gaige’s heart when the room echoed with a loud boom and the hand, just above the wrist, exploded and went flying.

Shiva staggered back and then forward holding the gory stump before letting out a screech of pain. Gaige didn’t waste any time, hopping to her feet and using the momentum delivered a left-handed uppercut with all of her strength behind it.

The blow smashed into the woman’s jaw, raising her off her feet and throwing her from the back of the vehicle, where midair, Deathtrap, whom had been flying in at top speed to save Gaige, caught Shiva by the head and slammed her down onto the ground with all the force he could.

He flew over to where Gaige was still getting her feet under her and helped her down from the back. She glanced around and saw Artemis, still pinned to the wall, with her smoking backup piece dangling at her side.

Gaige motioned for Deathtrap to keep an eye on Shiva as she ran over to where Artemis was barely standing. As she got close, she took in the sweaty pallor of the girl and knew that she was nearly passing out, so she tried to get her talking as Gaige got to work.

“This is gonna hurt” She said as she grabbed the blade.

“As, opposed, to, what?” Came the panted reply.

Gaige shrugged and pulled. The blade came free even as Artemis let out a string of non-word curses and slumped down holding her arm.

Crouching down next to her, Gaige looked around before shrugging and unhooking the girl’s chest guard and wrapped it around her arm, adding in her own hammer to complete the splint before injecting her with an Insta-Health vial.

The medicine took immediate effect and her color began improving. Soon she was able to push herself back to her feet and managed to get out a “Thanks”.

Gaige stood up and handed her back her guns with a smile and said “I should be thanking you. Now what do ya say we go over there and make sure she’s dead?”

“Best thing I’ve heard in a while.” Artemis said taking her guns back.

They walked over to where Shiva was still lying and each leveled a gun at her.

“Ready?” Gaige asked, and with a nod, they fired, killing the last of the Lords of the Death.

Chapter 34

Hunters Moon

They made their way back to where they had left the others and after untying their prisoner, they blindfolded him and made their way back to the ship.

The first thing they did, even as A.I.ngel was marveling at the ship was to secure their prisoner. They started by securing him to one of the bulkheads, near the cargo bay. Artemis then dug through the stuff she had and came back with a collar.

Securing it around his neck she told him “This is a collar usually used when transporting live animals. I’ve had a few jobs that wanted them, so to protect my ship, in case they escaped, I would affix one of these around their neck. If they leave the designated area, usually their cage, boom. If they’re getting unruly, boom. If you try and remove it.”

“Let me guess, boom.”

“Correct. So, don’t do anything stupid. Next, we’re gonna give you something to make you sleep. Hard for us to relax with a prisoner on board.”

“You could always let me go.”

“We could also make the sleep permanent.”

“In that case, I’ll take the temporary sleep.”

“That’s what I thought.”

They injected him with the drug and after checking to make sure it had taken, moved out to the main area, dropping their bags as they went.

After the door had closed Gaige leaned in and asked “Will that collar really explode?”

“No, it just keeps track of his life signs.”

“Huh, I didn’t think you were a good liar.”

“I’m not, I’m just so tired that my face can’t be bothered to show expressions.”

“I get that. I think I’m gonna sleep for a month.”

They made their way through the sitting room where A.I.ngel was looking around in awe as Deathtrap was working in the kitchen, and up the stairs to the cockpit. Setting their course to the nearest major station where they could get the bounties, they watched the station shrink as they flew away, not even wanting to wait to see it explode.

They staggered back down just as Deathtrap set three plates onto the table with a flourish. It was just something light for them to eat before bed, but they were extremely grateful for it.

“I know that we shouldn’t be eating right before bed, but right now, I don’t care.” Gaige muttered between shoveling food into her mouth.

A.I.ngel took a nibble of hers before starting to dig in “This is really good. What is it?”

“Urrgurrr”

“Really? I’ve heard about that, so this is what it tastes like.”

After the girls finished their meal, Deathtrap shooed them away, sending them to bed while telling them that he would clean up and keep an eye on the girl and their prisoner. The girls gave a grateful wave to him and bid A.I.ngel a good night, morning, whatever and headed into the bedroom.

Artemis brushed her teeth and left the bathroom to Gaige, whom had taken those moments to gather some fresh clothes. She took a relaxing shower and with her hair still down stepped out to find the other girl dead asleep on the floor.

Shaking her awake she informed her that the shower was free.

“I’ll take one after I clean my limbs. I’ll just sleep down here for now so I don’t mess up the bed.” And with that her head hit the floor and seconds later she was sleeping again. Gaige shrugged and crawled into bed. Seconds later, she joined Artemis in slumber.

The Next Day

Gaige woke slowly, the tendrils of sleep refusing to let her go, pulling her back into a doze a few times before she finally had to get up. It took her three tries to get up, her stiff muscles not wanting to respond, but eventually she managed to stagger into the bathroom.

A short while later she came out feeling much more awake and found Artemis still sleeping on the floor. Letting the other girl rest, even while noting that Deathtrap must have come in at some point and covered her with a blanket, she made her way out to the sitting area where she found her robo-buddy waiting.

He let her know that he would have something ready for her in a minute and told her to be quite, since A.I.ngel had fallen asleep in the sitting room chair. Gaige glanced over and saw the girl curled up in a blanket and nodded.

“How’s she doing?”

“Urgurr”

“That’s good. And our other guest?”

“Urrgurgg”

“Good, let’s keep him that way until we get to our destination.”

Deathtrap nodded and went back to cooking while Gaige made her way up to the cockpit and checked their progress. To her surprise she found that she must have been asleep for more than twelve hours, since they would be arriving at their destination in just over a day.

She knew that the ship was slower than some of the newer models and that didn’t bother her. She was grateful to be able to travel on it at all. Still there were times that she wished that it was equipped with an implosion drive, but sometimes taking your time wasn’t so bad.

Deathtrap brought her meal up to the cockpit so she could eat without disturbing anyone. She sat there eating in silence, staring out at the stars, and for the first time in a while, felt a bit lonely.

It was more than an hour later when Artemis finally woke up. For a few minutes she found herself unable to move, everything had stiffened up while she was sleeping. That and sleeping on the floor usually led to a bit of stiffness. Eventually she managed to get her left arm around and pulled herself into a sitting position and stretched.

She flexed her right arm, making sure that it had healed properly and was relieved to find that everything seemed to work. Still, she had a new scar across the back of her forearm, but that wasn’t anything that she worried about. What did bother her was that she smelled awful, a combination of sewage and sweat that would take effort to remove.

She pushed herself up and after a trip to the bathroom, made her way out. She found Deathtrap floating and with a wave she headed over to him.

“Urrgur” He softly stated causing Artemis to look around and spot the sleeping girl on the chair. Nodding she whispered back “I’m gonna be in the maintenance bay, need to take these limbs apart and clean them. Be glad that you can’t smell.”

She made her way to the back and ducked into the small workspace. Pulling up a stool she started by taking her leg apart, fitting the tools into it and popping the outer plates off. Each one she dunked into cleaning solvent and let them sink to the bottom. When she had enough of them off, she detached the leg itself and reattached one of her old, barely functional ones.

Sighing she flexed the toes and gave the ankle a twist before hobbling over and putting the entire removed leg in to clean.

She then followed the same process on her arm.

At some point while she was working, Deathtrap brought in something easy for her to eat, which she was grateful for. Finishing the last bites of it she hobbled her way out and dropped the dishes on the counter before making her way back to the bedroom. Grabbing some fresh clothes, she made her way into the shower and stood under the spray forever, trying to get the ground in stench off of her.

Eventually she made her way back out, feeling much better and found Gaige talking to the newly awakened A.I.ngel.

“Well look who finally got up.” Gaige said smiling at her.

“I’ve been up for a while.” Artemis grumbled holding up her metal hand.

“So, I see. Your other ones soaking?”

“Yeah, I should go check on them soon.”

“How’s the other one?” She asked holding up her own right hand.

“No loss of feeling or range of motion.” She replied wiggling her fingers.

“That’s good.”

A.I.ngel was silent through the back and forth, seeming to not want to interject and seem silly. Eventually she found a proper moment and asked “Gaige told me, but I have to ask, is this really your ship?”

“Yep. It might not be the fastest out there, or the most…well anything, but it’s mine.”

“That is impressive. I am jealous of you, being able to go where you want.” She sighed and then changed subjects again “So where are we going?”

“Well, first we need to get rid of our prisoner and collect our bounties. Then we should, hmm.”

“We should check in with Moxxi.” Gaige added as the other girl pondered.

“Right, next there, then on to Eden 5. After that, well, we don’t have an after that yet.”

“What is a Moxxi? And what is on Eden 5?”

“Moxxi is a person.”

“A dangerous one.” Artemis added.

“Only if you’re not careful. And I’m from Eden 5.”

“That was why we needed money.” Artemis continued for her “So she can pay off a debt she owes and can then go home.”

“Oh, that is good, but where is home for you?”

“Right here.”

“Hey, this is my home too, I was only born on Eden 5.”

“That’s where your parents are.”

“Doesn’t make it my home.”

“Alright, true, but that’s still your home.”

Their banter was interrupted by a giggle. They looked over and found the girl smiling openly. She laughed and said “It is good to see that you are such good friends, I am lucky to have been found by you.”

The girls looked at each other and shrugged.

The Following Day

They dropped off their prisoner without complications. They had left A.I.ngel on the ship, not wanting her to be found out about yet, especially since they didn’t know about her legal status, plus they didn’t want her to see this part of life just yet. They knew that they couldn’t hide it from her forever, but they secretly wanted to keep her innocent for as long as they could, even though they knew that the galaxy was not a place for it.

Gaige did most of the talking as they handed their prisoner over and collected the bounties on him and his crew. She had to admit that they hadn’t killed Hel, but did admit that it sounded like she had quit the lifestyle. Other than that, she had a bit of trouble telling them where it had happened, especially since the station no longer existed, but in the end, they got paid.

After double checking that the money had been deposited, they made their way to the local branch of Marcus Munitions and sold off the guns they were willing to part with.

With that out of the way, they had enough money for Gaige to pay off her debt. There was only one problem.

“I can’t take all this money.” She said looking at the total.

Artemis sighed “This again? Haven’t we been over this already? We did this job so that you could pay off your fines. We did it, now you need to.”

“But this is too much.”

“It’s what we made.”

“And what about you? You took the worst of it back there, so how can you not take any of it?”

“That’s just part of doing it.”

“You have to take part of it, I wouldn’t feel right otherwise. We can pay off part of the debt now and find a way to pay off the rest later.”

“You’re really gonna insist on this?”

“Yes.”

“So, half of it’s mine?”

“Yes.”

“And I can do what I want with it?”

“Yes.”

“Good, then I’m gonna pay off the other half of your debt.”

“But that’s not…”

“You said I could spend it how I wanted, and that’s what I choose to do with it.”

“But…But…”

“But what?”

“I’ll feel like I owe you. I’m gonna have to pay you back for it, that’s the only way I can let you do this. And that’s not negotiable.”

“Fine, whatever, let’s go.”

Gaige stood staring at her till Artemis sighed and asked “What now?”

“I just want to know, why are you so insistent about this?”

Artemis shrugged “I’ve got my reasons.”

“Which are?”

“Mine. But I guess, part of it is, well, I just feel that you should go home, while you still can.”

“What’s that mean?”

“You never know when you’re gonna loose something important to you is all.”

Gaige watched the other girl’s back as she walked away and the sadness it seemed to contain, the things she had lost and let out a sigh, before jogging up to her and throwing her arm over her shoulder as they walked back to the ship.

A Few Days Later

They pulled into the casino’s docks and disembarked. It was four of them this time, they felt this was a safe enough place to show A.I.ngel around. Besides they felt that they should let Moxxi know about her, so that she could tell the others in turn.

The girl gawked openly at the brash mixture of taste and tacky, even as the others made a show of pretending not to be taken in, it was their second time there after all. They made their way through the casino floor and across the central complex till they came to the main tower.

When they had got their landing clearance, they had double checked their appointment with Timothy as well as that he had an appointment with Moxxi, since it did them no good to waste their time waiting around for him in the casino, especially one that wasn’t functional. Not when they could spend it on the ship instead.

In the last few days, they had tried to come to an arrangement with the new girl. From small things like where she would sleep, to more important things like what she wanted to do now that she was free. The first one was resolved by Artemis sleeping on the floor again and the second, well, she didn’t know, but she did want to learn how to defend herself, so they had gone over the basics with the promise that as soon as they could, they would take her to a planet and train her properly.

They boarded the elevator and stood in silence as it shot them to the top floor. With a soft ding the doors slid open reveling the same secretary that was there the last time they had been there. She looked up and ushered them into the same waiting room, with the same stock of boozes.

Even though everything was the same, it felt odd, like it had been years since they’d last been there. To the point that even the two girls found themselves looking around.

Deathtrap observed them as he kept guard. It wasn’t that he didn’t think the place was safe, nor was it that he didn’t trust Timothy. It was just that he couldn’t really trust anyone with that face, even if he knew the story behind it. Plus, someone always had to be on guard.

After a brief pause, in which Gaige was eying up the selection of boozes longingly, the inner doors opened and they walked in. Timothy was facing away from them, arguing with someone on the other end of the line, and he held up his mechanical hand to let them know that he knew they were there and that he would be with them shortly.

A few seconds later he hung up with a “How is it so hard to find good help, I hope you have better news then the last guy.” He continued turning around to face them “You wouldn’t believe the…Angel?”

“Dad?”

“No, wait, you’re not her.”

“And you are not Jack.”

“Sorry, no, not Jack. Though this might be only the second time that I wished I was, my name’s Timothy, I am, well I was, maybe I still am? Sorry, I’m the last of Jack’s doppelgangers.”

“Ah, so he did have a backup plan for himself, besides Project Phoenix, I am sorry, where are my manners, I am A.I.ngel. And I do not know how to introduce myself.”

Timothy turned to the girls with a look that screamed both ‘HELP’ and ‘SOMEONE HAD BETTER EXPLAIN THIS, NOW’.

Gaige sighed and said “We’ll explain, but we want to do it only once, so if you could get Moxxi, we can continue.”

It looked for a second like he was going to demand an explanation, but relented and turned to the holo-projector and pushed a few buttons.

The holo-Moxxi appeared, looking a bit put out as she said “Well it’s about time, there’s only one place a girl doesn’t like a man to be early and this isn’t it. Hey there sugar, how’s it been. And who’s your friend?”

“That’s what we were waiting to talk about.” Gaige said before telling what they had discovered at the coordinates that they had got. She told most of it, from the Pseudo-Sirens, to the Lords of Death, to A.I.ngel. It took her a while, during which time, both Moxxi and Timothy played the parts of a good audience, being quite for the most part and only interrupting with questions that were appropriate. Even Moxxi managed to keep her trademark double entendres in check. The entire time, Timothy and A.I.ngel kept glancing at each other, like they wanted to say something, but didn’t know how, nor did they want to interrupt the story.

Eventually Gaige came to the end of her story and everyone sat in silence for a moment. After a pause, Moxxi broke the silence “So the station is gone?”

“I can confirm that.” Timothy spoke up eagerly “A while after they had gone, we finished analyzing the ECHO and sent a ship out to check. They couldn’t find it, but they did report that there was a lot of debris in that area.”

Moxxi nodded “Good, like so many things of Jack’s, it shouldn’t be in the wrong hands. Not to speak ill of your father, but he was, well…”

“A jerk?” A.I.ngel offered.

“Among other things, yes. But on to you. I must confess that I never met the other you, nor have I heard the best things. But that isn’t your fault. You have to excuse me, but I’ll come back to you, for now I need to finish the matter at hand.” It seemed that even she was trying to be nice to the girl, even if her father was a monster that Moxxi hated, she couldn’t hold that against the girl. She was even keeping her innuendos to a minimum. She turned back to the others and continued “I’m glad you’re safe. So what are you going to do with the data?”

The girls looked at each other and Gaige asked “What data?”

“Don’t even try and tell me you destroyed all the data there.”

“Well, we did let the data on how to make more of her get destroyed.”

“And on the sirens?”

“That’s still on our ship. We haven’t decided whether to give it to Tannis, or destroy it.”

“It’s up to you, so until you decide, my lips are sealed.”

“Thanks.”

“If you really want to thank me, you could take some of that hard-earned money and invest it in the casino. A little bit on the ground floor will get you some big returns. Or if you really want to blow your load, you can go all in.”

“Thanks, but we need it to pay off debts.” Artemis replied, clearly missing the string of innuendos which caused Moxxi’s face to fall a bit.

She recovered a split second later and turned to the third girl and asked “So dear, what’re you plannin on doin now?”

“I want to go with them, explore the galaxy some more. But I also want to stay here for a bit. I know he’s not my dad, but I want to talk to Timothy some more as well. I guess I do not know what I want.”

“Then why don’t you stay here for a while.” Timothy ventured “If that’s all right with you?”

“That might be a good idea.” Gaige said “Why don’t you stay here for a little bit while we go take care of the other things we’ve got to, then, when we’re done, we can ECHO you and see if you want to come with us, or stay here a bit longer.”

A.I.ngel looked around at them, settling on Artemis who added “It’s up to you, but he is the closest to a dad that you’ve got.”

She nodded and turned to him and asked “I think I will then, if you do not mind.”

“I…I would like that.” He managed to get out with a smile.

“And don’t worry.” Moxxi added “I’ll keep in contact to make sure everything’s all right.”

“That worries me the most.” Gaige muttered.

A Short Time Later

The girls had gotten everything of A.I.ngel’s off the ship, not that it consisted of much, just a spare set of clothes and toiletries, and were getting ready to say their goodbyes.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back.” Gaige said patting the girl on the shoulder before reaching out and running her hand over the stubble just starting to grow on the top of her head “Maybe next time you see us you’ll have more than fuzz up here.”

The girl blew out her cheeks in frustration before relenting into a smile “I will miss you too.”

Deathtrap flew over and told her “Urrgrrruruu”

“Don’t worry, I am sure he will try to be the best dad he can imagine.”

“Urggu”

“I will.”

She turned to Artemis who sighed and handed her the bag with her stuff in it. A.I.ngel looked surprised, it was heavier then it should’ve been. She looked down and opened it up as the other girl scratched her head and explained “I found some stuff while on the station that I think was yours, so I’m givin it back to you.”

She looked into the bag and pulled out the children’s books and the stuffed loader that she hadn’t seen in years, since before the station had locked down. She stared at them for a second and then hugged them close to her chest, tears springing to her eyes.

“You…you are giving them…to me?”

“Yeah, well, more like returning them really.”

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I thought these were lost forever. Dr. Luca got these for me.” She said, tears running down her face while she looked up and managed a smile “And now you have given them to me, which I believe makes these the first things that anyone has given me since I became a person again.”

Artemis caught a look of parental jealousy from Timothy as he stood in the background. She shrugged at him and turned her attention back to the girl in front of her.

“It’s not really a gift. I mean they’re yours to begin with.”

“But they were lost. And you have given them back to me. So again, thank you.”

Artemis scratched her head again awkwardly and said “Well, see ya.”

She waited a few seconds and turned to where the others were waiting and walked back to her ship as Gaige leaned in.

“That was a nice thing to do. But why didn’t you give her them sooner?”

“Well I had to clean them, and if she was on the ship, I figured that I could just add them to the library.”

“You were thinking of keeping them.”

“Well” She looked over and sighed “Fine, yes, I thought about keeping them, but I didn’t did I? They were hers and I gave them back.”

“I know, you did good.”

A Few Days Later

Eden 5

Gaige stood on the other side of the port. She had just paid off her fine and was now free to go where she wanted. It still hadn’t sunk in yet. The last thing over her was gone. She was free. Totally and completely free. After eight years, she was back. And she was scared.

Not just that her dad might be disappointed in her. Not that he might have changed into someone she didn’t recognize. Not that she might run into someone that knew her and thought that she still had a bounty on her head. Not even that she felt like she had come home.

No, it was the completely irrational fear that prisoners felt when they got out. The fear that they no longer had a place. That they didn’t belong in this world.

She looked around, at all the pretty people, and some ugly ones too, as well as all the plain ones, but mostly the pretty people, with their pretty cloths and the lack of anyone shooting and wondered, do I really belong here?

And what if she didn’t? What if she had just spent more money than most of these people would make in a lifetime to find that out?

Why hadn’t she just met her dad in orbit or something?

She looked over at the other two next to her and wondered, how mad would they be if she said she wanted to go back to the ship?

“Where to?”

The question caught her off guard. The only thing she could say was “Huh?”

“Your house. Where is it? Oh, do your parents still live at the same place?”

“I…don’t know.” She pulled her ECHO unit out and typed something in and a few seconds later answered “Yep, still live in the same place.”

“Well then lead on.”

Gaige turned and looked at her and saw someone looking back that wouldn’t take no for an answer, she wouldn’t let her go back to the ship. Instead she gave Gaige a reassuring smile and nodded.

The floating robot next to her, which was only getting a few glances, probably due to the spikes and the crystal in his face more then anything, gave her a thumbs up and waited for her to lead the way, even though he knew the way himself.

Gaige sighed and found her feet walking down the familiar roads. Paths etched into her memories, even though she hadn’t seen them in years, she still knew which way to go. And before she knew it, she was standing in front of a familiar gate.

Through it she could see the house. It looked the same. Nothing had changed, but somehow, it felt different, foreign. She felt herself lock up. She couldn’t do it.

She turned to Artemis with a tight look of near panic and said “I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can. Just go up there and ring the bell.”

“Can’t you do it?”

“No. Well technically I can, I mean I am physically able to, but I can’t do it for you.”

“But I can’t either.”

“Why?”

“Because…” She trailed off, trying to think what would convey all of her worries, her doubts, the truth of how she felt and finally settled on the only thing that expressed it properly “I’m scared.”

“I once read ‘Humans are cowards in the face of happiness’.”

“Huh?”

“It means something like, we all want to be happy, but when we finally see it in our grasp, we get scared. Scared to the point that we convince ourselves that we don’t really want it. That we would rather regret it later, then take the chance now and risk losing something.”

“You sound rather sure of that.”

“I am. Trust me, I am.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“No, I want you to get in there and be happy.”

“Bitch.”

“Sure, now just get in there and do it, don’t think about it, just move.”

Gaige sighed and thought about it. What was she scared of? Losing the picture in her mind? Disappointing her dad? Or was the other girl right, and what she was really scared of was being happy? No that was silly. Who’d be scared of that? But she thought back, all the people she had met, the ones that weren’t happy and the ones that were. There were those in each category that were there because of a risk they took. But in the end, the ones that kept going were the ones that continued to seek happiness, so could she do any less. Besides, she had to pay Artemis back somehow.

At some point as she was thinking she had made her way up to the door and found her hand hovering over the bell. Looking back, she was met by a genuine smile and a nod, along with thumbs up from both of them. Taking a breath, she imagined herself in battle and pulled the trigger, pressing the bell.

The chime echoed in the house, followed by a muffled yell. As the sound of footsteps got louder, Gaige found the palm of her hand soaking with sweat, so she quickly rubbed it on her shorts.

The door opened reveling a man who had gracefully slid into middle age. He blinked rapidly, his jaw dropping and after a few tries managed to get out “Gaige?”

“Hi dad, I’m home.”

Nooo, how did I miss this thread? Great job @ima_pseudonym_2 for completing this second story and thanks for the formatting improvements! I’ll get around to reading it as soon as possible :heart: