Hunts End: A Borderlands Tale Part 4

This is the fourth part to my Hunter’s storyline, which started in Hunters Folly and continued in Hunter’s Quarry and Hunter’s Will, all of which were recently reedited, fixing another bunch of typos and grammatical errors and can be found on these forums, as well as on

This part picks up after the events of the third one and does not contain any form of recap, so it is strongly recommended that you read the other ones first in order to understand what’s going on.

That said, like the previous stories, the characters contained are my interpretations of them, the way I envision them, so if it doesn’t line up with how you see them, know that this is just my version of them.

I hope you enjoy this story, or at least some part of it entertains you.

That said, any form of feedback would be welcome, though I would ask that it try and be constructive. If you dislike it, then by all means, dislike it, though at this point, you’re probably not still reading, but if you can, tell me why or what part you didn’t like. If you liked something, also let me know. This is the only way that I will improve as a writer.

There are undoubtedly mistakes in it. I do not profess to be an expert on the Borderlands setting, though I did try and research what I could. If you see something egregiously wrong, please let me know.

All that said, I hope you enjoy my contribution to the Borderlands setting.


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

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


This story contains depictions of violence and gore, language, instances of bullying and some truly weird people, as well as grievous grammatical errors, if any of these things are offensive to you, proceed at your own risk.

A cover for the story


Chapter 1

Jaka 4

“This is a waste of time.”


Gaige didn’t look over at her best friend as he floated next to the tree she was sitting on, mostly because he was right, she was being crabby. She couldn’t help it, she wanted a drink, though not as bad as she had before, and it was making her slightly irritable, a fact that wasn’t helped by the heat and humidity of the jungle in which she found herself. But mostly it was because she was feeling especially useless at the moment. There just wasn’t anything she could do as she watched her other friend trying to teach the third girl how to shoot the rifle she was holding.

After the events in the Garden of Minos, Gaige had been feeling especially down on herself. It wasn’t just what she’d said there that was still bothering her, it was the nagging feeling that the other girl was going to leave her, replace her, and that she’d be on her own again. A feeling that she couldn’t help but feel a bitter irony about, since that was exactly how Artemis had felt about her for the longest time. But as Gaige sat there on her fallen tree, watching her purple haired friend teaching A.I.ngel how to handle a gun, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of impending doom.

She knew it was silly, she didn’t really think that Artemis was going to leave her, not physically, but she couldn’t help but wonder if she was planning on having the other girl join the crew, and if so, where did that leave her? She’d rejected who Artemis really was, something that she didn’t think that A.I.ngel would, especially not seeing them together like this. So, she sat stewing and watching.

“Breathe in and out, slowly. Control your heart rate.” Artemis was whispering “And then, as you exhale slowly, between heartbeats, squeeze the trigger, don’t pull, squeeze.”

The third girl nodded, her short black hair bobbing as she did. In the weeks since they’d last seen her in person, A.I.ngel’s hair had grown out, it still wasn’t long enough to style, but she seemed happy about having even that much, not that Gaige blamed her, few girls could pull off the bald look and fewer still even tried.

Unfortunately, the rest of her hadn’t filled out as quickly. She’d changed her wardrobe, and was now wearing baggy pants covered in pockets, a loose shirt, with holes cut in the back for the strange nodes on her back, since they seemed to be sensitive, and a loose jacket, despite the heat. None of which did anything to hide how skinny she really was, in fact, it all seemed to only accentuate it. Gaige couldn’t help but see how thin her wrists were, how the ankle peeking out from the cuff of the pants looked like it would snap under the girl’s weight. It seemed that she had a healthy appetite, but something about the way she was made kept her thin, something else that Gaige resented her for.

But mostly, Gaige resented her for dragging them out into this hot, sticky jungle.

It had all started just after they’d left Wilina 2, they’d decided to check in with A.I.ngel and find out what she was up to before they went to Jaka so that Artemis could hunt down a few more Honeystuck Wibblers so that she could fix the damage done to her cybernetics. Only this time when they’d called, it turned out that A.I.ngel had almost finished what she was working on and begged them to come see her, and since they hadn’t had any real plans, they decided to take her up on that, much to Gaige’s regret.

On the way, they’d stopped and Gaige had sold off a number of the larger gems and more ostentatious pieces of jewelry that she’d picked up, allowing her to make another payment to what she owed Artemis, even though, like she’d anticipated, the other girl had protested.

At the time, Gaige had been happy. Things were still a little rough between them, but she’d been making progress, not just with paying her debt, but with getting the other girl to forgive her. She’d even sat in on a few of Gaige’s ECHOnet meetings.

But then they got to the casino and things had gone wrong.

First off, A.I.ngel wasn’t finished with her project by the time they’d got there. It seemed that she hadn’t anticipated that things would go wrong, something that any experienced engineer or adventurer knew, nothing’s ever as easy as it should be.

Still, they’d been glad to see the other girl, so they decided to stick around, at her request. It turned out that once she’d heard that they were going hunting, she wanted to go with. She figured it would be a fairly safe time for her to learn how to shoot from them, as well as a chance to see some more of the galaxy, both things that they’d promised to help her with. Not that Timothy was happy about it.

In fact, they could see that he wanted to forbid her from going, or at least go with, but since he couldn’t do either, he’d just shot them evil looks when A.I.ngel wasn’t looking.

It had taken nearly a week for the girl to finish her task, prompting the other two to see what else they could do around the place to help, which led to them doing all kinds of odd jobs, but eventually things had worked out and they were ready to depart.

That’s when the second thing went wrong, as they were about to get underway and A.I.ngel was looking around for somewhere to store her gear, the question of where she was going to sleep arose. Timothy, who had come with that far to help carry her luggage, was adamant about her not sharing a bed with anyone, but since she couldn’t kick out the other two girls to take the bed for herself, they were faced with a bit of a problem. In the end, they were forced to borrow one of the casino’s beds, which, lacking a better place to put it, they set up in the hold.

Though they did feel a bit bad about making the other girl sleep in the hold, they’d only been able to bring a single bed, which the two of them wouldn’t fit on, so that problem was solved, or at least Gaige thought it was.

On the second morning they’d woke up to find the third girl curled up on the foot of their bed, claiming she was lonely, and since Timothy wasn’t there, he couldn’t tell her what to do.

In the end, Artemis relented and let her join them. Something that irritated Gaige for some reason. If she was honest, she could tell why, though she didn’t want to admit it to herself. It was that she was worried. Worried that the new girl was wriggling her way between them, that she was slowly taking Gaige’s spot, a spot that she’d nearly lost due to her own stupidity, but one that she wanted to hold onto nonetheless. But one that she couldn’t seem to defend.

Which was how she found herself sitting on a fallen tree, irritatedly watching her friend leaned in close to the other girl and trying to train her in the fine arts of sniping.

Without much luck.

It turned out that, much like Gaige, A.I.ngel wasn’t all that good at precision firing. It wasn’t that she was inherently bad at it, it was just that she wasn’t gifted like Artemis. The truth was that A.I.ngel was slightly better at it then Gaige was when she had no Anarchy in her system, but all that meant was that she could hit a human sized target with eight out of ten shots from a few hundred yards away, whereas Artemis could sink all ten into the organ of her choice.

Still, Gaige had to give the girl begrudging credit, she was trying, something that Gaige herself had long ago given up on. Though she supposed it could well be that she was still new to shooting and was still trying to find her thing, whereas Gaige had long ago mastered the art of Anarchy, even if she’d forgotten about it for a while.

While the girl was determined to learn how to use a rifle, it wasn’t the only weapon that they’d tried teaching her over the last few days since they’d landed on Jaka. It seemed that she wasn’t all that good with any of them, except for the SMG, something that Gaige wondered if it was tied to the Siren DNA in her.

Gaige tore her eyes away from the training and looked out at the jungle. Deathtrap was the one actually keeping an eye out for any predators trying to sneak around them, not that Gaige didn’t think that Artemis would hear them first, but it was still good to have her buddy around.

Still, the jungle didn’t set her mind at ease, she still worried about the last time she’d been there and marveled at the fact that, despite how that trip had ended, that they’d been welcomed back.

When they’d found out that the bits of the anti-electric material that were still on the ship wouldn’t be enough to fix Artemis’s limbs, they’d found themselves in a bit of a conundrum.

She’d grown to like the anti-electric properties and wanted to at least have that as an option, but after the last time she’d been there, she didn’t think that she could go back, so Gaige had suggested that she contact Wainwright, after all, the planet was part of the Jakobs corporation so he might be able to help. Only when they talked to him, they found out that no one had reported the murder she’d committed. It turned out that the natives had looked up the dead man, and finding out the bounties on him realized that whomever had killed him, probably had good reason, especially since a number of eyewitnesses came forward and testified that the girl that had helped save the factory had to be carried out by her friends. So, in the end, not only were they not wanted on the planet, but Wainwright had promised to let Brandibarry know they would be coming, and to let them use the foundry while they were there.

Which was what led to Gaige sitting on a log, in the middle of the jungle.

For her part, Artemis was attempting to ignore the other girl, not to be rude, or spiteful, but out of consideration. She knew how hard it was for Gaige to sit around and do nothing, especially out in the jungle where she felt she didn’t belong.

Artemis knew that her grousing wasn’t just about the situation at hand, but about something more, though she didn’t know what. She’d been able to tell that something had been bothering Gaige for the last few days, something more than the lingering aftereffects of what had happened between them. She knew Gaige was truly repentant for what she’d done and it wasn’t like Artemis didn’t understand, it wasn’t like she hadn’t had her share of screw-ups and she knew that the other girl was trying her hardest, but it was still awkward between them.

Gaige had been true to her word and had started attending ECHO meetings about addiction, in fact she’d even convinced Artemis to sit in on one of them, though when it turned out to be a meeting for friends and family of a person with problems, she been pretty mad, but in the end, hearing the other people who were dealing with similar problems talk about it, she’d come to understand what Gaige was going through in a new light and it had done wonders in helping her get over a bit of the resentment she felt for some of the things that had been said.

Still, something had been up for the last few days, Gaige had been oddly silent, sitting off to the side and Artemis could feel her glancing at her frequently. It had almost got to the point where she was afraid she was going to snap at the other girl, so she knew that they would have to have a talk and soon, but that was something for when they got back to town, right now, she needed to focus on helping the girl next to her.

“That’s it, line up your shot, take your time and when you’re ready, squeeze the trigger.”

The girl next to her was holding an older Jakobs rifle that they had found before they’d left Wilina 2, one that was easy enough for a novice to use. She was aiming at the unsuspecting Diomos as it picked at the corpse of some other creature. Artemis had already gone over things like making sure you were downwind of your target and such. They had gone over firearm safety before they’d even let her touch the gun, double and triple reinforcing the importance of it, till they could feel the younger girl getting frustrated about hearing the same thing on a loop. But they had still gone over it.

Now she was about to take her first shot at an actual living target, at least the first time since they’d come to Jaka. She claimed to have trained a bit with Timothy, as well as taking out a few Ratch’s, but this would be her first larger prey.

The Diomos was small, at least in Artemis’s eyes, especially after being chased by an Emperor, but it was still almost as tall as her shoulder and was a good seven feet long. Its multiple necks flexed as it tore chunks of meat off and used its teeth to tear it into shreds as it swallowed.

Just as the girl was about to pull the trigger, the Diomos’s head popped up and it seemed to sniff the air before scampering away through the underbrush, causing A.I.ngel to let out an unintentional whimper of frustration.

Artemis patted her shoulder in sympathy, but tightened her fingers when the girl opened her mouth to say something. Putting a finger to her lips, Artemis pointed to the jungle before whispering in her ear “Something spooked it and it wasn’t us, keep an eye out for it, but don’t let it know we’re here.”

The other girl’s eyes lit up with understanding and she started to scan the area only to let out a small gasp when what had undoubtedly spooked the Diomos came into sight.

The new creature strolled out and casually ate the carcass that the previous creature had been nibbling at in one gulp before straightening out. Though it was still a Diomos, it was easily three times the size of the previous one, with eight eyes and a massive rack of antlers. Though she’d never seen one before, Artemis instantly recognized it due to the bright scarlet on its front hands. It was a Great Red Footed Diomos, the smaller version of the Emperor that she’d faced previously.

Her hand tightened unconsciously on the rifle she’d been holding in case something went wrong with the other girl’s shot, as she waited to see what the creature would do.

Gaige noticed the tension in the air and froze, not out of panic, but because the most knowledgeable person there wasn’t moving, other than her hand tightening on her rifle, which was never a good sign. As silent as she could, Gaige moved herself slightly till she could look in the general direction that the other two were, and quickly spotted what they were looking at, and had to bite her tongue to keep herself from swearing.

The thing was huge, and when it yawned, with its head splitting apart and it’s tongues wagging, Gaige felt a cold shiver run down her spine. Artemis had told her about them, back when they’d first come here, not that Gaige had been in any fit state to listen, but she dimly remembered the other girl telling her that the tongues were like tentacles, and that she’d been used as bait, allowing one of them to chase after her, something that Gaige couldn’t imagine looking at this monster. It wasn’t the biggest creature that Gaige had seen, not by a long shot, but still, the thought of having something like that chase after her made her shiver in sympathy.

Just as she was wondering what they were going to do, the creature turned away from them and took a step, before it’s head snapped up, a split second after Artemis’s.

Without caring about the creature Artemis yelled out “Buddy! Get her outta here!”

Deathtrap was stunned for a second, but reacted faster than anyone else, shooting forward and scooping A.I.ngel up and as he was wondering which way to flee, robots started falling out of the sky.

The robots were shaped like human torsos, none of them having legs, and they were slightly larger than an average man. Each and every one of them was a uniform dull grey, as if they hadn’t been painted yet and were all identical, without any variation between them, as if they’d been plucked from the assembly line before they’d been specialized.

But even so, only one person there didn’t recognize them, though it was Gaige who snarled out the name “Holloway.”

She couldn’t figure it out, he was dead, his company bankrupt, so why were his robots coming after her now, and how had they found her? The questions whirled through her mind even as she rolled backwards off the tree, pulling her gun up as she went.

Despite both girls having their guns up, it was the robots who attacked first. They’d both hesitated, unsure of what the sudden appearance of a whole fleet of bots meant, or why they were there, but the instant the first one charged at Gaige, they both opened fire.

Gaige lamented the fact that she hadn’t brought along a caustic weapon, she hadn’t thought she’d need it, especially since the creatures in the jungle were either flesh and blood, or, in the Wibblers case, surrounded by a hard shell that they were trying to harvest, so melting it wouldn’t serve their purpose. Instead, she’d brought fire. Sighing, she brought up her assault rifle and opened fire on the nearest bot. The rifle wasn’t fancy, but it did the job, quickly tearing through the robot and causing it to fall heavily to the ground. The only problem was that there were still thirty more.

There was the sharp crack of a rifle and one of the bot’s heads went flying off as two others staggered. Artemis turned to the next one that was moving towards her and removed its head while nodding her approval, the new rifle that Wainwright had given her to replace the old one that she’d lost had a distinct upgrade to it, not only did it hit harder, but the bullet seemed to have a chance to split in two when hitting the target, reflecting into nearby enemies. She still missed her old one, but this would do.

Gaige watched as the fleet of robots quickly diminished, even without Deathtrap’s help, they were making short work out of them, but even as she thought that, she noticed Artemis looking around. It was unusual for her to get distracted during a firefight so Gaige took a risk and yelled out to her “Whatever it is, go deal with it.”

Artemis looked over in surprise, but Gaige gave her a smile and nodded, she could handle this, so take care of whatever else you’re sensing, she said wordlessly. Artemis nodded back and took off into the trees. She didn’t know what it was, but something was off, it wasn’t that the robots were attacking in what seemed to be a pointless attack, none of them had weapons aside from clubs, it was like she was being watched, like there was a malicious intent out there, but she couldn’t detect anybody, at least not over the sound of the robots squealing and flailing at them, so she got away from them.

Once she was in the clear, it didn’t take her long to spot the people hiding a short ways away from her. They were clustered together, five of them on the ground and a sixth in a tree with what appeared to be a sniper rifle. The instant that they spotted her escaping from the fight, she heard one of them swear and suddenly two of the bots flew at her from behind, but before she could spin and shoot them, they crashed into the ground as domes of crackling blue energy sprung forth from them, quickly overtaking her.

“Aw, not again.” She moaned as her cybernetics cut out and sent her crashing to the ground alongside them.

“Whew, that was close.” She heard one of them say from her spot in the underbrush.

“Someone take care of her.”

“I don’t have a shot.”

“Well, just shoot where she went down, it’s not like she can move.”

“Maybe we should wait, make sure the other one’s taken care of first, it’s not like she’s going anywhere.”

Artemis grit her teeth as she stealthily drug herself away from where she’d fallen, taking extra care not to disturb the underbrush too much and give her position away. She was pissed. Not only were these people plotting to kill both her and Gaige, not only had they recklessly attacked, putting A.I.ngel in danger, someone who undoubtedly didn’t have anything to do with this, but they’d fried her cybernetics, again, right as she was getting ready to fix them. So, she hauled herself over to the nearest tree and pulled herself up, glancing around it to spot the people were just starting to move away, when one of them spotted her.

“She’s over there!” Came the cry from up above. The sniper must have spotted her as she tried to maneuver herself.

Cursing, she rolled herself around the tree and out of his line of sight, but she could hear the others charging over to where she was, so she leaned out and looked the other way, spotting what she’d hoped as she drew her pistol and aimed.

Her shot tore along the Great Red Footed Diomos’s head, popping one of its eyes and royally ticking it off. It let loose with a terrifying roar and charged.

Artemis had dropped flat before firing, so the Diomos couldn’t see her, but the people whom had been coming to attack her weren’t so lucky. They were caught out in the open as the creature charged past the tree where Artemis was and straight at the group of them.

It gored the first one with its horns, before giving its head a shake and throwing his still screaming body into a tree. Two of the others lost all will to fight and started fleeing while one of the others stood frozen in fear, silently soiling themselves. But the last one screamed and brought their gun up, firing wildly at the massive creature, missing spectacularly, but succeeding in drawing its attention. The Diomos unhinged its jaws and bit down on the man, enveloping him whole in its mouth.

Straightening up, the other person could see the flesh around its neck bulged and thrash as their friend tried futilely to get out, only for the creature’s teeth to shred them as they screamed from within.

It thankfully didn’t take long for them to fall silent.

The creature swallowed and looked at the last person standing in front of it, before letting out another roar and charging forward, smacking them aside as it chased after the fleeing pair.

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for it to gore them, impaling them upon its antlers and turning back to the last one, even as they lay there, too scared to move as their friends twitched and gurgled as they dangled.

The Diomos trotted back into the small open area and tossed its head down, slamming the two dying people onto the ground and casually making its way to where it had left the last living member of the group, at least that it knew about.

Getting to them, it casually placed its rear leg on them, pinning them before leaning in and examining them closely. Cocking its head, it opened its mouth revealing bits of blood and cloth stuck to its teeth and letting it’s long tongue loll out for a moment before it swung around and started stroking the person’s face, it’s eyes never leaving them.

Seemingly satisfied that this thing wasn’t a threat, it casually picked its foot off of them and took a step back, seeing what they would do and when they didn’t immediately spring up, it gave a short bark at them before settling into a low growl.

When the person still didn’t do anything, it hopped forward at them and let out another roar. When they still didn’t move, the Diomos grew bored with them and lashed it’s tongue out, slapping them a few times, but they still didn’t respond.

The creature grew bored and looked around, suddenly stiffening as it spotted Artemis sitting herself up against the tree.

“Come on ugly.” She snarled at it “I haven’t got all day.”

It took two steps towards her and roared, only for her to fire three shots straight through the roof of its mouth directly into its brain, killing it. It’s body slowly tilted and fell over, landing with a crash a few feet away from her feet.

With a sigh, Artemis scootched herself a bit around the tree before calling out “Hey, you, in the tree, why don’t you come down here and surrender?”

The only reply was a sniper shot that went wide of her by a good ten feet.

“Seriously, if you don’t throw down your gun and get down here right now, I’m gonna have to make you.”

This time the shot only missed by seven feet.

Artemis sighed and fired, a second later something fell out of the tree with a thump.

Gaige found her still leaning on the tree a minute later. Looking around she demanded “What happened here?”

“What’s it look like?” Came the bitter reply “And where were you?”

“I was finishing those bots up, no thanks to you, and here I find you sitting down and takin a break.”

“Shut up.”

“Did you at least save anyone that we could interrogate?”

“I donno, why don’t you look around and tell me.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“I can’t, my limbs are fried. Again. What? The bots around you didn’t fire off those damn domes?”

“Right, sorry. I kinda forgot.” Gaige said like she’d just remembered why they were there in the first place. To cover for that, she started looking around, but a few seconds later she called back “Nope, they’re all dead.”

“What? All of them?”

“Yeah, maybe if you hadn’t attacked them with ah, ah, whatever this thing is again.”


“That’s it, a Diomos. If you hadn’t attacked them with a Diomos, we might be able to ask them some questions. Might’ve been helpful to find out who they were and why they were after us, but no, you had to kill them all.”

“Wasn’t my first choice.” Came the snippish reply “I even tried to get one of them to surrender, but no, he had to do things the hard way. But he should still be alive, I mean, I only wounded him.”

“No, they’re all dead.”

“Help me up, I wanna see this.”

Gaige shrugged dramatically, but went over and helped pull the smaller girl up before helping her hop around to examine the corpses.

The ones that had been impaled were dead, not that she’d ever had any doubt about that, but the one that had frozen up she’d thought should still be alive until she saw him. It turned out that when the Diomos had smacked him with its tongue, it had torn his face off, leaving a gory mess in its place. And the sniper, who should’ve still been alive, had fallen out of the tree wrong and broke their neck on impacting the ground.

“Well ■■■■.” Artemis moaned, looking at him.

“See, I can tell a corpse when I see one.”

“Yeah, I know.” Artemis sighed in defeat.

Picking up on the disappointment from the other girl, Gaige tried to cheer her up “It was just bad luck that he landed the way he did.”

“Yeah, that’s me, bad luck.” Came the muttered response.

Gaige reached over and flicked her in the nose, electing a yipe out of the smaller girl before she rounded on her and said “Enough of that, you’re not bad luck, everyone had moments like this. Hell, this one time, Zero was supposed to take this one guy down so we could interrogate him, but when he shoots him, the shock of it caused him to have a heart-attack. I mean, right there in the middle of the compound, this guy just up and dies, totally embarrassed Zero, cause he’s supposed to be this expert assassin and all, but no one could’ve know that this guy had a bad heart, I mean he was a bandit and all that, no one even thought they had hearts. Point is, everyone has a bad turn like this.”

“Yeah, but I tend to have a lot of them.”

“Rrrgh.” Gaige growled, wanting to pull her hair. Changing tact’s she asked through clenched teeth “So, any ideas about who they were? And if you try and blame yourself cause we can’t ask them, I’m punching you.”

The other girl closed her mouth and looked at Gaige for a second and seeing she was serious, dropped the ‘but it’s true’ she was about to say and instead said “No. Though I have a few ideas.”

“Yeah, so do I. Maybe we should crack open one of these bots and see what we can find. Well, that and rifle through these people’s stuff, see if they have anything on them.”

Just as she was about to turn back, Artemis grabbed her around the neck and threw them both behind the nearest tree as the jungle was enveloped in explosions.

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Chapter 2

Jaka 4

After the explosions stopped, the girls climbed out from their cover. Gaige looked around, trying to figure out what had happened. It appeared that the defeated robots had self-destructed, destroying almost all of the evidence.

Surveying the damage, she sighed and muttered “Great, now how’re we supposed to figure this out?”

“Well, a little help might be appreciated.” Came the sharp comment from the ground.

Gaige glanced down to find Artemis still laying there, one hand up causing Gaige to remember what had happened. Quickly grabbing her arm, she drug the smaller girl up and helped her limp out to see what had happened while giving an embarrassed “Sorry. And thanks.”

“Don’t mention it, if you hadn’t come along I probably woulda been caught in that explosion. Not to mention…aw come on.”


“They blew up my trophy.” She said, gesturing to the chunks that once had been the Diomos.

“That’s it? That’s what you’re mad about?”

“Not really, it’s just, I mean, it’s a waste is all.”

Gaige rolled her eyes, but let it drop as she looked around the area. Small fires were smoldering out in the damp underbrush, bits and shards of metal that had once been robots dotted the area. Hearing a ‘tsk’ from next to her, Gaige followed the other girl’s line of sight till she spotted what had upset her this time. The corpses of the people that had attacked her had gotten caught in the explosions, destroying most of them, a fact that caused Gaige to groan out loud at the sight.

“So now what?” Artemis asked.

“Now? Now we start going through this mess and seeing if we can find anything that could explain this fiasco.”

“I guess I should let you get started on that.”

“Me? You’re way better at this type of thing.” She started only to catch the flat look from the other girl. Glancing down at the limp limbs of the girl she was still supporting, Gaige flushed slightly and said “Sorry, kinda forgot about that. I guess you’ll have to go back to town and get patched up, but how should we do this.”

“Once Deathtrap gets back down here, from whatever he’s doing, I guess he’ll have to lug me all the way back.”

“Yeah, can’t make you hop that far, not happy about it though.”

Artemis shrugged and continued “What about you?”

“Hmm, much as I’d love to go back with you, I don’t know if we’d find this place again, not to mention that something might come along while we’re gone and, well, dispose of the bodies.”

“Point. So what about A.I.ngel?”

Gaige leaned back and thought for a second “I donno, part of me wants to send her back with you, I mean, you could use an extra pair of hands while fixing your cybernetics.”

“True, but I don’t like the idea of you being alone out here either.”

Gaige smiled at that. She hadn’t said it, but part of her didn’t want the girl to go with Artemis because she didn’t like the idea of them being alone. Still, she had to use logic here, so she countered with “Yeah, but her staying doesn’t really add much to a fight.”

“No, but it would be another set of eyes to help you search, plus if there’s another wave of these…attacks, she might be able to at least call for help.”

“And what good would that do? You’d be miles away and by the time you got here, it’d be too late. And that’s even if you’re in any shape to fight.”

Artemis sighed “Point. But I guess it comes down to, can Deathtrap carry both of us and maintain speed? Or would it be better for him to fly me back as fast as he can, before returning himself?”

“Then how’re you getting back out here?”

“Don’t think I’d have to. I mean, by the time I get everything fixed up, you’ll be done.”

“And what about the Wibblers? Don’t you still hav’ta hunt them?”

“Right.” It was the truth, they’d planned on teaching A.I.ngel to hunt, at least enough that she could defend herself, before hitting the Wibblers nest.

“See, I’m not the only one that forgets things.” Gaige said, turning to the canopy above and continuing “Still, where did that he go?”

As if in response she heard a familiar “Urrurrrg”

“Yes it’s all clear, you missed the entire party.” Gaige yelled back at him, angrier than she’d meant to. She knew it wasn’t his fault, he’d done the right thing and gotten the other girl out of there, which turned out to be even more important after the EMP domes had popped up. Gaige couldn’t imagine what they’d do to A.I.ngel, if anything at all. But it was a risk she didn’t want to take. Still, Deathtrap’s firepower would’ve been a big help in the fight.

A Number of Hours Later

It had taken hours for Artemis to get carried back to town, fix her limbs and get back. Gaige and A.I.ngel had stayed and combed through the area, picking up any piece they could. Gaige had her start at the far side, so that Gaige could go through the pockets of the dead without the other girl needing to see that and they were just finishing up when Artemis and Deathtrap returned.

“So, what’d you find?” Was the first thing she said as soon as her feet hit the ground.

“Seriously? No how are you? No are you alright? Just right into what we found?”

“Fine, how are you, are you alright, what’d you find?”

Gaige shot her a flat look, but cracked after a few seconds “We’re fine, which is more than I can say for this mess. Wait, that didn’t sound right. What I meant was, we didn’t really find anything.”


“Nothing useful at least.”

Artemis looked at the collection of stuff. Most of it was bits from the robots, shards of armor, circuits and servos. None of which told them anything.

“What about their, um, whatdoya call ums? Their brains.”

“Hard drives or CPU’s?”

“Sure, you know more about this stuff than I do.”

“All of them were fried during the EMP blasts.”

“Dang. So, nothing?”


“Not even a serial number?”

“Got a few of those, but I doubt they’ll do us any good.”

“And what about the, uh, people?”

“Couple of I.D.s, a few electronics, but nothing to indicate who they really were or why they were here.”

“Well, that part was obvious.”

Gaige looked over at her, so she continued “I mean, they were here to kill us, wouldn’t you agree?”


“Well, they certainly weren’t discriminating about who they targeted, so I think an us would be aplici…appropriate.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

They stood in silence for a minute. As they did, Gaige kicked herself, she should’ve asked how the other girl was doing, how the repairs had gone, but it seemed a bit late to bring it up. Still, better late than never she thought, but just as she was opening her mouth, Artemis spoke up.

“You did check the guy in the Diomos, right?”

“What guy?”

“The one the Diomos ate.”

“Wait, it ate one? Why didn’t you mention that?”

“Didn’t I?”

“Pretty sure you didn’t.”

“Huh, musta slipped my mind, what with everything else that was going on. Suppose we should check him too.”

She walked over to the Diomos carcass and Gaige noticed a slight limp as she did and spoke up “How’d the repairs go? Your cybernetics I mean.”

“Bout as well as last time this happened. They work, but until I get back to the ship, they’re not gonna be great.”

“So why didn’t you go? Back to the ship I mean?”

“What, I couldn’t leave you two out here by yourselves, could I? Nah, this is good enough. Besides, I’m gonna have’ta take them apart to replace the plates, wouldn’t I? Figured that as long as I was going that far, I could do it then.”

“Makes sense, and thanks, by the way, for coming back as soon as you could.”

“Don’t mention it.” She replied with a smile, before turning to the corpse and said “Welp, let’s see who you had for dinner.”

Gaige looked away, it wasn’t that she was squeamish or anything like that, she just didn’t want to see a partially digested person if she didn’t have to, not to mention that the way Artemis had described the Diomos’s eating habits, she didn’t think she wanted to see it if she could avoid it. She tried to tune out the sounds of hacking and bones being broken to get them out of the way, while desperately trying to think of anything else to talk about.

“So, what da’ya think this was about?” Artemis called out.

“What do you mean?”

“These guys? What’d they want with us? I mean, I don’t think this was a random thing, like they were out here waiting to attack anyone that showed up. Which does happen, by the way, had a few hunts get attacked by irate groups for a slew of different reasons. But that’s not important right now, what is, is these people. So, what were they doing here?”

“Other than attacking us?” Gaige snarked to buy herself time to think “Well, like you said, they were probably here for us.”

“No kidding. That’s what I just said.” Came the snippy reply.

“I know, that’s why I’m agreeing with you.”

“Great, so we’ve covered that, so what’d they want with us?”

“Well, I’m hoping that you’ll find something that’ll help us figure that out.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m elbow deep in this Diomos, but in case that doesn’t get us anything besides a need for a shower, what d’ya think this was all about?”

Gaige sat back, biting her tongue while she thought about it.

“I mean, there’s the obvious answer.” Artemis continued, while dragging something out of the Diomos.

“And that would be?”

“Seriously?” Artemis yelled at her, looking up from her work “With these bots and all that?”


“Of course Holloway.” Artemis snapped “I mean, his bots, he’s got a reason, it all makes sense, there’s just one problem.”

“Other than he’s dead?”

“Yeah, that would be it.”

Gaige paused and looked back at the scrap pile.

Artemis continued “I mean, it could be anyone else that’s after either of us. Those bots are cheap right now, not that I’ve looked into it, I mean, I’m assuming they are.”

“They are. Company’s dead, not to mention in legal trouble. And besides, who wants a product that’s known to spy on you?”

“Right. So, my point was, you can get them cheap, so just about anybody could’ve got them and sent them after us.”

“True, but these also had those EMP’s built in, not to mention they were off the production line, not finished products like most people could buy.”

“OK, point.”

“Plus, there’s the fact that they were rigged to explode. Not terribly hard, but whoever did it, set them up so that the bomb wouldn’t be taken out by the EMP. And that took planning.”

“So, who do we know with that kind of skill that wants us dead?”

“Again, Holloway.”

“And again, he’s dead, so anybody else?”

“Um.” A soft voice asked “You keep saying this Holloway person is dead, but how sure are you of that?”

The girls looked over to where A.I.ngel was standing, watching them.

“How long have you been standing there?” Gaige asked.

“Um, a little while. You two seemed to be in a good debate, so I did not want to interrupt.”

“Uh, alright.” Gaige said, feeling awkward “But to answer your question, he’s dead. I’m sure of it.”

“Hold on.” Artemis said “We only have the ECHO reports that say that, so who’s to say he didn’t pay someone off to fake his own death?”

Gaige paused “That does make a certain kind of sense. I mean, with the kind of trouble he was in, that would get him out, and since no one would be looking for him, he could do whatever he wanted.”

“Plus, a dead man can’t exactly go to prison for murder.”

“Not to mention that he doesn’t care about collateral.”

“But why now? I mean, if it is him, and this is still a theoretical, but if it is, then what’s he been up to and why hasn’t he attacked us before?”

Artemis paused and thought about it before answering “Well, this is the first time we’ve been alone, more or less. I mean think about it, where did we go after defeating him?”

“To the Project Odysseus base.”

“No, well, yes, but first we went to Eden 5, right? Then we went to the Project Odysseus base.”

“Right, but we didn’t hear about his death until after we were on our way there.”

“True, but let’s say he was already out by then, for argument’s sake, he would’ve needed some time to get reorganized and then he’d need to find us again.”

“Which would be, when? About when we got to Eden 5 the second time?”

“Could well’ve been.”

“Yeah, and an attack on us there would’ve hit my family.”

“But wouldn’t that’ve revealed that he was still alive?”

“True, but he would’ve won.”

“But he would’ve gotten caught.”

“But do you think he’d have cared?”

“Hmm, maybe not.”

“Right, but there might’ve been other circumstances, like he couldn’t get his equipment in place or something, so let’s just keep thinking about this as if it’s right.”

Artemis gave a slow nod, as if she wasn’t entirely convinced, but kept going “Let’s see, after that we went to Wilina. He could’ve attacked us there.”

“We weren’t there all that long. I mean, getting these bots in position would take a bit of time, especially if he was a little ways behind us.”

“Well, you know more about them than me, so I’ll take your word for it.”

“Right, after that, it was Eden 6. Again, not enough time, plus he wouldn’t want to piss off the Jakobs corporation. Then we went to the Garden of Minos.” Gaige said, tilting her head in thought “But he would’ve lost us there, I mean, we did kinda vanish.”

“Plus, Orion was already following us, that might’ve given him pause.”

“Could be, or maybe he couldn’t follow us in, missed the way in or something. But anyway, back to the point, this was the first time we’ve been alone in a while, at least that he could get to.”

“That’s what I was saying.”

“Makes sense, and I suppose it would also make sense that he wouldn’t be here in person, cause if this attack failed, he could strike again, but if he was here, he knows that this time, I’d kill him.”


Gaige nodded to herself “That all makes at least some sense, but we need proof. Speaking of which, how’s it going over there?”

“Woulda been a lot faster with another set of hands, but he’s out.” She said with a great heave as something wet and heavy hit the ground.

“Yeah, sorry about that, it’s just…”

“Nah, it’s fine. Only one of us should need to get, er, gooed up and that’s me.”

“This isn’t another one of your self-deprecating things, is it?”

“Huh? No, I mean, there is the fact that I’m, well, you know, disgusting, but that wasn’t what I was meaning, I was referring to the fact that I’m gonna have to clean my cybernetics anyway, or at least take them all apart, so I might as well do this.”

“Makes sense, except the you being disgusting part, which we’re gonna have to talk about later. But putting that discussion on hold for now, what’d you find?”

“Well, it seems to be a rather torn apart man.” Came the snide reply “Other than that, give me a second to search it, would ya?”

“Yeah, yeah, but hurry up, would ya?”

“You wanna come over here and do this? Cause I’d be more than happy to switch with you. Otherwise, shut up for a minute, would you?”

“Shut u…Why you…” She caught herself even before the large robotic hand landed on her shoulder. Turning to Deathtrap she said “Yeah, sorry, was getting a bit testy there, thanks.”

Artemis ignored her and kept digging through the corpse’s clothes and after a minute, and another check of the Diomos’s stomach to make sure that she hadn’t missed anything, she sat back and called the other girl over.

Gaige gingerly made her way over, trying not to look at the entrails of the Diomos that were spread across the ground, nor at the corpse that was absolutely torn to shreds, and instead focused on the small pile of stuff that the other girl had found.

There wasn’t much there and what was there was covered in blood and stomach acid, but it was still in better shape than the bits that she’d managed to recover from the corpses she’d examined. She quickly identified the dead man’s ID, but it didn’t help her any more than any of the others she’d looked at. Next to it were a few scribbled notes, but they were almost completely obfuscated by the coating of blood on them. As she was staring at them, trying not to touch them, Artemis carefully opened her canteen and poured a bit of water on them, trying to wash away the blood, but it didn’t help. Still, Gaige was sure that something about them was familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

The last things were the most interesting. Unfortunately, his ECHO had taken a tooth through it, so they wouldn’t be retrieving anything from it, but the other electronics that he had were mostly intact, and were the main reason that Artemis had called her over, since this was clearly Gaige’s forte and not hers. Gaige carefully examined them before picking them up and turning them around, muttering to herself as she worked.

A good minute later, she sat back and nodded. Noticing the others sitting around, waiting for her, she cleared her throat and started pointing stuff out.

“Well, that’s his watch. Nothing special there.”

“Yeah, we got that.”

“I was just starting with the most obvious, no need to get sarcastic with me.”

“I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was being ex-asser-batted.”

“Exacerbated.” Gaige clarified before continuing “As I was saying, you already knew it was a watch and not a terribly expensive one, so moving on. These couple are for personal grooming and this last one seems to be a communications device, though it’s damaged past the point of use.”

“Why have that?”

“You mean, why not use your ECHO if you’re carrying it? Good question. The answer is, this is a specially encoded one, meaning unlike your ECHO, if someone else, say, us, picks it up, we can’t just open it up.”

“You can get that stuff on your ECHO too.”

“Yeah, but this is better. Plus, they’re disposable. You can just ditch this after you’re done and it can’t be traced back to you, unlike your ECHO.”

“Ah. So, all that was for nothing.”

“Not entirely. I mean, sure, we didn’t find anything useful, but what’s most interesting, and most telling, is what isn’t here.” Catching the confusion on the other girls’ face, Gaige continued “Think about it, there’s nothing here for controlling the bots and since they weren’t giving orders, how’d they know when to project the EMP domes, or when to explode for maximum damage?”

“Maybe they were programmed that way?”

“Maybe, but unlikely. I mean, like I said earlier, these are straight off the production line.”

“But you also said they’d been modded to include both the EMP, as well as the explosives, so couldn’t they have reprogrammed them while they were doing that?”

“Could be, didn’t think of that. But still, something about that feels off.”


“That’s it! If they were programmed, then they should’ve all exploded a set time after they fell. Good catch babe.”

“But wouldn’t the EMP’s have fried any receivers? So, couldn’t it have been something that after that circuit got fried, it set off a timer?”

“Could be, but I didn’t find anything like that in the wreckage.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t that have been right next to the bomb?”

“Still should’ve found something, but now that you mention it, I did find this.” She got up and went over to the pile of robot parts and drug out a small piece of metal that didn’t mean anything to Artemis.

“If I’m right, then this is part of the shielding that would’ve protected the receiver from the EMP.”

“But wouldn’t that have also blocked the signal?”

“Not necessarily, I mean, they’re using a different method then us so if they’d figured out a way around that, it would’ve worked. And now that I’m thinking, I figured out what this is as well.” She grabbed another part and turned it over “It’s a transmitter, which means that someone was watching us.”

The other girls shivered slightly at the thought. After a second, Artemis spoke up “So what’s our next step?”

“Well, we need to find Holloway.”

“So, we’re going off the assumption that he’s behind this?”

“Who else could it be?”

“Some of the employees? I mean, we could look up these people’s names, find out more about them.”

“You’re right, and we’ll do that as soon as we get back to the ship. But to counter your other idea, this required planning, foresight, and that’s not something that I could see from an average employee. I mean, I get that they’d be pissed about losing their job and all, but to go to this extreme? I don’t feel it.”

“Alright, I was just trying to keep an open mind about it, that’s all.”

“No, you’re right to do so, it’s just that, somehow this felt, idonno, personal? Like they really wanted us dead and I don’t get that from just losing a job.”

“So, back to my question, what’s next?”

“Well, like I said, we need to find Holloway, so how do we do that?”

“Why’re you asking me? It’s not like I knew him.”

“No but you’re the best tracker we’ve got.”

“I’m an ex-hunter, not a detective.”

“True, but you did tell me that it wasn’t just creature’s that you were good at hunting?”

“Alright, fine.”

“So, what would you recommend as the first step in tracking him down?”

Artemis groaned, but leaned back and thought about it for a moment before continuing “Well, the first step would be to make sure he’s not dead.”

“You aren’t suggesting that we dig him up, are you?”

“What? No. Ew. No, I was suggesting that we go to where he died, see if we can find out more of what happened there, cause that’s where his trail would go from. Only question, where was that? That he died, I mean. Supposedly.”

“Wasn’t it on Feno Phena?”

“That’s where he got arrested, sure. But was he still there when he died? Or had he been transferred?”

“Ah, good point, something else we’ll have to look up when we get back to the ship. Anything else that we should? Look up, I mean?”

“Um, maybe where these bots came from?”

“Ah, good idea. I mean, there’s a good chance that whatever modifications were done to them were done elsewhere, but if we track down where they came from, we could at least find out who bought them and maybe find a lead there.”

“That’s better thought out than what I was thinking.” Artemis shrugged “So, are we done here? Can we get going?”


“So, how’re we doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Well, I still need to catch my Wibblers, so why don’t you three head back and I’ll catch up tomorrow.”

“Heck no.” Gaige spun on her “You’re in no shape to do this alone.”

“Sure I am.”

“Well, I’m not letting you, and that’s final.”

Artemis groaned, but asked “So what? You want Deathtrap to stay with me and you two to go back alone?”

“No way, we’re all staying with you, and that’s final. You need the help, and besides, we did promise A.I.ngel that we’d teach her to hunt.”

They wound up spending the night just outside of the Wibbler territory and dined on chunks of the Diomos that Artemis had cut off earlier, as well as some freshly picked fruit from the Shock Vines in the area, which Gaige had picked since she her cybernetics were still immune to electricity, though she did slip up and reached in too far, causing her to briefly touch the vine itself, which lived up to its name, by giving her enough of a jolt to knock her on her back.

The next morning was uneventful, as Artemis hunted down a nest of Wibblers and took out the whole thing, for which Gaige was grateful, she found them to be a bit unnerving for some reason and didn’t want to get close to them, even after they were dead. When asked about it, all she would say was ‘They remind me of something that stung me on a class trip, when I was a child.’ and the others decided not to press more than that, for which she was grateful.

The only other things of note were that the nest did contain a rare black winged Wibbler, and that on the way back to town, A.I.ngel finally managed to get her first trophy when they came across a lone Diomos, which she took down in one shot. Deathtrap had carried it back with them so that she could get a proper trophy out of it, which Artemis promised to help her with later.

While she worked on making new plates for her cybernetics, Gaige got to work researching what they’d discussed in the jungle. To her surprise, Holloway had supposedly never made it off of Feno Phena before dying. She’d thought that since she hadn’t heard about it for a number of days, that it must have happened at another facility, but it turned out that it was simply delayed so that the appropriate people could be informed first.

She had just finished finding out where the bots had been manufactured, which took a lot of back channel digging, when Artemis walked in with a box of parts.

Brandibarry had insisted that Gaige use his office while she was there, as well as had offered her thanks repeatedly. Apparently, Wainwright had informed him of her drinking problem to some degree, since there was only a selection of root beers and local sodas set out instead of the usual twelve year aged, single malt, for which she was secretly grateful. The man himself was out on the floor, making sure that everything was running smoothly as well as keeping the workers from harassing her with their thanks, even though a number of them had already stopped by, having slipped their boss.

Gaige had sent Deathtrap to keep an eye on A.I.ngel, since she had wanted to watch Artemis work, as well as see an actual foundry in operation, and she came in right after the other girl with a look of awe on her face, though Gaige couldn’t tell if it was from seeing a place like this in operation, or from watching the other girl work, though she did have a guess.

Still, with their business finished, they bid Brandibarry and the workers adieu and over many protests and invitations to supper, they left for the Hunter’s Moon.

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Chapter 3

Feno Phena

Once they’d made their way back to the ship, Gaige shared what she’d learned and they set a course for Feno Phena, though Gaige would’ve liked to drop A.I.ngel off before they continued any further, mostly out of concern for the girls safety, she couldn’t justify it, especially since Feno Phena was on their way back to the casino.

It wasn’t until they were almost at the planet that Deathtrap found a flaw in their plan.

“You mean they’re having a planet wide party for the next two weeks?” Artemis said, unable to believe that anyone could party that long, for any reason.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Gaige said with a glum nod. “The Festival of the Unbroken Tide happens every year, something about the way the moons are aligned or some-such. Seems that the tides don’t change during that time or something and long ago it was thought to be some divine event or something, but now, it’s just an excuse to party. Apparently, it’s quite the tourist attraction, people from all over come here for it.”

“Oh, that’s just great.” Artemis moped. Gaige could sympathize, she wasn’t big on crowds herself and she knew that the other girl was even less fond of them.

“Well, we could take the time to take A.I.ngel home, by the time we got back the party would be nearly over. I mean, we’d still have to wait a few days for it to end, but at least we wouldn’t be just sitting around the whole time.”

“But if we did that, we’d have to wait for a few more days in addition to that, so that everyone could get back on their feet, wouldn’t we? I mean, recuperation and all that.”


“Um.” Came a small voice from off to the side “Who says that I want to go back just yet?”

The two girls looked over to where A.I.ngel was standing, staring at them and found themselves struggling to figure out how to tell her that she’d just be in the way.

“Uh, this is gonna be a pretty hard fight as is.” Gaige started, before trailing off as the girls’ face dropped.

Artemis quickly took over “Hey, the truth isn’t that we think you’d be in the way, or anything like that, it’s just that, well, we’re worried about you.”

When the girl looked at her in confusion, she quickly continued “You remember that energy dome that popped out of the robots? The one that fried my cybernetics?” Getting a nod, she continued “Well, that destroys all electronics that aren’t properly shielded, and, well, since we aren’t sure of how your body’s, well, constructed, or how much is what, we can’t have you getting caught by one of those blasts. I mean, it might do nothing, but it might kill you instantly, and that’s a risk we just can’t take.”

A.I.ngel slumped slightly, indicating defeat, but she still spoke up “I know. I get that, but it is just that, well, I want to help. I do not want to be the only one stuck, waiting to find out what happened, and if something did happen to any of you, I would wonder if I could have done anything to change that.”

“I get that.” Gaige said “Really, I do, but we would feel awful if something were to happen to you.” She paused and glanced at Artemis, but she was sitting there with an inscrutable expression, so Gaige continued “Look, no one’s saying you have to go home, but you’ll have to stay on the ship for most of the time if you go with us and if you went home, you’d at least have Timothy there to keep you company, not to mention, something to do to keep your mind off of things.”

“I could keep busy on the ship.” She offered. “Plus, that way, if something happened, I would be right there to help, if I could.”

Gaige looked over at Artemis again, waiting for her to pipe up. It took a bit, but eventually she did.

“We’ll see. A lot of this depends on what we learn. Don’t forget that Holloway, or whoever attacked us on Jaka, didn’t hesitate to attack you as well, so there’s a chance that you could get caught in the crossfire no matter where we go.”

“I know.”

“That said, it’s your call. But we still have override, veto, or whatever it’s called if we find out something really bad down there.”

A.I.ngel nodded brightly, happy to not be thrown off, at least not yet. Gaige on the other hand just sighed.

“What?” Artemis whispered to her.

“Nothing, it’s just, well, how long are you planning on keeping her onboard?” Gaige mentally kicked herself. She couldn’t figure out why she was acting this way, why she felt a swell of irritation at the fact that A.I.ngel was getting to stay for longer. It wasn’t like she disliked the girl, on the contrary, she quite enjoyed the way she was constantly looking to learn something new. But some part of her didn’t want the younger girl around. She tried to tell herself that it was just that she was looking out for her, trying to keep her safe, but deep down she knew that something about that was ringing false.

“How’s that any of your business?”

“Uh, I mean, I, I’m part of the crew, so I was just sorta wondering is all. Plus, won’t she get bored up here, by herself?”

Artemis looked at her for a few seconds before answering “True. On both accounts. But that said, she’s a guest until she gets safely back to where she’s from and she’s made a fair point. How would you feel, knowing that your friends were going off somewhere, possibly to die, and there was nothing you could do but wait? Wouldn’t you want to be as close as possible to them so that you knew what’d happened as soon as possible, rather than having to wait for a call to tell you everything was alright?”

Gaige thought back to her first time on Jaka, and Xylourgos and all the other times that she’d had to wait while someone else went off to do something, the anxiety that she’d felt, the hopelessness and sighed. As soon as she did, Artemis knew that the other girl was relenting and decided to move the conversation back to the more pressing matter.

“So, back to more important things. Wait, that didn’t sound right. Uh, more pressing matters? Nope, still wrong.”

“OK, you’ve segued, you can skip this part and get on with it.” Gaige said with an eyeroll.

“Uh, right.” Artemis glanced at her, unsure if she’d done anything wrong or if the other girl was just tired of her making verbal messes “Anyway, what I was meaning to say is that with that out of the way, let’s get back to the previous problem.”

“Which was?” Gaige said, with no small amount of exasperation.

“Right, uh, so, right, what kinda party we talking about? This festival, I mean.”

Gaige cocked her head, prompting Artemis to continue, trying to clarify “I mean, is it a street clothes type of thing? Costumes? Formal? Something weird and local, you know, like those clothes we found on that ship in the Garden? The one with the med bay.”

Gaige bit her tongue, wanting to tell her that those weren’t festival clothes, they were something else, but decided not to embarrass her friend, instead she looked at her ECHO and brought up some sites.

“Uh, it looks like a mix.” She said, scrolling through the sites advertising the different attractions “Seems that some of the areas lean more towards the costumes, but the higher-class areas can be either that or formal, depending on the party, the host and the district.”

“So, we wouldn’t blend in the way we are.” Artemis said with a sigh.

“No, so we’re gonna need to do something about that.”

Artemis glumly nodded.

“But first, we need to figure out where we need to go, then we can decide on what to wear.” Gaige said, patting her on the shoulder.

“And where do we need to go?”

“That’s a good question. Jail? Morgue? I’m not entirely sure myself.”

“Well, does it say anywhere where Holloway was taken? Or where the records are kept?”

“Well, the records would be useless, I mean, they’d just say that he died wouldn’t they?”

“Then wouldn’t the morgue say the same thing?”

“Yeah, damn. Only way we might find anything there would be if we could find the person that filled the autopsy report out, if they even did one and try and get them to tell us the truth.”

“So not happening.”

“Right, so it looks like we need either the jail or someone connected.”

“What about whomever handed the body over to, well, whoever took it?”

“Hmm, might be a possibility, but gonna be hard to track.”

“So, what’s the best bet?”

“Hmm, not sure.”

“Let’s try it another way, how would we prove it, one way or the other?”

“Well, video proof would be good.”

“And how’re we gonna get that?”

“Probably by breaking into the jail.”

“Is there any other way?”


“Maybe, but do you think that the chief of police will help us? I mean, we did cost them their crime buster bots.”


“No, it was a good idea and we’ll take any we can get.”

“Um, my dad, or rather Jack, he, uh, well, he would often go on about how the media was twisting things he said, or how they were always sticking their noses where they did not belong and were always snooping around.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea.” Gaige said, looking at the girl “We might be able to find someone that reported on it and be able to ask them what they know, though we might need to offer them something in return.”

“Like what?”

“I donno, an interview of something.”

“Sounds awful.”

“Yeah, but it’s still the best thing we’ve got. So, I guess we should head to the area around the station that Holloway was taken to, see if we can’t learn something there, while looking around for some reporter types to talk to.”

“Great, so what do we need?”

“I just went over it.”

“No, not that, I meant to wear.”

“Oh, right. Uh, lemme look.”

A few minutes later she announced “Well, looks like we get to dress up.”

A Few Hours Later

“I feel ridiculous.” Gaige grumbled as she stumbled along the road.

“Well, you look nice.”

“Shut it, I don’t wanna hear that from you, especially not right now.”

“Oh, so you don’t want me to think you look good.” Came the gloomy reply.

“That’s not what I’m saying.” Gaige snapped, irritated at both of them in equal measure. “I just don’t want you to be telling me that this dress, out of all of them, looks good.”

Seeing that the other girl wasn’t any less depressed, Gaige sighed and added “Feels too much like you’re rubbing it in.”

It turned out that they hadn’t needed to go shopping after all. Gaige, much to her chagrin, had dug out the dress she’d got for her birthday, or at least the one she’d exchanged it for, the one that Artemis had told her would look nice on her. The truth was that she felt she should be in something fancier, but the only other dress she had was something so slinky and showy, that she couldn’t even start to contemplate wearing it. No, this dress was fine, it was a bit formal for where they were going, or rather, she felt it would be a bit under done, a bit too off the rack to look fancy, so she’d accented it with some of the jewelry she’d picked up in the Garden of Minos. Now a ring accented her finger, shiny gems tugged her earlobes down and a stunning necklace draped around her neck.

She’d finished her ‘disguise’ with a pair of gloves that went up to her shoulders, as well as some tasteful makeup that her mother would’ve been proud of. She’d done her hair up, so that it sat on top of her head, with just a single ringlet trailing down her neck. And she’d finished it off with a pair of seriously uncomfortable shoes that gave her even more height on the shorter girl next to her.

She shot a semi-contained glare at the girl walking next to her. For some reason that Gaige couldn’t figure out, she’d had a suit on the ship. Her excuse was something along the lines of, it was something that had been on the ship when she’d got it, and since it almost fit her, she figured, why not keep it?

Still, Gaige had to admit that she pulled it off. Since she was already fairly flat, she managed to look like an attractive young man, though Gaige was afraid of what people would take her for, since they were walking arm in arm down the street.

The most surprising thing though, was that Artemis had washed off all of her usual makeup, leaving her looking pale and washed out. Gaige hated to admit it, but she thought that she was probably more attractive without the dark colors slathered on, but she didn’t think that Artemis would want to hear it.

She’d also slicked her hair down with something that Gaige wondered if it wasn’t engine grease, a look that really didn’t suit her, but truly hid who she really was from anyone that’d recognize her, especially since the grease had darkened her hair to a dull dark purplish color that wasn’t very attractive.

They walked together down the street, carefully weaving around the more aggressive or drunken revelers as they made their way once more through Torin City. It was just as stunning as it had been the last time they’d been there, if not more so, with all the lights and the festive decorations. The floating lanterns really caught Artemis’s eye as they floated gently overhead, illuminating the city.

Gaige lamented that, once again, they’d arrived at night. Still, the city looked different enough that she wasn’t overly sad about it, though she was a bit anxious to get out of the district that they were in, especially since a number of revelers were in the process of a number of activities that she wasn’t sure she wanted to see and certainly didn’t want Artemis to, so she kept her body between the shorter girl and the worst of it. Though she could tell that the smaller girl was distinctly uncomfortable with what was going on around them, given that Gaige could feel her grip on her arm increasing as she tried to pull them forward faster.

It was times like these that she wished that Deathtrap was with her. They’d all agreed that he would’ve been too conspicuous, so they’d been forced to have him float along high above them, where he could keep an eye on them in case things went sideways. Still, there was nothing like having a floating death machine with you to dissuade unwanted advances, though Gaige strongly suspected that some of these people were either too drunk, or on something strong enough that they wouldn’t have cared. Heck, a number of them probably would’ve made a pass at the bot.

Artemis for her part wasn’t noticing the goings on in the alleys, nor in the street for that matter, she was locked into the twin panics of being surrounded by way too many people and almost more terrifying, by this much alcohol. She kicked herself mentally, she should’ve known that there would be booze flowing down the streets, she’d at least understood that much, even if she’d never really been to a party before. Well, she’d been at that one wedding, and then there was Gaige’s birthday party, but even there, there’d been drinks being served. With this much temptation around her, she wondered if Gaige could resist, so she tightened her grip and kept her eye on the girl as she plowed forward.

It seemed to take forever, but shortly they crossed another of the delicate bridges that spanned the dark water and found themselves in a new district. This one had fewer buildings, though they were a story taller than the previous district and more spread out, like they were breathing a little deeper. The crowds also started changing, with the number of drunks and lewd actions sharply decreasing as they went, which didn’t surprise Gaige since they were approaching not only the police station, but the seat of power in the city as well.

As they continued, they sloshed through the shallow water that was constantly being pumped across the walkways, something that they both thought was extremely dangerous, but was apparently part of the festival. In fact, a number of buildings stood with their doors open and water gently pouring out.

They could hear the faint sounds of music drifting out of the various buildings, most of it was close to what they’d danced to at the wedding, but some of it was decidedly upbeat and on one occasion, they swore they’d heard the dulcet sounds of Digby Vermouth echoing across the water.

Through the open doors they could see people dancing and others streamed in and out, some dressed about like them, but most were swathed in even fancier ware. Occasionally they would spot someone dressed or rather not dressed in finery, thin strands of silk and exotic materials that barely covered the important bits, and on others they would find almost the exact opposite, someone wrapped in so much cloth that they couldn’t even begin to identify the gender of the one inside. And on one occasion they’d spotted a woman wearing an entire Nemian hide, with only her face poking out between its teeth.

Still, they didn’t spot anyone that would be of use to them, so they continued on, trying to avoid the revelers’ eyes.

As they neared the jail, Gaige leaned in and asked “So what’s the plan?”

“Me? I thought you had the plan.”

“Yeah, it was ‘see if we can spot anyone useful, otherwise, make it up as we go’ or something like that.”

“Great, so now what?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“No, you’re asking me to make the decisions so you don’t have to be responsible when they fail.”

“That’s not what…” Gaige bit off her retort and took a breath.

“Look, I’m sorry.” Artemis spoke first “And I know this isn’t easy for you, but we need to figure this out quick, and get outta here. So, we’ve gotta choose, do we try and get into the jail, ask questions and see if we can look around, or do we try and enter one of these parties, see what we can find there?”

“Or, as long as we’re putting everything on the table, we could try and break into the prison and search the files.”

“That’s a terrible idea.” Artemis shot back, horror etched onto her face.

“I know that, I’m just listing every option.”

“Well let’s hold off on that one until the end.” Artemis sighed, looking around. “I guess the biggest problem I’m having is that I don’t know what these reporter people look like, so I can’t spot them, or rather, I wouldn’t know if I did.”

“What? Really? Of all the…how could you have not looked that up before we came down here?” Gaige snapped in exasperation.

“Oh well sorry. I was too busy trying to figure out how to pretend to be human to remember that.”

“Pretend to be…I don’t even know what that means.”

“It means that I feel like a, I donno…” She trailed off. Gaige looked at her, but waited for her to continue and after a few moments she did “I just, I feel ridiculous dressed like this. Like I’m, I donno, just pretending that I’m normal or something, I mean, I get why we have to dress like this, but it’s just, I feel, wrong, naked, like I’m making a fool outta myself and everyone’s laughing at me as soon as I turn away.”

“You don’t look ridiculous, you look, well, nice, other than your hair I mean, that just looks weird.” Seeing the other girl deflate, Gaige quickly continued “Nah, it’s just that your regular style looks better on you, or maybe I’m just used to seeing it that way. Besides, I don’t get why you’re complaining, I mean, look at me. I look really silly.”

“No, you don’t, you look pretty.”

“Ah, you’re just saying that cause you li…” Gaige caught herself and froze up.

“I don’t lie.” Came the sad response.

Cursing herself, Gaige tried to come up with some way of saving this. “I wasn’t saying lie, I was saying like. As in you’re only saying that cause you like girls, but I realized it was a tasteless thing to say so I cut myself off and made things worse. Sorry.”

Artemis sighed “Seriously, you don’t have to be so, um, apprehensive, or whatever about it, it just makes me feel self-conscious about it. Though you shouldn’t talk about it at all, I don’t want anything bad to happen, especially here.”

“That’s just…” Gaige cut herself of from telling Artemis that she was being stupid and took a breath, choosing to fight that fight another day “You’re right. Sorry. Anyway, what I was trying to say, before I screwed it up, was that I wish we could’ve switched what we were wearing.”

“There’s no way you would’ve fit into this suit.”

“You really need to learn how to talk to a girl.” Gaige huffed, smacking the other girl in the back of the head.

“Ow. Sorry. What’d I say wrong?”

“You don’t even know that, but you’re apologizing?”

“Yeah, well, if you got mad about it, I figured I was probably in the wrong somehow.”

Gaige took a slow breath “You really need to work on that. And what I took offense to, was the fact that you implied I was fat.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t, I said you wouldn’t fit in the suit, I mean, this is a little long on me, but there’s no way it would fit you.”

“See, when you say it wouldn’t fit, the immediate implication is that I’m too big for it.”

“You are.”

Gaige resisted the urge to smack the girl again “I’m not too big for it.”

“Yeah, you are, I mean, how much taller than me are you? Not to mention your, uh, you know.” She blushed while motioning to Gaige’s chest.

“Yeah, I’m too tall for it, but that’s not what you said, you said big, but without the indication to my chest, so most girls would take that to mean they’re too fat.”

“What? That’s crazy. I mean, if you’d told me I couldn’t wear your dress cause I was too small, I wouldn’t think you were talking about my chest, I’d just agree with you and then add that I don’t wear dresses, so the point’s moot.”

“I’d still like to see you in one someday.”

“Not happening.”

“Why not?”

“Never liked the things, ever, even when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, I get that. I mean, these things are ridiculous, not to mention these torture devices that I’ve got to wear on my feet.”

“Yeah, why’re you even wearing them?”

“Cause I’ve got to, it completes the disguise.”

“Oh, right.”

“Yeah, but the worst part is that I can’t even hide a weapon in this thing. No gun, no hammer, not even a shield. I feel naked out here.”

Artemis blushed and looked away, hidden under her coat was a slim four shot Jakobs she’d taken from the ship.

Gaige sighed and continued “Not only do you get to carry something, but you even have your blade. Talk about unfair.”

Artemis didn’t look down at her gloved hands as she replied “I could always make you something.”

“Thanks, but no one touches my cybernetic. No offense intended. I mean, you know I think highly of your work, but, well, you know.”


“Well, I think we’ve stood around long enough, we need to make a choice and soon.”

No sooner had the words left her mouth then a smile crept up the corners of her mouth as she watched someone walking into one of the fancier houses “I think I just spotted our ticket.”

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Chapter 4

Feno Phena

Gaige led them into the mansion, acting like she belonged and desperately trying to not look around for security, but it seemed that no one had looked twice at them. Careful to avoid the water cascading down the steps, she pulled Artemis along, moving through the party, though a few times the smaller girl moved them away from something. Gaige knew what she was doing, it wasn’t like she couldn’t see the servers with their trays of glasses. The familiar thirst clawed at her throat, though something about the hand squeezing her arm made it lessen ever so slightly, so she was grateful to Artemis for trying.

They moved deeper into the building, the first that they’d entered in both of their trips to the planet and had to marvel at the architecture. The interior was made of the same white stone as the outside, the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. Decorating it were rich tapestries of something that neither girl could make out, they seemed to be more symbolic than pictorial, but made out of cloth spun from something that glittered like metals and jewels. They both felt that the place probably usually had carpets over the floor, but with the inch of water that they were sloshing through, they would’ve been taken up. Stairs curved up around the sides of the entryway, made with the same elegant, spindly design as the bridges outside. They walked under the stairs and past a fountain that was spilling onto the floor and found themselves in a wide-open room, with an orchestra of strange instruments playing off on one side. Opposite that was a table laden with strange foods and occupying the center of the room was a massive dance floor, where couples and in some cases, trios were dancing, all of it illuminated by a set of chandeliers that seemed to be made of glowing crystals growing from the ceiling.

Gaige set off across the wet floor, her mind unable to stop itself from going back to the Eridian ruin that they’d just explored. In fact, ever since they’d got to Feno Phena, she kept having flashbacks to it. She knew it was the fact that she was, once again, walking through water, though it wasn’t as deep here.

Shaking that train of thought from her mind, she spotted her target and took a meandering path to her, not wanting to draw unwanted attention to either of them.

She slid up next to the woman, who was a few years older than Gaige, though she was desperately trying to hide that behind her makeup, and was wearing a nice dress, nothing as fancy as the rest of the party goers, but still nice enough to not stand out. Her bleached hair was coiled back in a different style then the last time Gaige had seen her, but it was unmistakably the same person.

“Well, well, Triana D’Moir.” Gaige whispered, barely loud enough for the woman to hear. Her reaction was one of absolute shock and before she could say anything Gaige held up her hand “I’m betting that you don’t want anyone to know you’re here, so I figured this would be as good a chance as any to ask you some questions.”

“Who are you? And what do you want with me?”

“Who I am isn’t important at the moment, and as for what I want, I literally just said that. But suffice to say, I have no interest in why you’re here or getting you thrown out.”

The woman fixed the two of them with a shrewd look and after a moment asked “So what makes you think that I would have the answers that you want?”

“Cause you did the reporting on it.”

“Kid, you might not know this, but reporters don’t always know any more about what they’re talking about than what they’re fed. I mean, let’s be honest, most reporters are just pretty faces that look good on the ECHO, spouting off whatever comes through their earpiece.”

“Exactly, that’s why I wanted to talk to you.”

“And what makes you think that I am any different?”

“No one who just repeats what they’re told would’ve tried to use that as a reason to get out of answering a few questions.”

The woman gave a short snort of laughter and nodded “Well played. So, let me get this right, if I answer your questions, you don’t get me thrown out? Doesn’t seem like a very good deal to me, I mean, you’ve gotta give me something more.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You know, I hate your kind the most.”

“And what kind is that?”

“The kind that thinks they’re entitled to getting the answers they want, just because they’ve caught someone somewhere they don’t belong.”

“Well, you might be right, but we all have our reasons. So, are you gonna talk, or are we done?”

“Fine, I’ve got a little time to kill before this all goes down. What did you want to know?”

“You did the reporting on the head of Holloway robotics, didn’t you.”

“You already said I did, so let’s not waste each other’s time.”

“Fine, I want to know about his death.”


“Let’s just call them personal reasons and leave it at that.”

“Whatever. So, what exactly did you want to know about his death? I mean, there are a lot of angles that you could be looking at it from.” Catching the look on Gaige’s face she continued “Like if you were his family, you’d be looking for one thing, a business rival, something else.”

Gaige was about to open her mouth when a soft voice spoke next to her as Artemis spoke up “Stop fishing.”

The other woman clicked her tongue in disappointment causing Gaige to catch on to what she’d been doing, using leading questions to try and figure out who they were and what they were after.

“Can’t fault a girl for trying.” She said with a shrug.

“But I can fault you for calling yourself a girl.” Gaige heard the soft mutter.

“Enough stalling, tell us what happened to him after his arrest.” Gaige fumed.

The woman sighed “Fine. Let’s see, that was a few months ago, right?”

Gaige fixed her with a flat look that told her that they both knew that she knew the answer to that and to get on with it.

Triana shrugged and continued “He got arrested and then died, the end.”

“Don’t play games with me.” Gaige snarled.

That was enough to get the woman to glance around, making sure that they weren’t making a scene before whispering “Keep it down. Look, before I say anything, I need to know why you want to know about this. And no, I know that you don’t want to say for some reason, but I can’t budge on this.”

“Why not?”

“Look, you made a mistake earlier. I’m not a reporter, I’m an investigative journalist, and yes, I looked into the Holloway case, and no, I’m not telling you any more about it until I know why you need to know.” She looked at the two of them and the flat glares she was getting in return, so she added “I don’t really care what your reasons are, but I’m not about to turn over all my hard work to some ECHOnet casters so they can have a scoop or anything like that.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone what you tell us, and we’re certainly not ECHO-casters. We need to know for personal reasons, that’s all I can say, cause, like you, I’m not gonna be your next headline or whatever, so just tell us what happened.”

Triana stared at her for a good moment and then said “Fine, but we should move away from the hors d’oeuvres table before we continue.”

A minute later, they’d made their way around the room and were leaning against the wall in an out of the way spot when Triana continued “Right, so I’m going out on a limb here and trusting you. As we talked about, a couple of months ago, there was a fight at the Metro Link Plaza, apparently it was some kind of gun battle and there were a couple of mech suits involved, but that wasn’t really my beat, so I didn’t look into it too much at the time. The important thing was that the head of Holloway robotics was involved, and more importantly, that he got arrested on charges of attempted murder and suspected industrial espionage, which you already knew.

“Well, as you can imagine, he went to jail. And this time, there was no bail, no getting out. Apparently some rather important people were taking the second charge rather seriously. So, he gets to spend the night in jail, but when morning comes around, he’s dead and that’s where things get interesting.

“See, there were supposed to be a number of guards on duty, not to mention a dozen or so police bots, but none of them went into that area of the jail for two hours. And before you ask, no security footage, not just from the station, but the surrounding blocks as well. It was like they all were rebooted at the same time, which raised a lot of questions, but there weren’t a lot of answers.

“For starters, it seemed that no one wanted to look into what had happened. They were all more interested in trying to figure out a way of making it so that it wasn’t their fault. They went as far as to forge some records so that it showed that he’d been transferred before he died.”



“Why go that far? I mean, what did it matter if he died there?”

“You really are new to this aren’t you? It mattered for two reasons. First, it looks bad to have one of your prisoners die, maybe not everywhere, but on a planet like this, it casts you and your entire department in a bad light. Which leads to the second, FePhe is a peaceful planet, mostly supported by tourists and who wants to go to a planet where prisoners are dying mysterious deaths?”


“It’s local slang for the planet, you know, Feno Phena, FePhe. Anyway, if you want answers, don’t interrupt. Like I was saying, they covered it up, which is also when my part comes to an end. All our investigation into Holloway ended and we did the broadcast announcing that he’d died of apparent suicide.”

“Wait, didn’t you say you were an investigative journalist? How could you just drop it like that?”

“Your naivete is so cute. That’s the way things are. It’s not worth the time to do an investigation if no one is going to air it, besides journalists and politicians have to play nice together, we both have to look out for the best interests of the planet, so any story that could hurt us gets scrapped. Nothing wrong with that, it’s normal that we watch out for each other. Plus, if we kill a worthless story that no one’s interested in, the next time we have something we like, we get to chase it.”

“Wow.” Gaige said, clearly not impressed. “So should you be talking to us?”

“There’s no reason not to, no one here cares about that story anymore.”

“But wait, if you’re owed by them, why’re you sneaking in?”

“Why waste a perfectly good favor if you don’t have to?”

“Makes sense, so back to what we were talking about, who verified that he was dead?”

“The coroner.”

“Was he the only one?”

“I’m not following?”

“I mean, did anyone else check to see if Holloway was dead? Like the guards that found him.”

“Not that I know of.”

“So, it was only the word of the coroner that said that he was dead?”

“Yes. What are you getting at?”

“Were there any changes with the coroner afterwards? Like was he spending more money or anything like that?”

“Well, he retired.”

“So, the one person that had stated that Holloway was dead, retired immediately afterwards? And no one thought that it was suspicious?”

“Why would we, he was old.”

“And where is he now?”

“Dead, bad heart.”

“Aw come on.” Gaige said a bit loud, prompting Artemis to grab her arm and softly shake her head.

“Sorry. It’s just that, well, the one person that checked to see if Holloway was dead, retires and then dies immediately after, it gets me a bit upset.” She sighed “So what did the autopsy turn up?”

“There wasn’t one.”

“What? Why not?”

“Coroner said it was suicide and that was that. Besides, the family apparently said they didn’t want one and took the body.”

“Who’s family?”


“He didn’t have any family. Well, not immediate ones at least, do you know what relation to him they were, or at least claimed to be?”

“No, what difference does it make?”

“What diff…are you…” Gaige felt the hand on her arm tighten again and took a deep breath “It matters because a man, in prison, dies when nobody is watching, gets that death verified by one person, who then dies after retiring, had his body picked up by a nonexistent family member, and you wanna know what difference that makes?”

“You almost talk like you think he’s still alive.”

“Well what proof do you have that he isn’t?” Gaige replied, looking a bit crazy.

“The reports say he’s dead.”

“Some investigator.” Gaige grumbled “Come on, let’s get outta here.”

Before she turned, Artemis looked at Triana and said “Well, thanks for the info. But I gotta ask, I know we said earlier that we didn’t care why you’re here, but, well, why are you?”

“Suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you.” She replied looking around “Apparently Kinzy Kincade is going to be here tonight.”


“Seriously? She’s a pretty big deal in the pop world right now. Sure, she’s kinda a local idol, but she’s getting major attention, word is that she’s even in talks to be on the next Digby Vermouth album. Anyway, she’s apparently trying to make a more mature impression so she’s going to be here in a rather revealing outfit.”

“Wait.” Gaige spoke up “Wouldn’t putting that out there hurt her career and thereby the planet?”

“Eh, only if I report it.” She responded with a sparkle in her eye as if to say ‘If I keep this to myself, who knows what I can get for it later’.

“Whatever, have fun with that.” Gaige said, hooking Artemis’s arm “Let’s go.”

They made their way out, being careful to not slip on the stairs and made their way into the crowd. As they wove their way through, Gaige started muttering just loud enough that Artemis could hear her over the din “Of all the irresponsible…This planet is something else, I mean, I understand about tourism being important to them, but covering up a prisoner escape like that, and yes, I’m going off the assumption that Holloway’s still alive, but how can they not have questioned it? I mean, all those things just happening to line up like that? Inconceivable.”

Instead of getting a response, she felt the arm she’d looped through tightening ever so slightly, before the hissed back reply came to her “Don’t look now, but we’ve got company.”

Gaige immediately started turning, only to be elbowed in the side “I said, don’t look. Lean in here like you’re whispering something in my ear.”

Gaige did as she’d been asked and as soon as she was close to the other girl’s ear, she heard “Over my shoulder, at your, uh, eleven?”

Following the instruction, Gaige shifted her focus ever so slightly and after a moment, spotted what she was supposed to, a floating bot with the familiar profile of the Holloway Robotics model.

“What’s that doing here?”

“Donno, but there’s at least a dozen more of them.” Came the reply.

“Let’s move, slowly, and see if they follow.”

They resumed meandering through the crowd, but the robots at the fringe didn’t seem to be following them. Gaige kept as surreptitious an eye on them as she could, the floating torsos painted with the black and white of the police, one or two of them in bright firefighter red, but they just kept floating, scanning the crowd for something.

“Those weren’t there earlier, were they?” She whispered.

“You think I wouldn’t 'ave pointed 'em out if they were?”

“OK, point. But what’re they doing here?”


“Yes, fine, they’re looking for us, but how’d they know we’d be here?”

“Think about it, after their attack failed on us, this would be the likely place for us to go, I mean, all they had to do was follow the same train of thought as I did and they’d get here. But why hasn’t anyone else noticed them?”

“My chance to say it, but seriously? Think about it for a minute, those things have been everywhere for what, the last five, six years? And longer in some places, so everyone’s gotten used to seeing them, so much so that they just fade into the background.”

“Right, just like Holloway said.”

“Exactly, add to that the fact that they’ve only been gone for a few months and who’s gonna notice them?

“Add in the amount of alcohol around here and I get it. Oh, sorry about that by the way.”

“What now?”

“The alcohol. I mean, with you, and all that, I should’ve remembered, should’ve planned around it, so I’m sorry.”

“Hey, you kept me away from it, don’t think I didn’t notice. And yes, I want a drink, so badly it hurts in fact, but as long as you’re here, I can get through this. Plus, it’s not your fault. None of it. It was my problem that brought us into confrontation with Holloway. It was my mistakes that led me to being dependent on the booze. It was me. Each and every time. The only thing that’s your fault, is giving me a reason to not screw up again, so don’t be sorry.”

“Uh…” Artemis blushed.

“Right, we should get moving.” Gaige said, picking up on the other girl’s discomfort.

They started down the path, weaving between people. Artemis kept her eyes on the bots as they went, but to her surprise and relief, they didn’t move.

“Doesn’t seem like they spotted us.”

“Oh come on, why do you always do this?” Gaige groaned, turning to her.

“Don’t stop.” Artemis said, pulling her arm.

They continued on and to Gaige’s amazement, the bots didn’t move to follow. As she tried not to look at them, she heard a soft whisper next to her, glancing down, she spotted Artemis seeming to be looking ahead as she said “If they’re from the same group, how’d they get one’s that’d fit in so well?”

“Might’ve just activated ones that were already on the planet, or they might have finished these up just to send them to keep an eye on populated areas.”

“Makes sense.”

They kept walking, going back over the bridge and into the densely packed throng of revelers, causing Gaige to let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

“So,” She said a little louder than before “Where’re we going next?”

“Not here.” Came the soft, hissed reply. Following the other girl’s eyes, she spotted another bot floating in an alley, near the top of the third floor.

“■■■■, are they everywhere?”

“Could be, but I don’t think it’s spotted us yet. Having said that, we should still be careful to not say anything that they could overhear.”

“You think they could hear anything over this din?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but if they’re recording everything and someone filters through later, we could be in trouble.”

“I hate when you make sense.”

“I know, let’s get outta here before I have to make any more.”

“You know, that almost worked.”

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Chapter 5

Hunters Moon

They made it back without incident, though they had seen a larger number of bots then they’d expected near the port. In fact, there had been enough of them that they were the first thing that they felt they had to talk about as soon as they got back.

“You think they spotted us?” Artemis asked, glancing behind herself, as if the robots had followed them.

“If they had, they would’ve done something.”

“Unless they were only there to find us.”

“And then what?” Gaige snapped a bit harder than she’d wanted. Like she’d said on the surface, she wanted a drink, but contrary to the image she’d projected, she’d barely been in control and she hated herself for it, so she was lashing out. Well, that and she was on edge from everything else.

Luckily for her, Artemis didn’t seem to take it the wrong way for once and simply replied “Then the ship in orbit follows us, or maybe they send back that we’ve been here and the next place prepares. I donno, I’m trying to figure this out, but I keep telling you I’m no good at this stuff.”

“You’re way better then you give yourself credit for.” Gaige replied “I wish you could see that, but I know you don’t believe me. Oh, and speaking of the next place, where should that be?”

“Why would I know?”

“I was just seeing if you had any ideas.” Gaige said, trying to settle the other girl.

“Ah, well, I don’t, not really. Well, I’ve got a few, but I wanna hear yours first.”

“Trying to pawn it off on me, are you? Well, I guess I can let it pass this time.” She paused, catching the other girl’s expression and sighed “I’m kidding, jeez. Sorry, let’s just forget about it. So, back to the matter at hand, we need to figure out where to go next, but what leads do we have?”

“Well, we just found out that someone that claimed to be related to Holloway took his body, but we don’t know who or where, so that doesn’t really help.”

“No, it’s useful, but you’re right, it doesn’t help us much in this instance, does it?”

“No. So what’s that leave us?”

“Hmm, well, we could always go to where the bots were made.”

“That seems like a trap.”

“Well, duh, it’s obviously a trap, but we don’t really have any other leads, unless you’re holdin out on me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s just an expression, that was where you’re supposed to chime in with anything you’ve got, you know, like the idea you were reluctant to say earlier.”


“Not to sound mean, but how’re you still so bad at this?”


“Don’t be sorry, get mad, tell me off, pick up on the social cues, something, but don’t be sorry.” Gaige snapped, causing the other girl to flinch. Gaige groaned inwardly “Now it’s my turn to say sorry. Look, I didn’t mean it, I’m just cranky, I guess being around all that booze was a lot rougher on me then I thought.”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not. Remember what we talked about at that meeting? Stand up to me.”

“I…I’ll try.”

“Good, best that I can ask for. Well, not really, the best would be for you to actually do it, but I’ll take what I can get. Speaking of which, what was this idea you had?”

“I didn’t have an idea, it was more of somewhere we might need to go, sooner or later, and probably sooner, now that I think about it.”

“And where’s that?”

“I’m not entirely sure.”


“I’m not sure where we need to go.”

“Then what’s your suggestion?”

“Well, it’s just…”

“Look, just say it, however you can, I’ll try and piece together what you’re meaning and we can go from there, alright?”

Artemis gave a small nod and continued “It’s just that, well, on Jaka, when the bots popped their EMP fields, they were different from before.”

“Oh? How so?” Gaige was shocked. Usually, it would’ve been her that picked up on any mechanical difference, so she wracked her brain, trying to come up with something, but drew a blank.

“Huh? You didn’t notice? Oh, but you were busy fighting them, so that’s probably it.”

“Quit stalling and just say it.”

“Sorry. The difference was the duration.” Seeing Gaige ■■■■ her head, she continued “Last time, I mean the other times we faced them, they went on for what, thirty seconds at the longest?”

“Sounds about right.”

“Well, this time they were still going all the way up till they exploded, right?”

“Again, right.”

“So, that was, what, two minutes? Longer?”

“Really? So what? We’re now immune again, aren’t we?”

“That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter that we’re immune, while the field is up, we’ve got no shield. Not to mention that if we take damage to our cybernetics, or Deathtrap’s body, I’m not entirely sure how that’d work, but the field could get in.”

Gaige paled at the thought, but continued “So what’re you suggesting?”

“That we need some way of dealing with it, but I have no idea what that is. I mean, everything I can think of, like explosives, requires electricity, or the kind of heavy weapon that neither of us likes.”

“Hmm, the explosives thing might work, but we’re gonna need an expert.”

“Well don’t look at me, I don’t know anyone like that.”

“Good thing I do.”


Boomtown was exactly like they’d remembered it, with the buildings spilling over the ledge and the motley assortment of folks wandering around, giving them suspicious looks.

They’d gotten into a debate about what to do with A.I.ngel and the argument had raged for a while.

“We shouldn’t involve her in this any more than she already is.” Gaige argued.

“But she needs to get out and see the galaxy at some point.”

“But she wouldn’t be seeing it, she’d be stuck in the ship.”

“Well, what about Pandora?”

“What about it?”

“Couldn’t she come down?”

“Are you crazy? That’s not a place for her, for starters, it wouldn’t be safe.”

“You really think that Brick and Mordecai couldn’t protect her?”

“I think they’d do their darndest, but anyone on Pandora can die at any time, even someone as tough as them.”

“So, what’re you suggesting? That she stays locked away cause it’s not safe?”

“No. I’m trying to say that until she can handle more situations, we shouldn’t throw her into the Skag den.”

“I feel like you’re not telling me something.”

“You can feel however you want, but as long as I’m makin sense, you’re just dodging the issue.”

In the end, the decision was made for them when A.I.ngel came out of the bedroom and told them “Timothy just contacted me. It seems that there was a problem with the new central computer system and was wondering if I could return.”

“And what do you want?” Artemis asked.

“I would like to stay, but I understand that you are going to a dangerous spot, so, as long as you promise to take me on another adventure, once this one is done, I will go back to where I can be of use immediately.”

So, they’d swung out of their way and dropped her off before heading to Pandora.

They looked around, trying to spot a familiar face among the suspicious onlookers. They’d called ahead, making sure that not only was the B-Team going to be there, but that they would be expecting them, so it only took a little while for a familiar lanky man to come walking up.

“How’s it goin?” Mordecai said with a wave.

“Good.” Gaige replied “Well, no that’s a lie.”

“Yeah, if it was good, you wouldn’t be here.”

“That sounds insulting.” Artemis muttered.

Mordecai shrugged “Not many come here by choice, specially not when they call ahead, so what brings you? Or did you wanna meet with the others before sayin?”

“Might as well say it once.” Gaige sighed “Where are they?”

“Eh, they’re waitin over there, they were gonna meet you, but somethin came up last minute.”

“And they sent away their eyes?” Artemis said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah well, those two are better at this.”

Gaige cocked an eyebrow and asked “Interview with persuasion?”

“Heh, something like that.” He said with a smile “Interview with persuasion, I like that. Well, they should be done in a moment, so follow me.”

He led them across the open area and into one of the buildings. Gaige sighed inwardly as she realized that the only footsteps clanging out were her own, which made her self-conscious of everything from her inability to sneak, to her weight, but she kept it in and followed along.

After a few turns, he led them into a dingy room that was downright posh by Pandora standards. Gaige looked around, the table was intact and had only a minimum of coffee rings on it, as well as a few broken bandit masks that looked like they were being used as coasters. The chairs were stuffed and worn, but the bunny patches looked new and the couch had all of its cushions, and they all matched.

“They should be here soon.” Mordecai said “Can I get you somethin while you wait? Coffee? Somethin stronger?”

Gaige swallowed noisily and shook her head “I’m, uh, I’m trying to quit.”

Mordecai gave her a look while nodding “It’s not easy, is it. All I can say is, stick with it and it’s easier with friends.”

Gaige nodded in commiseration with him and looked around “So, uh, which chairs can we use?”


“Never a good way to start off takin Tina’s chair. Or yours for that matter.”

“What about Brick?”

“Yeah, he’d only fit on the couch.”


Right then the door flew open and a tiny blond bounced in with a “What’up.” Before pausing and spinning on Mordecai “Why they still standin? Didn’t ya offer em a seat? No hospitality.”

“Hey Tina.” Gaige interrupted her “We were just waiting for you since we didn’t want to take your seat. I mean, that wouldn’t be a good way to start.”

“What’chu talkin about? They all my seats. Well sept for that one, dat’s Bricks. But today I feels like this one.” She said while jumping into one of the chairs “Now sit and tell Tina what brings your fine behin to ask her for her services.”

“Before we get to that, a little somethin for you.” Gaige said, elbowing Artemis to wake her up.

“Right.” She said, setting the box she was holding onto the table. “Last time we were here, we forgot to bring a gift for welcoming us into your house, though to be fair, I didn’t exactly know what we were doing, nor did we enter a house, but this time I came prepared.”

She opened it up to reveal a bunch of cupcakes. Most of them were identical, but two were different. One was huge, looking almost like a small cake and the other had different colored frosting.

Tina squealed “Cupcakes! You did fine!”

“You mentioned that we should bring some next time, so we made some before we got here, though for some reason Gaige told me not to put raisins in them, which I thought was odd, since I was making cupcakes and if I put raisins in them, doesn’t that make them muffins?”

“Finally, someone gets it!” Tina shouted, gesticulating wildly. “I mean, why do people wanna put raisins in everythin anyway? It just wrong.”

Artemis nodded “Oh, those ones are yours.” She pointed to the identical ones “And since it would be rude to give them to only one person, that one’s for Brick, and since Mordecai doesn’t seem like the kind that likes sweets as much, I tried to make his with less sugar.”

“Nice.” He said, grabbing his.

Once everyone had taken a bite, or in Tina’s case, just shoved an entire cupcake into her mouth and nearly choked on it, she continued leading the meeting.

“Your offering has been approved, so what can I do ya for?”

This time Gaige spoke up, explaining the situation and what they needed. Tina sat and thought about it for a bit.

“So, do you think you can do it?”

“Whos do you think you talkin to? Corse I’s can do it. And you already paid in cupcakes. Yummy, yummy cupcakes. Fortunate for you, I’s knows how to handle this, but unfortunate for yous, I’s gonna need you to do somethin for me.”

“Fair enough.” Gaige said “What’s that?”

“If I’s gonna have a party, I’s gonna need you to go gives the invites to the gents. The ingre-gents.” She smiled crazily at her joke “First I gonna need you to find an invite Mister Reginald Boomington of the South-Highland Boomingtons, he a tall thin redhead with a fiery temper, yous can find him hangin around some of them psychos that like to go boom, cause he knows they gonna show him to someone he can bang, but you gonna need to take them out without him seein, cause if you be seen, he gonna go off.

“Next you gonna have to find Sir Bartholomew Gearsworth the IVth, he a very punctual man, popular with the ladies, but I donno where he at right now, but the two of you is good with machines and stuff, so I’s sure you can find him.

“Last I gonna need you to invite a friend o’mine, actually, a number of them. The Flumblebumble family are perfect for cleanin up a mess, they can hold everythin we want, but there’s a problem. See, these babies were found and on their way here, but some Rakk suckin, no good, motha humpa done up and stole 'em! And I wants 'em back!

“Ahem.” Tina cleared her throat, calming herself slightly “Oh, an one more thing, while you’s out distibutin the invites, if you happen upon Pollux Warhull, I would very much appreciate it if you would kill his Stalker sukin butt. See, he fancies himself an artist, but the only thing he be doin is puttin up some nasty graffiti suggestin that me an Enrique are doin the nasty. Now I loves me my Enrique the fourth, he’s my boo, but we just platonic, I don swing that way if you know wha I’m sayin?

“Oh, but beware, he under the protection of Volupta, an she a right fine piece o’ work. Take her out too if you need, actually, take her out even if yous don’t. I mean, my last girlfriend left me for that jiggling juggernaut an if there be one thing this place don’t need, it a girl snatchin monstrosity like that.”

Gaige glanced over and saw that Artemis was wearing a completely confused look, like she hadn’t caught any of what had been said, which didn’t surprise Gaige once she remembered that the girl had never taken a mission from someone like this. She’d had clients before, but there was something about taking a job as a Vault Hunter that always felt a bit different, so she’d have to explain it later, for now, she turned back to Tina and said “Where can we find them?”

1 Like

Chapter 6


They left Boomtown and headed across the road to where the Catch-A-Ride station was sitting. As soon as they were past the gates Artemis asked “Did you catch any of that?”

“You mean the job? Course I did, there’s an art to figuring out a job like that. Do enough of them, and you get used to it. She wants us to find some dynamite, which we can get from some of the suicide psychos, but we need to take them by surprise so that they don’t set it off themselves. Then we need some form of timer. She didn’t know where to find one, but figured that we might be able to spot something in the field, especially since we’re both tech people. Last, she needs something to store it all in so that it will be protected from the elements, not to mention look like her work, so she wants us to retrieve some shipment that got intercepted. The other two were kinda self-explanatory.”

“Yeah, I kinda got them, but the rest of it was a mystery to me.”

“Figured, but she marked my ECHO, so we should be able to find it without much difficulty, though it is a bit of a trek.” Gaige said while imputing what she wanted into the Catch-A-Ride screen, moments later a Technical formed on the pad and before she hopped into the driver’s seat, she added “Much as I’d love to see your driving again, I got it this time.”

Artemis deflated slightly, causing Deathtrap to pat her shoulder and help her up into the back. As soon as she was settled, they tore out of there.

As they traveled, Artemis took in the sights of the area, especially since they would be going to somewhere she hadn’t been before, but soon enough, the endless tan dirt and dark rocks got boring. Not even the occasional thump of a Skag getting run over, or the screech of a Rakk could elect any excitement from her, so she turned to the cab and leaned in to talk.

“Are we there yet?”

“What are you, five?”

“I was kidding, but about how far is it?”

“It’s a ways, looks to be closer to the Highlands then anywhere around here, so sit back and relax, or you could hop your way up here if you want.”

“I’m good for now.”

“Suit yourself.” Gaige shrugged before taking her eyes off the road for a moment and glancing at the other girl and saying “What? And don’t give me any of that, what what stuff, I know you well enough to know that you’ve got something on your mind, actually, you’ve had something on your mind for a while now, so spit it out.”

Artemis mulled for a few seconds and then said “What do you have against A.I.ngel?”

“What? I haven’t got anything against her.”

“You act like you do, I mean, you were awfully anxious to get her off the ship, and even before that, you were acting a bit odd around her.”

Now it was Gaige’s turn to mull. She couldn’t admit what it really was, especially when she wouldn’t even admit it to herself, but the truth was, she was jealous. Not jealous of anything the girl had in particular, but jealous of the attention she would get, the way she seemed to weave her way into the ship, into things that Gaige had taken for granted, like the bed, or their adventures and that made her feel nervous, which might have been a better way to describe it. She was worried that the girl would disrupt what they had going, which had barely recovered from the damage Gaige had done to it and with things on such shaky ground, she was worried that the new girl would take her place, that she might be able to offer Artemis something that Gaige couldn’t. At the very least, she hadn’t screwed up royally recently. But Gaige couldn’t even face that truth herself, so how was she supposed to convey it to her friend?

“Well, like I said, I was worried about her getting hurt.”

“That’s not it, at least not all of it.”

Gaige sighed and focused on the road while she gathered her thoughts, she knew that she needed to be honest if she was ever going to get things repaired. Things were much better now then they’d been for a while, but that still didn’t mean that all had been forgiven and Gaige knew that it wouldn’t take much for everything to fall apart once more, so she mulled it over as the terrain slid past.

Eventually she spoke up in a soft voice, barely audible over the sound of the engine. “It’s stupid, I know, but I guess I was worried that she would take my place, that you liked her better than me. I mean, certain things that I thought were special, just for us, she was being invited to take part in and I kinda got, I donno if I’d say offended? That’s not right, and it wasn’t jealousy, at least not entirely, but it was like she was just getting invited in without having to try to do all the things I had to work for. And I know that I’m on shaky ground, that I don’t really have a place to speak, but I didn’t want her to take my place.”

“She couldn’t take your place.”

“I know that, but, I guess I’m not saying this right, but it was like you were spending so much time catering to her, that I was feeling kinda pushed to the side. And I know that rationally it was that we’d been the only two before, so all the time was just us and that she was just taking part of it, but it felt like I was drifting away, that more and more, I wasn’t part of the conversation, part of the team and I panicked. Well, that and got mad, which I seem to do a lot. And, not to put anything more on you, but I was having a hard time of it, the alcohol, I mean. I know you got rid of all the booze on the ship, but I still was wanting it bad, and you were spending time with your new friend, but I needed someone to lean on right then, so I started worrying.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

“Sure I do. You’re my friend, and I was neglecting you. I knew you were having a hard time, but I didn’t think that much about it. And I didn’t realize you were feeling left out, I should’ve talked to you more. But I gotta say, you’re way more open and, what’s the word, rational about this? That feels wrong. Level headed? Eh, close enough. You’re more open and level headed about this stuff then when we first met, so I’m glad you spoke up.”

“Yeah, well, Deathtrap’s been on my case about it, plus some of those ECHO meetings stressed the importance of making sure that your friends and family know what’s going on with you, so create strong bridges of communication with them, so I’ve been working on it.”

“Well, you’re doing good.”


“Urgurrr” Deathtrap added, patting Gaige on the shoulder.

Smiling back at him, she said “Thanks babe. Well, it’s gonna be a long ride, before I ask if you’ve got any other things you wanna talk about, babe, root beer me.”

A Number of Hours Later

Gaige fell out of the driver’s side door, groaning loudly. She pushed herself into a near standing position, still hunched over for a few seconds, before slowly straightening out and stretching. Everything had gone stiff from the hours driving. She didn’t remember the last time she’d driven that long, and nothing against Ellie, but the seats could use an upgrade.

Finishing pushing on her spine back into place, she sighed and looked around. For the last while, the terrain around them had been gradually changing, going from dusty, rocky plains to a craggier one, with bits of green popping up, until it had finally taken hold and stretched out around them.

She glanced over at the other two, Artemis was yawning and stretching herself out, reminding Gaige of some cat that had just woke up. To her amazement, the other girl had fallen asleep about an hour ago, despite the bouncing of the hot metal bed she’d been in.

Deathtrap just shook his head and floated over to Gaige. He was fine, they hadn’t run into any problems on their way, in fact, they hadn’t seen any bandits for the last two hours, which had set them both on edge, another reason for Artemis falling asleep being weird to them.

“That was a long drive.” Artemis said, dropping out of the back and looking around “You sure this is the right place?”

“How would you know how long it was, you slept through part of it.” Gaige couldn’t keep the bitter comment inside, not that she tried all that hard.

Artemis shrugged “Get whatever sleep you can, when and where you can. Weren’t you Vault Hunters the same?”

“Yeah, but the back of a Technical? These things ain’t known for their shocks.”

“Eh, not the weirdest place I’ve taken a nap.”

“And where was that?”

“The duct of a ship. What? I don’t remember where it was, but I was hunting something that had caused a ship to crash on some planet, and I was trying to pick up its trail, but night fell just after I’d found the ship, so I slipped into the ducts and used my pack to barricade one way and a fan was blocking the other, so I took a nap.”

“You know something, you’re weird. And I mean that in the best possible way.”

“Thanks, I think?”

Gaige nodded and looked around. “But to answer your earlier question, we’re almost where Tina marked on the map.”

“And she couldn’t find anywhere closer? You know, I think she just wanted us to kill that Pollux person for her and used this as an excuse.”

“Hey, that’s no way to talk about my friends. Even if it’s probably true, it’s no way to talk about them.”


Gaige just shook her head, saddened by the fact that the other girl wasn’t getting it.

“So, uh, where are we going, and what’s around here?”

Gaige looked over and replied “How would I know?”

“Well, you’ve got the map, and, well, you’ve been here before.”

“Not here I haven’t.”

“Oh, the way you mentioned the Highlands, I thought you might’ve, sorry.”

“Stop saying you’re sorry. And I have been to the Highlands, but I never got out this way while there. I was just saying it was closer to here was all. That said, we should get going as soon as possible, unless you’ve got something else to add, more questions perhaps?”

Gaige had meant it to be a way of opening up discussion between them, but from the way the other girl reacted, she realized that she thought she was being sarcastic or mean, so she was grateful when Deathtrap chimed in.


“Great idea babe, I am a bit hungry, though I suppose we should keep it light, since we’re no doubt about to hit some combat.”

Artemis quickly got to work, pulling food out of her pack like she could finally be useful for something, while looking like she was kicking herself for not thinking of it herself.

“I’d thought with everything that happened in the Garden of Minos, you’d gotten more assertive, more willing to talk back to me, so what’s up?”

“Oh, uh, it’s just that, well, you had to do all the driving, so I should’ve thought to have something to eat ready for when we stopped, but I didn’t think of it.”

“Yeah, well, neither did I, so there’s that.”

“But I shouldn’t have to rely on you so much.”

“Nothing wrong with relying on others. Not that I’m one to talk, I mean, the last time I really relied on anyone but Deathtrap or you was almost eight years ago, so let’s just both try and work on it shall we. So, what’s for lunch?”

Artemis held up two sandwiches, handing one of them to Gaige, who tore into it like a starving person. Neither of them savored their food too much, especially not out in enemy territory like this, the downside of living under fire, like sleep, food was taken where and when it could be and no amount of time would change that part of them.

They quickly finished and washed the meal down before looking at the nearest crag stretching up and Gaige said “Well, looks like we’re on foot from here.”

“I think there’s a way up over there.” Artemis pointed.

Gaige trusted her eyes, so she let her lead the way and quickly spotted the path she was talking about, though calling it a path was being generous. It was really more of a narrow, steep, rock slide, though the way the other girl bound up it, made it look like it was a gentle staircase.

For her part, Gaige managed to scramble up it only with much sweating and swearing, but she got to the top. Throwing herself onto the grass, she still managed to look around, making sure that they were alone, when she spotted something off in the distance.

“Hey, what’s that?”

“Not sure. Seems to be some kind of building, or at least it was at one point, now I think that’s where our bandits are.”

“Nah, they should be off that way a bit more.”

“Huh, then they must have something there, cause there’s a fair number of buildings and barricades set up on it.”

Pushing herself up, Gaige dug out the scope from her pack and took a look. The other girl had been right, it did seem to be a bandit camp built on something else, and it took her a while, but she still recognized it.

“Damn, that’s an old Hyperion building.”

“You sure?”

“Course I’m sure. You know how many of those things I saw the first time I was here? Yeah, well, neither do I, but suffice to say, it was a lot.”

“So, what do you wanna do?”

“Hmm.” Gaige thought about it. Their target would’nt be there, though they might find something useful, but it would be a danger that they didn’t need, so it would be better to not go. “I think we shouldn’t kick the Rakk Hive unless we have to.”

“I agree, though it might have something we could use for the timer.”

“Damn, I hadn’t thought of that. Still, I think we should hit the other camp first, see what we can get, and then come back and hit this one if we need to.”

“I can live with that.”

“Great, so let’s go.”

They skirted wide around the base, trying not to be seen as they made their way towards their target, when Artemis suddenly stiffened and made a hand motion for them to stop.

After long, tense moments where nothing happened, Gaige moved slowly up to where the other girl was crouched. As soon as she was near, Artemis motioned to what she was looking at and the instant Gaige saw it, she let out an involuntary groan.


She watched the lizard-like creatures climb down the pillars that had once held a bridge, which had long since fallen and shattered. She kicked herself, she should’ve known, they were all over this area the last time she’d been here, but she’d put it out of her mind. She’d been so focused on the bandits, that she hadn’t thought about what else there might be.

“We should go around.” Artemis whispered back. Gaige nodded her agreement and they started following the edge of the ravine, moving even more cautiously than before.

As they went, Gaige started spotting the familiar signs of Stalkers in the area, the disgusting purple piles that they excreted, the strange blobs and strands hanging from everything. It all took her back, but it wasn’t a pleasant trip down memory lane. She’d never been fond of Stalkers. It wasn’t that her Anarchy didn’t work on them, if anything, her fighting style made dealing with them easier for her than anyone else, but she still didn’t like them. She didn’t know why, it might have been something about how they moved, or how they reminded her of a bug on Eden 5, but whatever it was, she didn’t like them from the start.

That dislike had only intensified when she’d been pinned down by one during her Vault Hunting time. She’d been careless, too busy showing off to pay attention around her, so while the rest of the Vault Hunters were taking care of a badass, she’d been casually killing the rest of them, but had missed one of them sneaking up on her. Normally, her bullets would’ve taken care of it even if she hadn’t been aware of it, but she’d been getting as close to them as possible and firing point blank, so there’d been no extra shots. She’d just finished all of them that she knew of, when she got hit from behind and pinned under it. She could just get her head around to look at it, but all she could see was the inside of its mouth as it tried to bite her. To her shame, she’d shrieked like a little girl and thrashed futilely underneath it, but hadn’t done anything but amuse it. She’d thought she would die there, Deathtrap had been too far away to help, but in the end, it was Maya who’d heard her and yanked the Stalker off with her Phaselock, though she did chew Gaige out for an hour or so when they got back to base.

Also not helping was the bizarre experiment that Dr. Zed had conducted in trying to splice creatures together, but that was a whole different kind of nightmare.

It wasn’t long before they were away from that Stalker den and moving across the open plain. Gaige was glad to be away, even as she wished she had a vehicle, not just to make going faster, but to go back and run each and every Stalker over. Then back up to make sure the job was finished.

As she fantasized about that, Artemis stopped.

Getting her mind back on the task at hand, she looked around to see what was up and quickly spotted the sign that had drawn the girl’s attention.

It had once been painted with the familiar Stalker warning, but at some point, someone had roughly painted over that and had replaced it with what appeared to be a stenciled-on image of a blond girl under a blue Skag, though it looked like they’d thrown paint at the stencil rather than trying to get an even coat. It didn’t take much to piece together who it was supposed to be, not just cause the blond had bunny ears, but because painted across the top of the sign was ‘Tina does it Skaggy style’.

“Well, I can see why she wanted this guy to die.” Artemis muttered. “His art’s terrible.”

Gaige blinked and took a second to realize the other girl was kidding, or at least partially, the art was terrible. “I’m gonna tell Tina you said that.”

“I was kidding.”

“I know, and it’s good you’re loosening up a bit, but that was bad.”

“Well, so’s this, I’m reluctant to call it art, besides, what did you expect me to say?”

“About what you said.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I was kidding as well. And you’re right, the art is terrible, I mean, without the caption I doubt I would’ve figured out who that was supposed to be.”

“I know, right.”

“Still, we should probably do something about this sign.”

“Such as? Cause just for the record, I don’t have any paint in my pack.”

“Really? I thought you might considering everything else you pack.”

“Are you still on that?”

“Nah, but I had hoped. Guess the best we can do is just destroy it, babe, you wanna do the honors?”

“Urru” Came the reply as the floating death machine slashed the sign in half before knocking the pieces down.

Satisfied, they made their way on. It wasn’t long before they ran into another couple signs, with almost identical ‘art’, though the splatter patterns were different and tags like ‘Bunny and the Skag’ or ‘What happens when a Skag catches a bunny’ though they thought the last one was a bit forced. Still, the art seemed to be improving, since they could at least identify who it was supposed to be by the picture, not that they didn’t destroy every one of them.

It didn’t take long for them to start climbing one of the hills and when they came to the top, they were faced with a sharp drop-off, leading to a valley crawling with Stalkers, and across the way, was the bandit camp they were after.

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Chapter 7


They looked at the camp, which was situated a bit above them. It clung to the edge of the cliff, with pillars and supports stuck haphazardly into the rocks as it trailed down, with platforms and boxy buildings hanging off the cliff. Ladders and stairs led down to the lower levels, but it didn’t look like there was a way up from the valley floor. Above all that, the walls rose high, capped off with what appeared to be a landing pad and trailing away from that were all kinds of buildings tripping over each other on the way down, from squarish sheet metal shacks to large curved Quonset huts, often built on top of each other. Here and there were towers and across everything was a series of bridges.

Laying in the short grass, Gaige looked around before whispering “So, do you see a way across?”

“From here? No. But I can just make out something down that way a ways,” She replied, pointing a ways back down the valley a bit off to the side from the direction they’d come from “But there’s a rise right in front of it, not to mention that it curves.”

“Well, whatever it is would be better than climbing down.”

Artemis shrugged and moved back before standing up and leading them down the hill and back towards whatever she’d seen.

They cautiously rounded a pile of rocks and got their first real look at it. It was a bridge, or had once been, now it was a barely standing mess of rusted girders and welded together plates of metal that one might be able to cross if they were daring. On either side were the remnants of buildings, undoubtedly from when Hyperion had built it, though the nearest one was mostly collapsed in on itself and the one on the far side had been reinforced by the bandits with scraps of metal that had probably been pried up from the bridge itself.

“So, what do you think?” Gaige asked.

“Well, we could easily take it, but it would require a bit of gunfire, which would echo up to the base. Otherwise, we could wait for nightfall and sneak across, either on the bridge, or having Deathtrap carry us across. Alternatively, we could go back and see what’s the other way, though it did look like the valley widened out, so that might not work.”

“Hmm, well waiting for night might be more prudent, it’s also boring, plus I don’t wanna be out here that long, not to mention that if we waited, we’d have to attack at night, and I for one, don’t have the best night vision. I mean it’s not bad or anything, but it’s not like yours.”

“Oh. But wouldn’t they be suffering the same problem?”

“Maybe, but they know their base and we don’t, so we’d be at a disadvantage.”

“I guess that makes sense. So, what should we do?”

“I guess we should try and find a place that we can get across without drawing too much attention.”

“Well, we could try and climb down.”

“Heck no, I ain’t dealin with those Stalkers.”

“Yeah, I suppose we couldn’t get past them without raising a ruckus.”

“Yeah, sure, that’s what I meant”

“So, what other options do we have?”


“You sure?”


“All right, now all we need is to find a good place, somewhere that we can’t easily be spotted.”

Artemis led them off and after a bit of a trek, they found the perfect place to put the plan into motion. She started by digging the cable out of her pack and wrapping one end around a bit of rock that was jutting up. Once that was secure, Deathtrap took the other end and flew across the valley, stretching it tight. Once it was taunt, Gaige took one look at it and had second thoughts.

“This is seriously the best we could come up with?”

“Hey, if you don’t like it, you could always climb down and try your luck with the Stalkers.”

“I’m gonna have to pass.”

“Then don’t worry about it. Besides, Deathtrap came up with this, so it’s good.” Artemis said while looping a belt over the cable and after giving Deathtrap a thumbs up to let him know she was about to begin, stepped off the edge.

She slid across the valley on the cable and just before she got to the other side, Deathtrap flew up, killing her momentum and letting her grab onto the cliff face. She scrambled to the top and turned around, giving Gaige a thumbs up to let her know it was all good.

Gaige groaned. Nothing about this had gone right, they were supposed to be getting an explosive to make things easier, so why were they out in the middle of nowhere, sliding over a Stalker den on a cable on their way to kill some deranged artist? She couldn’t figure out how things had gotten this out of hand. The only plus side that she could think of, was that her relationship with Artemis had improved since the ride in the Technical and she needed to keep things good between them, so with a sigh, she wrapped her belt around the cable and flashed a thumbs up of her own, before double checking her grip on the belt and stepping off into air.

She felt her stomach drop further and faster than she did as she fell for a split second before the cable took her weight and then she was flying across the valley, desperately trying to not look down, nor at the wall flying towards her at an alarming rate, and then suddenly, she was slowing down till she just bumped against the wall.

Grabbing on for dear life, she slowly started to make her way up, when a metal hand clamped around hers and yanked her up.

“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Artemis said with a smile.

“How can you be so cheerful?” Gaige muttered.

“Eh, I’m out here, with my friends, about to kill a whole bunch of bad guys and maybe a creature or two, what’s there to not be cheerful about?”

“You’re weird, you know that?”

“Yeah.” The reply was a bit sad all of a sudden.

“But a good weird. I like weird.” Gaige quickly added, patting the other girl’s shoulder to try and cheer her up. “Well, let’s not forget what we’re really here for.”

“Right.” Came the neutral response as Artemis took point and led them back towards the bandit camp.

Gaige glanced at Deathtrap, who just shrugged in response, so she just turned and followed behind Artemis, keeping her distance.

It didn’t take long for the bridge to come back into view, but this time, they could see into the back, which was armored, but not as much so as the front, causing Gaige to wonder what they were guarding against. It couldn’t be the Stalkers, if they were a worry, they would’ve been worried about them coming up the sides of the valley and attacking from behind, so she started to wonder if the other bandit base they’d seen might not be hostel and if so, if they could use that to their advantage if they needed to.

Moving past those thoughts, she could see at least three bandits moving around in the guard post and judging by the electronics she could make out, it seemed that they had a method of communicating with their base, meaning that avoiding the head on fight had been the right move.

It wasn’t long after that, that she caught up to Artemis as she sat examining the main base. Unfortunately for them, the base was higher up on the hill, surrounded on three sides by the valley. It seemed to have been built at the edge of where the valley widened out, giving it ample protection from attacks. On the path up to the front gate, they’d set up small barricades which would force any attacker to either jump them, or follow a twisting, indirect path that would slow them greatly and give the guards ample time to raise the alarm and then pick them off. In fact, it was so well laid out, that she had to wonder if they hadn’t taken it over from someone else.

But that didn’t matter at the moment, right then, they needed to figure out how to get up close and get in, all without being seen.

“So, any suggestions on how we’re getting in?”

“Me? I was hoping you had something, cause this isn’t gonna be easy.”

Gaige groaned at the response, but the other girl didn’t seem finished as she continued “Having said that, I’ve got a couple observations, and then something I’m gonna probably need to check.”

“Alright, let’s hear it.”

“Well, first, judging by the walls, I’d say our artist lives here.” She nodded to the outer walls which were covered in the stenciled art like they’d seen on the signs, though only one section had the picture of Tina. Most of the rest were similar in style, but all over the place in subject. Just looking with her naked eye, Gaige could make out four different colored, but otherwise identical pictures of Tyreen Callipso, an inverted Firehawk symbol, a stylized Skag and even a broken Handsome Jack face. But, while they were decent, something about them seemed familiar to Gaige, and not just that, but for some reason she felt bored looking at them, which made her wonder if she was an art snob.

Shaking her head to get back to the matter at hand she realized that Artemis was waiting for her to reply, so she quickly gave her a “Yep.”

“Second, we aren’t gettin in the front door.”

“No, really?”

“Third, sarcasm still doesn’t suit you.”

“No, really?”

“Fourth, I’m supposed to be the bitch here, so quit tryin to take it from me.”

“We can both be bitches, but you’re right, it’s not helping, so I’ll try and lay off.”

“Good, so, where was I?”

“Uh, somethin about not gettin in the front door.”

“Right. So, if we’re not gettin in that way, we’re gonna need another way in, something that they can’t see, which leads me to the next thing I need to check out.”

“Which is?”

“I need to check off this side of the cliff, see how much they’ve built up on it, and if I can spot any form of a path I could take to sneak around.”

Gaige just shook her head.

“What? You got a better idea, cause if so, I’d love to hear it.”

“No, it’s not that, I was just thinking that you’re better at this then I am, that I wish we’d had you back when I was Vault Hunting, and lastly, I was thinking, better you than me.”

“Uh, thanks, I think. And no, you don’t wish I was with you when you were Vault Hunting.”

“I do.”

“No, you might wish you had the current me around, but remember, when you were Vault Hunting, I was just starting hunting, so I wouldn’t have been any use to you.”

“Alright, fine, get technical with me. That said, I’m at least glad I’ve got you with now. That better?”

“Uh, thanks?”

“Why did that sound like you weren’t sure if you were thankful or not?”

Gaige didn’t get a response, instead, Artemis turned away and muttered “I’m gonna go check this out, stay here.” And scurried off, but not before Gaige caught sight of the glowing red of her ears.

Artemis was grateful for the cool wind blowing on her overheated cheeks. She knew that she shouldn’t get so embarrassed by Gaige complimenting her, but she couldn’t help it, she was just grateful that she had an excuse to get out of there.

It didn’t take her all that long to come to the far side of the spit of land she was on and cautiously moved to the edge, partially to avoid being seen, but mostly cause she didn’t know how stable the land around here was. It turned out to be strong enough to support her weight as she slithered out and glanced over the edge.

Below her was another sharp drop off, it wasn’t a sheer cliff and had ample juts and pits that she could use as handholds to climb along, but she would be exposed as she went, so she didn’t want to travel very far that way, so she continued sweeping her gaze across the cliff till she came to the bottom of the bandit camp.

A minute later she was back where Gaige was sitting.

“I found something.”

“Jeez,” Gaige jumped, holding her chest “Stop doing that or I’m seriously getting you a bell.”

“I’ve heard of training that involves wearing a bell, something about learning to move without jiggling or something, so if you think that would help, I’ll give it a try.”

“You’re hopeless, you know that.”


Gaige resisted the urge to pull her hair out, as well as smack the other girl on the head and instead chose to move on. “So, what’d you find?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, I think I found a way in, but it’s gonna be a bit of a challenge.”

“So what else is new.” Gaige sighed “So what is it?”

“Uh, it’s a small path that leads around the cliff, but it’s really narrow, so I should be fine, but, uh…”

“Is that one of those fat cracks I warned you about?”

“No, no, it’s just that, well, your, uh, chest might get in the way.”

“My chest isn’t that big!” Gaige paused for a moment and then hung her head and let out a sob “Which is something I never thought I’d say.”

Artemis had enough wherewithal to not say that it was plenty big, or any of the other things running through her head, instead settling for the not complete foot in mouth of “Well, if you’re sure, let’s go.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s not that big.”

This time, Artemis didn’t hold back and said “Well, it’s certainly bigger than mine.”

Gaige sighed and accepted that it could always be worse while picking herself up and following along after Artemis.

Once again, she was struck by the difference in their ability to sneak, it seemed that the other girl was not just moving silently, but the grass didn’t even seem bent when she passed, which made Gaige feel like Mr Torgue on Athenis, loud and unwelcome.

Artemis slowed down for her, allowing her to move with as much stealth as she could and soon they found themselves at the edge of the cliff. At first Gaige could only see the sharp drop and a few Stalkers milling about down below, but after having it pointed out, she managed to see the path that Artemis had mentioned, and immediately understood why the other girl had been concerned. It wasn’t so much of a path as a slight bump in the rock face that happened to go in a line. She wondered if even the other girl, as light on her feet as she was, could manage it, let alone Gaige herself.

“Well, what do you think?”

“About what?”

“The path, what else were you expecting? Which Stalker you wanted to adopt?”

“You’re messed up, you know that? Adopting a Stalker.”

“It was…you know what? Forget it. You can do whatever you want, but I’m gonna start going in a minute.”

“What’re you gonna do until then?”

“Get ready, obviously. I mean, I’m not takin my entire pack with, this thing would definitely drag me off.” She said, digging into her bag and transferring a number of its contents to her smaller bag.

Gaige quickly followed suit, kicking herself for not thinking of it and simultaneously thanking Artemis for reminding her to bring a smaller bag herself.

It did take a little longer than the minute she’d assigned, but soon Artemis was lowering herself over the edge and carefully moving along the lip till she was over the path. From there she slowly climbed down and as soon as she was on the ledge, started to shuffle her way along.

Gaige groaned and looked over to where Deathtrap was floating, telling him “Keep close to me, just in case, alright?”


“This is such a bad idea.” She groaned as she lowered herself after her friend and started along.

It didn’t take long for her to regret letting the other girl talk her into this, even though she knew that she hadn’t been talked into it so much as there was no other real option. Still, it was more fun to blame someone else then to admit that she couldn’t think of anything, so she blamed Artemis for choosing this path, she blamed Tina for giving them this task, she tried to blame Brick and Mordecai, but the thought of trying to blame Brick made her blanch in fear, even if it was just in pretend, so she went back to those that were more fun.

She kept playing the blame game in her mind mostly to distract herself from the fall just a few inches away, but also to keep her mind off the fact that her chest was scraping across the rock in a rather uncomfortable way. She was glad that she wasn’t wearing a good jacket, and lamenting the fact that she hadn’t thought to bring anything to flatten her chest with, not that she had fond memories from the last time she’d done that.

With all her mental bitching, she didn’t realize what kind of progress she was making until she noticed Artemis grabbing onto the bottom support for one of the buildings and start hauling herself up.

Gaige made the mistake of relaxing, which ended up pushing her chest against the wall and nearly throwing her off, only for a hand to grab her shoulder. Looking up, she spotted Artemis giving her a dirty look, though whether it was due to her carelessness, or the fact that she was irritated by the chest at fault, Gaige couldn’t say. Still, she flashed a smile in thanks, which only caused Artemis to shake her head and roll her eyes, but she still helped Gaige onto the support.

They made their way up to the bottom of the building and waited. Gaige wanted to say something, but the look on the other girls’ face told her everything she needed to know, that there was someone above them.

Time seemed to drag out as they clung to the metal, but eventually, Gaige heard the sound of footsteps clanging away. They hung there for a few more seconds, to make sure that they were really gone, and then carefully swung up, climbing up and over the railing.

As soon as their feet touched the metal, they both had their guns in hand, though they both knew not to use them unless it was an emergency, since any shooting would alert the entire base.

They looked around and found themselves standing in between two chairs with a bucket between them and a fishing pole tossed on the ground. Artemis couldn’t help herself and glanced back over the railing, as if she’d missed the giant lake below, but still only found scrub grass and Stalkers. Looking back, she caught Gaige shaking her head.

Giving up on making sense of things, Artemis took point and padded silently across the deck, glancing into the building as she passed. Gaige followed along, and checked the building as well, finding nothing of interest inside aside from some magazines that were scattered around, but a quick glance at their covers told her they were all years old, and she’d already read the ones she’d have been interested in, so she moved on.

Just as she was getting to the top of the stairs, she looked around and realized that she’d misplaced Artemis. The smaller girl was nowhere to be seen. In a bit of a panic, she nearly headed back down, when she heard movement ahead. For a split second she thought it might be Artemis, but as she took the first step towards the sound, it suddenly hit her that she wouldn’t be making that much noise, just as the psycho rounded the corner.

Before he even had time to register the girl standing in front of him, he stiffened slightly as an arm dropped down from above and shoved a thin blade through the top of his skull.

Artemis dropped silently down behind him, not retracting her blade until she was grabbing him from behind. She quickly motioned for Gaige to get with it and to grab his feet before leading them back down.

Once they were there, she quickly stripped the psycho of the explosives at his waist and after doing a once over started dragging him to the edge.

“What’re you doing?” Gaige hissed.

“Feeding the Stalkers.”

“But won’t they make a bit of noise?”

“Maybe, but where else would I put him?”


“Where anyone coming by could see him?”

“Fine, but if this goes bad, it’s on you.”

Artemis shrugged and slipped the body over the rail and dropped him straight down. It seemed that the Stalkers were used to people slipping, cause they were on the corpse instantly and with barely any noise that reached the girls, the body was gone.

Artemis slipped back up and this time Gaige saw her pull herself onto the small building, where she waited.

The next two were normal psychos and the following one was a bandit, all of which went down to feed the Stalkers, but the fourth one was another explosive psycho.

Carrying the body down, Gaige muttered “Are you sure you’re not related to Zero?”


“Cause he’s disturbingly good at these types of kills as well, which in his case makes sense, since he’s an assassin.”

“Don’t think I’m related. Where’s he from?”

“He never said.”

“Then who knows, but probably not.”

“I was mostly kidding anyway. So how we doing? On the explosives, I mean.”

“We should have enough.” Artemis said, double checking her bag.

“Good, then what’s next?”

“Well, we could get outta here.”

“We could, but we still need to take care of Tina’s problem.”

“I don’t think anyone could take care of her problems.”

“Hey, that’s my friend you’re talkin about.”

“Sorry. But you seem to be friends with a lot of people with serious problems.”

“I’m friends with you.”


With that, Artemis turned and started moving back up, leaving Gaige behind. She shot Deathtrap a look, but he just shrugged and motioned for her to get going. Sighing, she did.

This time they didn’t stop until they’d made it to the top. Looking out, Gaige spotted a courtyard butting up against a stack of buildings topped off with a half-constructed head that looked like when it was finished, it would breathe fire.

Continuing to look around, Gaige was able to piece together a rough shape of the compound. Down by the gate was a ramshackled pile of buildings that no doubt housed most of the guards and such. Above them stretched a walkway that went the entire length of the perimeter. A few buildings were built on top of the walkway, but they looked like huts and a few watchtowers, though it didn’t seem that the bandits thought anyone would be sneaking in from the sides, so there weren’t many of them.

“So,” Came the whisper that interrupted her observation “Where should we go?”

Gaige wanted to snap back with something nasty, but bit it back, cause she knew that the other girl was just leaning on her expertise. “Well, we need the Flumblebumble’s, which Tina thought would be here.”

“Right, so first, they’re probably in the main building, right?”

“Yep. So, what’s second?”

“What if they’re not?”

“Then we’ll have to go looking for them.”

“No. I mean, yes, but I was meaning, what if this group didn’t take them?”

“Erk.” Gaige choked at the thought “Uh, then I guess we’d need to find whomever did.”

“Right, and let’s be honest, the only other group in this area is that Hyperion place.”

“That we know of. It’s the only other one we know of.”

“OK, I’ll give you that. So, long as we’re here, we might as well do this one first, so how do you wanna do it? Cause if we go in guns blazing, we won’t get far, but if we sneak in and get caught, we’ll be caught in a pincer.”

“Uhg, I hate it when you point out the obvious.”


“No, I hate that it means I have to say something else, usually trying to be clever to cover for the fact that you just said what I was going to in the hopes that you had something else to add.”

“Oh, well, sorry again.”

“Again, not your fault. But as you said, we’ve got a hard choice ahead of us, though I guess we could start a fight out here, that way if things go bad, we can force our way out the main gate.”

“But then we’d need to come back and they’d be expecting us.”

“So, you think we should try and sneak in?”

“If we’re gonna have to fight our way out no matter what, I’d rather not have to come back later.”

“Well, you’ve convinced me, let’s do it.”

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Chapter 8


Gaige took point this time, while Artemis kept her eyes on the courtyard. Moving as quickly as she could, Gaige still winced each time she made a noise, but it seemed that no one had noticed her as she ducked into the open door at the base of the building. Doing a quick scan of the interior, she found that it was a large open area, and while there were bandits moving around inside, none of them were watching the door. She shot a thumbs up back to the others before slipping behind a barricade and waited.

A moment later Artemis slipped up next to her and if she hadn’t been expecting the other girl, Gaige would’ve jumped at her sudden appearance. Deathtrap meanwhile flew in and quickly pulled himself up against the ceiling, which was a ways up, the cavernous room being at least a story and a half tall.

“Now where?” Gaige whispered as softly as she could.

Artemis shrugged and looked around “There’s a group over there, by the most likely door, so we’re not getting in that way, which leaves…”

She froze up and something about her attitude caused Gaige to not ask what was up, which turned out to be a good thing as a bandit walked through the door right then. Gaige’s eyes widened as she tightened her grip on her gun, but the bandit didn’t look around, he just blinked at the sudden darkness and walked forward, waving to one of the others and calling out to him.

It seemed that it was a shift change, since the other bandit groaned and grabbed his gun. After a brief talk with the returning bandit, out of which Gaige only caught “The Stalkers seem a bit riled up today” the leaving bandit slouched and headed towards the door.

Before Gaige could figure out what to do, a hand grabbed her belt and drug her back, pulling her around the edge of the barricade. She glanced at Artemis, but found the smaller girl was watching the psycho walking away from them, even as the bandit headed to the door.

Realizing they were exposed, they both decided to head for the nearest door and made a break for it, keeping low as they did.

To Gaige’s amazement, no one shouted out as they ducked through the door and into the room on the other side. Giving it a quick once over as they moved though, Gaige couldn’t immediately figure out what it was for, but quickly realized that she was trying to apply logic to a bandit base, and quickly gave up and instead focused on not running into anything.

Weaving around the table where a busted TV sat, with a burnt skull holding a Marcus Munitions bobble-head in its mouth inside, she unconsciously snatched the bobble-head and stuffed it into her pack. Other than that, she had to carefully avoid the magazines that were spilled across the floor, trying not to be distracted by whatever was on their covers, which wasn’t all that hard, since she was trying to look everywhere at once.

To her annoyance, Artemis had casually slipped forward, moving up to the door and cocking her head for a second, before moving through into the hallway on the other side. Gaige kept low, trying to follow and wondering where Deathtrap was. He hadn’t followed through the door, so she hoped that he was at least keeping out of sight and waiting for them to make a break for it so that he could cover their escape, and if not that, she hoped he was at least alright.

Trying not to think about it, she followed down the hall, glancing through the open doors they passed, finding more rooms filled with junk, but not the junk they were looking for. Before long, they came to the end of the hall and had to choose to head back towards the central area, or away from it. Taking a second to try and orientate herself, Gaige realized that if they went away, they’d end up going outside and around to the part they’d originally seen from across the valley and since she doubted that whatever Tina had wanted them to find her would be out there, she knew they’d have to head back to the central area. Her only hope was that the group loitering there had moved on.

As she expected, Artemis turned back to the center and moved forward, rifle in her left hand, pistol held tight in her right. She moved without hesitation as she slipped up to the door and glanced out. Holding up her hand to let Gaige know to wait, she slipped out and slid around behind a pile of crates that were tossed to one side.

From her new vantage point, she could make out the placement of the bandits going about their business and suppressed a sigh, she didn’t like this, not at all. It wasn’t that she couldn’t take everyone there, even by herself, it was that if she did, they would soon be bogged down in a protracted firefight. She wasn’t entirely sure they could win, not without knowing how many opponents were there, not to mention what kind of tricks they had, but even if they did win, which she felt was likely, there was no guarantee that what they were after was here and if it wasn’t, even if they were in good shape, their ammo supply would likely be low, so they couldn’t move to the next place without somehow restocking, which would take time, time that she didn’t think they could afford. She was already annoyed about how long this was taking, each hour they spent on Pandora, Holloway would be spending getting better prepared for his eventual rematch with them, so she didn’t want to waste any more time.

But there was nothing she could do about that now, so she kept an eye on everything in the room, including spotting Deathtrap hiding up against one of the air vents or pipes, she couldn’t be sure what it was for, hanging from the ceiling. Despite his size, he was doing a good job of blending in, she’d only picked up on him cause she knew what she was looking for.

Just as she was wondering if they would have to fight their way through, there was a commotion outside. Artemis immediately glanced back at Gaige to make sure that she was still there and not doing something incredibly stupid, and to her relief, she was still hanging by the door, shooting a look that shouted ‘What?’ at Artemis.

Artemis held up her hand as the group of bandits rushed forward. The instant they were past, she waved Gaige over, but stopped her from continuing.

“What’s happening?” Gaige hissed in her ear.

“Not here, wait for the rest to leave before we make a break for it.”

“What rest?”

Before Artemis could answer, the door behind where the bandits had been flew open and another thirty of them went running by.

Nodding as if to say ‘Those rest.’ Artemis moved out, making a motion for Deathtrap to join them as they rushed through the door and found themselves in a wide room, even though it was quite a bit smaller than the last. There were lockers against the wall they’d just come through and on each wall was a single door, the ones on the sides were closed, but the one straight ahead didn’t even have a door in the frame and led to a metal stairwell.

Though neither of them thought that what they were looking for was on this floor they quickly checked the doors, not wanting to waste any more time than necessary. Neither door led to any kind of store room, nor anything else useful, just more strange bandity rooms, so they headed towards the stairs while hoping that they hadn’t blown their chance.

Once again, Artemis took point, slipping up the stairs as they went back and forth while Gaige tried to follow along. Deathtrap brought up the rear and was getting tempted to just grab Gaige and carry her along since she was taking forever trying not to make too much noise. He didn’t think it really mattered that much and in fact would be more suspicious to anyone listening since no one else here was doing anything to muffle the sound of their feet, but he knew that she was trying to match the other girl, and he was grateful that they were getting along as well as they were, though he wondered what the future held for them. He reminded himself that if they wanted to see the future, they needed to survive the present, so he turned his attention to his surroundings.

They came to a halt at the first door and waited while Artemis scouted a short way down the hall. After just long enough to worry the other two, she came padding back and shook her head.

“Nothing.” She whispered, keenly aware of the echoing nature of the stairwell, so she was just outside when she talked.


“Guess we’ve gotta keep going up.”

“Wait, before we do, what happened outside?”

“Not entirely sure, all I heard was something about Stalker’s attacking.”

“Wait, you mean the ones we were riling up by feeding them?

Artemis shrugged “Donno, but as long as they’re distracting everyone, we should get done in here.”

Gaige nodded, and let Artemis continue leading them upward.

As they approached the next floor, Gaige caught the other girl’s head ■■■■ to the side, as if she was listening to something that confused her greatly.

She tapped her shoulder and mouthed ‘What?’, but only got a shake of the head in response, accompanied by her pointing upward. Gaige shrugged, but followed along and by the time she got to the next door, she’d figured out what the other girl had been hearing.

“No, no, that’s not right. What’s missing, what, what, what?” A lone voice echoed through the floor. Peering around the corner, they found themselves staring at a large open space lit by fires. Most of them were in barrels or on candles, but a few were burning rubbish heaps on the floor. In the middle of the room was a tall, thin man, covered in tattoos and bent at an odd angle. His shock of white hair stuck up as if he’d been electrocuted and floated around as he thrashed weirdly. In his hand was what appeared to be a stuffed bunny that had been dipped into blood, which he was waving wildly at what Gaige thought was a canvas, all while shouting at it “No, that’s not where I told you to go! Why won’t you listen to me? What’s wrong with you?”

In frustration, the weirdo threw the bunny at the canvas where it impacted with a wet ‘Splat’ causing him to ■■■■ his head. “Yes. Yesyesyesyes. No. Arg, why won’t you work.”

He bent almost over backwards and spotted them standing there, looking at him. Spinning around, he straightened up and addressed them “No autographs. The studio is closed, I cannot work.”

Gaige didn’t know how to respond to him, so she let her eyes travel around the room. The first thing she saw was the crate sitting open just behind the man with a few pairs of rabbit ears sticking out. The next was the fact that what she’d taken for a canvas, was in fact the back of a naked person, chained to a slab of concrete, though whether it was willingly or not, she couldn’t tell.

Finally, she let her eyes wander back to the person in front of her. He was younger than she’d thought, his white hair was what had thrown her. He was wiry, and only wearing pants. She supposed some might find him good looking, but he was far too crazy for her tastes, but even so, she had to wonder what he was doing in a place like this. Then she got a good look at the tattoos on his chest and everything fell into place.

Across most of his torso were four almost identical tattoos, lined up two by two, each one depicting a psycho mask, each in a different color, done in the same style as the signs outside.

She’d found the artist.

“Ah, you’re stunned into silence by the mere presence of my greatness, I understand, I do, it is my curse, but wait, what’s this? Do I know you? I think I must, but from where? Where where?”

Artemis slowly leaned over to Gaige and whispered “I think this guy’s a wackadoodle.”

Gaige almost snorted with laughter and after checking to make sure she was able to keep a level voice asked back “Is that related to the cobblywobbles?”

“As the cobblywobbles are to unease, a wackadoodle is to a nut.”

“Ah, got it, then for the record, this guy might not be a wackadoodle, he’s an artist. They’re all like this.”

“There are none like me.” The artist interrupted, causing Gaige to realize that she must have said the last part a bit louder than she’d meant.

“Right, I’m sure there aren’t. Look, I’m gonna need the rest of that crate.” Gaige said, trying to draw things back into the realm of sanity.

“Fine, take them, I am done with them anyway.”

“Really? Wow, that was easy.”

“Ah, but first, I must know where I’ve seen you before?”

“I donno, I don’t think I’ve seen you.”

“No, no, no, I know I have. Hmmm, now where was it?” He bent backwards till his head was parallel to the floor “Was it at a showing? No. no. no.”

He snapped up and looked past them as if he was seeing Deathtrap for the first time. His hand flopped forward, pointing with his first and last fingers “That’s it! You were there!”

“Sorry, but where’s there?”

“You were at Castors.”

“Castor’s? I don’t know a Castor. You know a Castor?” Gaige said, dumbfounded as she turned to Artemis.

“Can’t say that I do.”

“What? How can you say that, you were there, though I can’t say if you were, though I think you were? Yes! Yes, you were, you were the one that interrupted, how could I forget.”

“Well, I don’t remember so could you jog my memory? Who’s this Castor guy?”

“How could you not remember? It was such a glorious day, truly magnificent. I was so envious of my brother for his bride, she was like a work of art. I see you still don’t remember, it’s fine, maybe seeing him will help.”

He walked over to a giant drop-cloth that was draped over something taller than he was and about four times as wide. With a grand flourish, he pulled it off revealing a massive block of purple crystal, one that the girls hadn’t seen in months, one that was still holding the spiked shield he’d died with.

“Oh ■■■■.” Gaige said, recognizing the groom she’d killed the last time she’d been here.

“Oh, was his name Castor? I don’t think I actually ever heard.” Artemis muttered.

“Oh, how fortuitous that for me to have found you.” He said, spreading his arms, but then seeming to change his mind, swung one of them over his eyes.

“Crap.” Gaige muttered, readying her gun.

“He was one of the blessed, a true disciple, but he must have angered the twins in some way, must have been found wanting and that’s why he fell, but none of that matter, all that matters is that I must know, how did you turn my dear brother into such a splendid work of art?”

“Wait, what?”

“These lines, the color, the emotion, it’s simply transcendent.” His voice was quivering with emotion.


“You won’t tell me? I understand, every artist must guard their secrets. Still, I would so love to have a long conversation about technique with you, but alas, you must be punished for what you did to my babies.”

“I don’t recall doing anything to any kids.”

“I understand you must have been jealous of my sublime skill, but that is still no excuse to, no, there is never any excuse to destroy art.”

“Wait, your babies were…”

“My glorious works. You nearly destroyed the entire Tina line. Oh, but there is only one left, truly it must be cherished.” He brought his hands close to his chest, like he was cradling an infant, before suddenly cocking his head and looking at them.

“So, uh, what do you have against Tina anyway?”

“Her? HER! That plebeian, that heathen, that, that…CRITIC?! She had the gall, the temerity to call my work…derivative! Me! The great Pollux Warhull! Derivative!”

“That’s it.” Gaige said, suddenly slapping her fist into her palm “That’s what’s been bugging me about those pictures. I knew I’d seen something like them before.”

“NONSENSE! My style is wholly original and has never been seen in the galaxy before!” Pollux ranted.

“No, no, there was this guy, what was his name?”

“He was a cheap imitator of me!”

“He died, like, fifty years ago.”

“It’s not my fault that the coward died before I could prove my work superior, but that just goes to show how genius my work is, it transcends time itself.”


“Ah, my genius is too great for your puny minds to get around, it’s so sad, but it’s the burden I must bear. Still, I regret that you must die without understanding the truth of my work, but I must get back to it, and you are in the way.”

Before he had a chance to do anything, Gaige fired her shotgun into him, knocking him back and throwing blood all over the statue of his brother.

Pollux froze, bent backwards transfixed at the sight of his blood splattering the statue, his lip quivering for a few seconds before he yelled in ecstasy “YES! That’s it! That’s what I was looking for. What was missing.”

He staggered to his feet and threw his arms wide, shouting “Again! It must be done again!”

Gaige looked at him, reluctant to give him what he wanted, but needing to finish him off, so she winced and fired a second time.

Pollux slumped to the floor, a look of complete satisfaction and enrapturement on his face “It is…perfection.” He muttered as he died.

“OK, I stand corrected.” Artemis said, staring at the corpse “That guy wasn’t a wackadoodle, he was just Rakk ■■■■ crazy. I mean, I guess not every psycho wears a mask.”

“Nah, he was just an artist.”

“You can’t expect me to believe they’re all that crazy.”

“No, but most of them are.”

“Great, let’s just get our stuff and get outta here.” Artemis said, sounding depressed.

“Now what’s got you down?” Gaige asked in genuine concern.

“Nothing. Well, it’s just the thought of more like him running around like that is all.”

“Ah, yeah, that is a bit depressing, isn’t it?”

Artemis nodded and emptied the crate of stuffed rabbits into the bag Deathtrap was holding.

“Two down, one to go.” She muttered.


“Yeah, he’s right, we’re three down. Don’t forget, takin care of this nut was one of our tasks.”

“Right, but we’ve still got one to go, and no real idea of where to go for it.”

Gaige sighed “No, we don’t, do we.”

They looked at each other for a second, before Artemis suddenly snapped around to the side.


“We’re about to have company.”

Gaige brought up her gun just as a hidden side door flew open and a tall woman sashayed in.

“Polly dear, what was that noise? Did you break another one? I wish you wouldn’t be so hard on your canvases, we’re running out and it’s not easy to find an unsullied o…” She trailed off as she looked around, taking in the blood splattered statue, the corpse on the floor, and the two girls and the robot facing her. “Oh dear me, it seems we have guests.”

Gaige studied the woman, and felt wholly inadequate. The woman standing there out womanned her in every conceivable way. She was tall and beautiful, with large eyes and a slight pout to her pink lips. Her cheeks held a healthy glow and her limbs were willowy. Her skin had none of the damage years on the road had inflicted on Gaige and her hair was raven black and shined with a magnificent luster in the flickering light. She would have been perfectly proportioned, if not for her chest, which bloomed with twin swells each almost as big as Gaige’s head.

Every inch of her spoke of femininity, and it sparked a desire and a sadness within Gaige’s heart. The only woman that Gaige could compare her to, was Moxxi, and while she found Moxxi to be more attractive, something about this woman struck a chord with her. It might have been that Moxxi’s open flirtatiousness was over the top enough that it seemed almost in jest, but this woman wasn’t giving off any of those vibes, instead, she felt like the kind of woman who you would give up anything to be with, even for a night, without her ever asking.

Feeling completely inadequate as a woman, Gaige turned slowly, and with great trepidation to Artemis, knowing what she’d find. She knew that the other girl would be in love, that she’d give up on the job, wanting to stay here.

Instead, she found a look of naked disgust on her face.

It was shocking enough that it snapped Gaige out of her misery and back to where she was. She watched as Artemis tightened her grip on her rifle as something dark flickered behind the woman’s eyes. Slowly she raised one hand and snapped her long fingers.

Out of the shadow of the door she’d emerged from, three scantily clad women stepped out, thin outfits trailing around them, hiding just enough to be tantalizing.

“Ladies, would you dears be so kind as to entertain our guests?”

The three women brought weapons from somewhere Gaige couldn’t figure out and opened fire, even as Artemis slid to the side and shot back.

Her bullet slammed into the first woman’s shield before ricocheting into the other two. Gaige dove into a roll while switching to the SMG she’d been carrying on her back. Coming up, she opened fire, watching the bullets tear through the shield even as the woman turned to fire at her.

Deathtrap fired an electric laser into the same one’s shield, while flying sideways, avoiding the fire from a second one. He was grateful that they were finally doing something and that all three of them could cut loose and blow off some steam. The girls had been acting alright, but he could tell they were frustrated with things, so killing some bandits would be perfect, even if those bandits were scantily clad women.

Artemis fired again and again, driving her shots into the buckling shields and felt at peace. She’d seen Gaige look at her earlier with sad eyes and wondered what that had been about, but that was something that would have to be dealt with later, right now, she had to take these three out and then chase after that monstrous woman who was currently slipping back out the door, trying to escape to who knows where.

Right as she fired the last shot from her rifle, the nearest woman’s shield broke. Unconcerned with the danger she was in, the woman turned to her and fired her shotgun, catching Artemis in the shoulder. Though her shield took the entirety of the blast, the impact knocked her over, since she was moving at an angle. Abandoning her rifle, she rolled to her feet and using her left hand, grabbed the nearest barrel and spun, pitching it at the woman’s head. The flaming barrel slammed into her, knocking her over and lighting her on fire.

Ignoring the thrashing woman on the ground, she pulled her pistol and resumed firing at the third woman.

Gaige for her part, was horrified, it wasn’t like she hadn’t lit people on fire before, and it wasn’t like she hadn’t shared a dark joke about it with some of her fellow Vault Hunters, but something about the casualness to this one struck her.

No, she realized, that wasn’t it, it wasn’t the casualness, it was something else. She knew that Artemis would use any tactic to fight, as long as she could win, well, not any tactic, but some pretty dark ones. And it wasn’t the first time she’d seen the girl do something like this, especially recently, so what was it that was bothering her?

It wasn’t that she was afraid of the girl going psycho, even though she’d commented on it. It had been something else. Scrunching her face up in thought, Gaige took a second to put the burning woman out of her misery, as well as claim the Anarchy, before turning back to her opponent and resuming fire.

Deathtrap watched as Gaige struggled with some thought as she fought. He knew what was wrong. The same thing that had been wrong for a while, Artemis. That wasn’t to say that there was anything wrong with her, or with having her around, it was just that lately, whenever Gaige was struggling with something, the other girl always seemed to be at the center of it. Well, it was her or booze and since he was pretty sure that wasn’t the case this time, he figured it was Artemis. Beyond that, he was fairly sure what was bugging Gaige about her. She didn’t like seeing the other girl be cruel.

He knew that Artemis’s outward anger and hostility, her viciousness were all ways of driving people away, of covering the self-loathing she felt. She knew if she struck others hard enough, they’d learn to leave her alone. Though he had to amend that thought with the fact that sometimes, she just wanted to punish someone else, as had been the case with Orion. And that other times, she was just frustrated with something, like not dodging a shotgun blast, so she took it out by smashing a barrel into the offending person’s face. Still, he was glad that Gaige cared about the mental well-being of the other girl, though he wished that she’d just admit to why.

Shaking his head to clear his chips, he finished off the last shield and let Gaige kill her opponent.

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Chapter 9


The last body hit the floor and Gaige let out a sigh. It wasn’t that she was tired, just grateful that the skirmish was over. The women had been all over the place in skill, with the second one Artemis had been fighting, being almost useless with a gun. Didn’t mean that she wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t satisfying. She looked over to the other girl as she picked up her rifle and quickly reloaded. Gaige was always amazed at how fast her hands moved while reloading. It wasn’t that Gaige herself was slow, it was just that she almost always used either single shot weapons, or magazine fed ones, but Artemis almost always used ones that had to be reloaded one shell at a time, so the fact that she could do so as fast as she did always fascinated Gaige.

Noticing the attention, Artemis asked “What?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Really? Cause that’s the second time I’ve caught you lookin.”

“What? When was the first?”

“Seriously? While that, that, whatever she was was talking.”

“You caught me, huh?”

“Course I did, why wouldn’t I?”

“I donno, thought you might not be able to take your eyes off of her.”

“I admit she was a sight.”

“Right.” Gaige said sadly, looking down at her own inadequate body.

“There it is again. Why do you sound sad?”


“Just now, you sounded sad, and when you looked over earlier, you looked sad then too.”

“Uh, it’s just, well…”

“Look, if you don’t wanna talk about it, forget it, we need to be going after her anyway.”

“Y-yeah, you’re right, it’s just, well, um, are you, well, gonna be alright? You know, fighting her and all?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, it’s just, you know.”

“No, I don’t, spit it out.”

Gaige shifted uncomfortably and looked down at her boots for a second, steeling her resolve before finally saying what she needed to “Well, with you being, well, the way you are. No, that’s not right. With you liking girls, and her being a stunningly attractive woman, are you gonna have any, well, issues fighting her?”

“What the hell are you on about? I mean seriously? First off, you think that’s my type? What, with her overinflated chest and that simpering, coy attitude? Gives me the willies. I hate that type. I mean, you’re way better looking than her, confident, competent and a way better figure on top of that.”

Gaige felt a swell of relief for some reason, but Artemis continued “And even if she was my, gag , type, she’s an enemy, so it wouldn’t matter if I thought she was the most attractive woman that I’d ever seen, I’d still have to fight her. I mean, you’ve never faced off against someone that you thought was attractive? Er, handsome. Whatever?”

“I…have. You’re right. I just thought she was so pretty and I know a lot of guys like big boobs, so, I guess I just kinda assumed, I mean, we’ve never had a discussion about what you find attractive.”

“We kinda did.”

Gaige thought for a second and then blanched. “Well that wasn’t really a, um, you know…”

“Urgurrru” Deathtrap interjected, saving Gaige from the awkward direction that the conversation was going.

“Right, ■■■■, sorry.” Gaige said, shaking her head “You both ready? Then let’s kill this bitch. And I don’t mean you. I really need to think of something better to call her.”

They ran through the door at the back of the room and up the stairs, coming out in an opulent room that obviously belonged to the woman. It was richer and fancier than anything that either of them had seen on Pandora, outside of what Gaige had seen in some of the Hyperion bases. Cloth was draped on the walls where ‘art’ wasn’t hung. The ‘art’ ranged from works by Pollux, to standees of Tyreen Callipso, to pinups from magazines and even a poster sized picture of a half-dressed Moxxi.

In the center of the room was a large chair made of thin twists of metal and topped with a posh red cushion. Behind it was a massive bed, with drapes of semitransparent cloth hanging over it, almost hiding the fact that it was overflowing with pillows. Behind some other curtains was what appeared to be a rather spacious tub, though there were some rather disturbing red stains in it. And most surprising of all was the fact that the floor was covered in carpets, and not threadbare ones, but newer, cushy ones that felt like walking on grass and all in vibrant colors.

Gaige wrinkled her nose at the smells of perfumes and something else that it didn’t quite mask lurking underneath. She glanced over to see Artemis almost gagging at the mixture. It suddenly hit her that she hadn’t seen the other girl react to a smell that much since they’d been in the processing plant on the Project Odysseus station, which distracted Gaige just long enough that she missed the half-dressed women emerging from the bed.

Artemis didn’t, as she brought her rifle up and without even hesitating, fired, striking the first one in the head and ricocheting the bullet into the other, killing them both instantly.

Gaige spun and looked a bit horrified as the seemingly unarmed women hit the ground.

“What the heck? They might not have been hostile? I mean, they could’ve been hostages, or brainwashed or something. You could’ve talked to them before shooting.”

“Yeah, like I’m gonna trust anybody I find living in a bandit base.”

“Alright, that’s a fair point, but you still could’ve tried talking first.”

Artemis shrugged “Maybe, but probably not.”

Gaige wanted to scream in frustration, also because she wanted a drink and there was an open decanter on the table by the bed. “What the hell kind of bandit has a decanter?” She growled.


“Sorry, you’re right babe, it’s just that it kinda caught me off guard is all.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry too. It’s just the smell in this place.”

“So, let’s get outta here.”

“Are we supposed to kill the boss or not?”

“Probably should, but she’s hiding and it’s not like we’ve got a lot of time to look for her, so maybe we should get outta here while we can.”

“Too late.” Artemis said, listening to the sounds of troops rushing up the stairs.

“I had to say it.” Gaige groaned “I should’ve known better.”

“So it’s not just if I say it.”

“No, I’ve tried to explain that before.”

“Well, whatever. Now’s not the time for this. We’ve gotta make a choice and fast.”

“Between what?”

“Staying and fighting, or chasing after the boss.”

“Well, if we chase the boss, chances are we’ll get pincered.”

“And if we don’t chase the boss, she’ll attack us from behind, pincering us anyway.”

“Fine, let’s chase after her. Rather face her on my terms anyway.” Gaige paused and sheepishly looked around “That is, if you know where she went.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Artemis declared before turning and walking over to the wall, sniffing slightly as she went, reminding Gaige of a hunting dog, which she instantly felt guilty about.

“So, uh, not to interrupt or anything, but, uh, how’re you tracking her? I mean, I’m not doubting you or anything, it’s just that I feel I should be learning is all.”

“Huh? Oh, I’m following her perfume.”

“Wait, you can smell that amongst all this stench?”

“Yeah, her’s is particularly pungent, not to mention that it’s fresh, so it stands out a bit more.”

“That’s impressive, but can you hurry up a bit, we’re running out of time.”

“It’s always something.” Came the murmured reply. But despite the grumbling, she moved considerably faster, hustling over to the wall and looking at it for a moment before grabbing onto the Tyreen standee and pulling it aside, revealing a hidden door.

“I’m not even going to ask anymore.” Gaige muttered, taking point again and stepping through the door. She found herself in a small room lined with shelves of things she was glad they didn’t have time to pause and look at, though she did spot a few ECHO movies she was horrified by the covers of.

Racing through the room, she went through the door that was still hanging open on the far side and found a small stairway leading up.

Abandoning stealth, even as she heard Artemis closing the door behind them, she raced upward as an idea suddenly popped into her mind.

She burst out the door at the top and found herself where she’d suspected, she was behind the half-finished head, where the landing pad was.

Immediately she glanced to the sky, trying to see if they’d missed their target, when an arm snaked around her throat and her head was buried between twin massive swells of flesh.

“Be a dear and don’t struggle, I wouldn’t want to hurt you before the fun begins.”

Gaige felt a cold sweat run down her back as she realized what had happened, the woman must have heard her coming and hid behind part of the skull, stepping out behind her and was now holding her around the throat. The overpowering smell of her femininity cloaked in perfume choked her worse than the arm, causing her to gag and thrash, only to be brought to a standstill by the force suddenly applied to her windpipe, not to mention the fancy bladed Hyperion pistol against her temple.

“Now now, there’ll be none of that, you can squirm all you want once we’re back downstairs, but first, I think we should say hello to your friend, shouldn’t we.”

They turned slightly to face Deathtrap, who was floating in the doorway exuding an extremely pissed off attitude of simmering rage. He shot Gaige a look telling her that he was disappointed, not just in her for running off ahead, nor for getting grabbed, but at himself for not having been able to deal with this situation.

“Hmm, that’s odd, there was supposed to be one more of you. Where did that tiny little cutie go?”

She must have detected movement coming in from her side, cause she started to spin, moving her pistol to try and intercept whatever was coming at her. As she rotated, she caught sight of Artemis, lunging forward with her own blade extended and threw Gaige at her, trying to get away.

She partially succeeded, Artemis’s blade sliced through her face, just below the eye almost the entire length from her nose to her ear, throwing an arc of blood past her to splatter noisily on the ground.

Volupta froze, nothing about her moved except for her hand that twitchingly made its way up to her cheek, and when it found blood she let out a shriek of pure hatred.

“You…you…bitch! Look what you’ve done to my face! My beautiful face. Arg! Everyone! Kill them!” She roared as the first of her assistants arrived, quickly surrounding her and escorting her away as the rest of them opened fire.

“Thanks for that.” Gaige shouted, as she returned fire, laying waste to the first group as they tried to exit the door.

“Don’t mention it.” Came the reply through clenched teeth. Gaige was surprised to see how angry the other girl was and hoped it wasn’t aimed at her, though she doubted it considering how she continued “I just wish I’d been able to skewer that over inflated monstrosity when I had the chance.”

Gaige didn’t know how to respond to that, so she continued firing into the doorway as she looked around, as she was afraid of, there didn’t seem to be any other way off of the roof, other than the direct way to the courtyard, which she didn’t want to take.

Artemis must have had the same idea, cause she was moving over to the edge as she fired, and eventually was able to glance down around the metal skull that was being built.

“Huh, so I was right.” She muttered.

“About what?”

“They’re still fighting the Stalkers down there.”

“Well, that might explain why we’re able to hold them back here. How’s the fight going? Down there I mean.”

“The last Stalker’s just about dea…whoops, there it went.”

“Well, I guess that gives us about a minute to figure a way out of this mess.”

Artemis nodded and looked around, there were two doors that led to the platform they were fighting on, the one they’d come through, which was being guarded by Deathtrap, and the main one, where they were currently shooting into, trying to keep the mass of bandits from getting out.

It didn’t look good. Sure, if they could keep the choke-points held, they should be able to grind through the entire base worth of troops, but that was relying a lot on luck. The luck that they wouldn’t have to reload at the wrong moment, that there wasn’t going to be a badass or a group with shields, particularly the giant metal kind. It also relied on the fact that there wasn’t another way up here, and considering she could see at least two giant metal tubes on either side of the platform, she seriously doubted that.

As if to reinforce the point, she started hearing metallic thunking noises echoing up from within the tubes, as if great doors were being opened, followed by a low humming noise that echoed oddly up them.

“What’s that?” She called out.

“What’s what?” Came the reply “I mean, there’s a lot of what going on right now, so be more specific.”

“The noise coming from those things.” She shot back, nodding to the tubes.

“Aw crap, Buzzards.”


“Buzzards, imagine small, flying boxes manned by bandits.”


“You sound way too optimistic for what’s coming.”

“Why, this could be a good thing.”

“And how would more trouble ever be a good thing?”

“Like this.” She said with a smile as the first flier came into view.

To Gaige’s surprise, rather than shooting at it, she charged it, leaping into the open side of the cockpit and punching the surprised pilot. While it didn’t kill him, it did stun him long enough for her to shoulder check him out of his seat and send him bouncing down the tube he’d just come up from.

From far below, Gaige heard the sound of an explosion and realized that the falling pilot must have hit the next Buzzard coming up, which should clog up the tube at least for a few seconds. Nodding to Deathtrap, she dashed for the shaking Buzzard and hopped up next to Artemis as she struggled to gain control.

“Can you fly this thing?” She shouted, taking another shot at the emerging bandits.

“Sure, these idiots can, can’t they?”

“That’s not very reassuring.” Gaige muttered “Oh well, no choice now, get us outta here.”

With that, Artemis tilted the controls, causing them to slide dangerously across the platform, and while it nearly unseated Gaige, it did have the bonus of causing everyone that was starting to emerge to throw themselves back, clogging the doorway.

“Watch it!” Gaige shouted, clinging to the metal frame.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“It might be yeah, yeah for you, but I’m stuck on the outside of this thing.”

“Yeah, sorry. You wanna pilot it?”


“Then get your own. Alright, I think I’ve really got it this time.” She said confidently and took them off the platform, darting over the courtyard and away from the base.

Twenty-Seven Seconds Later

Gaige shook her head, trying to push herself up from the grass. She wasn’t sure what had happened, only that they’d crashed. Glancing over at the flaming wreckage, she marveled at the fact that she was still alive, let alone in one piece. Even as she watched, the Buzzard exploded, sending a great plume of black smoke skyward.

Looking around, she spotted Artemis laying in the grass a short-way away and pulled herself up enough to call out “You alive?”


“Good. Now get up.”

“Is this supposed to be one of those ‘anything that you can walk away from’ moments?” Artemis groaned as she forced herself to her feet and started patting herself to make sure she was in one piece and hadn’t lost anything.

“No, and if you couldn’t fly it, you should’ve said so.”

“I could fly it.”

“Obviously not.” Gaige bitterly indicated to the roaring fire surrounding the Buzzard “I mean, what the heck happened.”

“I hit something.”

“You…what could you have possibly hit? We were flying and there’s nothing up there.” Gaige waved a hand at the clear sky.

“Uh, can Stalker’s fly?”

“No, and that’s the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard, why would you even ask that?”

“Oh, cause if that’s not what that is, then what is it?”

She pointed to the burning wreckage as something large moved through the fire. It placed its clawed forelimbs onto the body of the Buzzard and swung it’s head around at them, eyes reflecting the fire around it. It was definitely a Stalker, and a badass one at that, or at least it was the size of one, if not bigger, but something about it was different. Gaige couldn’t tell what it was until the Stalker reared back on its hind legs and threw it’s forelimbs out, spreading it’s wings. It went invisible just as it gave the first great flap, taking off in a swirl of black smoke.

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Chapter 10


Gaige let out a whimper as the invisible Stalker flew upward, throwing the dark plume from the burning Buzzard into small spirals sparkling with embers with every flap of its wings. She hated this, she hated Stalkers, she hated that she had been wrong, there was, in fact, a flying one, she hated that she’d found it. She also hated the fact that she hadn’t had a drink in weeks. And she hated herself for hating that she wanted a drink. All in all, not a good time.

“Don’t just stand there, shoot it!” Came the shout from her side, accompanied by the crack of a rifle.

She glanced over, only to find what she should’ve expected, Artemis with her rifle up, squinting at the sky as if she could track the beast.

“And how am I supposed to do that? It’s invisible in case you’d missed it.”

“But I’m pretty sure I hit it.”

“Not now!” Gaige shouted, her voice cracking from the stress.

“Sorry.” Came the small reply.

“No, you’re right.” Gaige sighed “It’s just that, well…you know what, I’ll tell you later.”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not, but enough of that right now. For right now, how am I supposed to fight it?”

“Huh? Shoot it.”

“Again, invisible.”

“Not really. I mean, there’s a slight shimmer where it is, but in your case, why not shoot the ground?”

“Shoot the…duh.” Gaige mentally kicked herself as she switched to her Maliwan, she’d gotten used to using her Anarchy again, so why wasn’t that her go to? So what that she was low on it at the moment, it was better to hit the creature with low powered shots, then to not hit it at all.

She opened fire on the ground, watching as the shots bounced and tracked the creature. With the blue orbs flying at it, she could tell where it was, which relieved some of her tension. Just as she was relaxing a bit, she got hit from the side, throwing her into the reedy grass.

“What the…” She spat out angrily as the other girl hopped off of her and fired again at the sky. Gaige growled a bit, but glanced over at where she’d just been standing to see a spike of bone sticking out of the ground. Remembering the way some of the Stalkers fought, she paled slightly and picked herself up.

“Thanks.” She grumbled “But a hand up would’ve been nice.”

“Yeah, well, next time I’ll just leave you to catch the spike.”

“No, you won’t.” Gaige said, softening her tone.

“No, I won’t.”

Gaige shook her head and turned back to the fight, slapping a new clip into her SMG and resuming fire while adding “The invisibility is some kind of shield, so electric would do better.”

“Thanks, but it’s in my pack right now, so this will have to do.”

“Why would you leave your elementals in your pack?”

“Cause we were killing bandits, alright. And it’s not like they’re all in there, I’ve got a caustic-fire one on the outside.”

Gaige just shook her head, some days she had a hard time dealing with the other girl. It wasn’t anything new though, she’d always had days where it was hard to deal with someone or other or everyone, even back in her Vault Hunting days there’d been more than one occasion where she’d been frustrated beyond words with Maya or Axton and more often than that with Zero, with his endless riddles and poems, he was great backup, but a pain to deal with, so overall, she was better with Artemis. That still didn’t make her easy to deal with.

Artemis stopped to reload, letting her hands take care of it while her eyes never left the creature. She could sense that it was getting frustrated, after the first time, it had launched another couple of spikes at them, but knowing they were coming, they’d been able to dodge. Knowing beasts like she did, she could tell that it was about to try something else, but having never faced even a regular Stalker, she couldn’t predict what it was.

A few seconds later, just as she predicted, it attacked. This time, it whipped its tail at them, launching a spike and as they dodged to the side, the instant they’d unbalanced themselves, it dove. It seemed to have decided that she was the worse threat, since it was targeting her, which she didn’t mind. After all, she was the hunter and the expendable one out of the two of them.

Still, she was able to go from throwing herself out of the way of the spike, into a roll that cleared her from the path of its claws as they dug deep furrows into the sod. But she didn’t manage to get completely clear of its tail, catching it in the chest.

Thankfully, her shield took the brunt of it, leaving her with only getting knocked off her feet to deal with. She managed to take the impact and roll with it, going over twice before she got her feet under her. She wanted to pat herself down, to make sure that there wasn’t anything broken, but she didn’t have time, since it was already launching another spike at her.

Predictably, it followed with another dive, only this time, it was intercepted by a large pair of Digi-claws slashing through its wing as Deathtrap arrived, having fallen behind the rapid acceleration of the Buzzard. He’d wanted to join in earlier, when he’d first seen the creature attacking, but it had taken him a bit to get in range and by then, it was dive-bombing Artemis, so he’d taken advantage of its distraction to get into position, though he was mentally apologizing to the girl for using her as bait, not that he thought she’d mind, something else that bothered him, but he knew he’d have to shelve that and deal with the creature in front of him first.

The Stalker let out a cry of pain as the claws tore into its shield and hit it hard enough to knock it out of the air. It hit the ground and flipped over letting out a rapid clicking hiss at the new threat, but spun around and lunged at its first target rather than the new one.

Artemis dove to the side, narrowly escaping the claws that slashed for her and pulled her pistol, firing as she came up. Even as she did, she saw a bright blue beam hit the Stalker in the back as Deathtrap fired on it, causing the Stalker to causally fling a spike at him, which he easily slid to the side to avoid.

This didn’t seem to perturb the Stalker too much, since Deathtrap had stopped firing temporarily, though it had nothing to do with the spike and more to do with the nature of his laser, not that the creature could understand that.

It took advantage of the brief lull in laser fire, to launch itself back into the air, even as Gaige continued to pour shots into it while grumbling “How much shielding does this thing have?”

Almost as if it heard her, the Stalker spun and flung another spike her way. Without the keen senses of the other two, she barely managed to get away from it, so she was off balance for its follow-up attack, which hit her squarely in the side, throwing her away from the other two.

Even as Artemis started to run, the Stalker hopped and landed on the fallen girl. To Gaige’s horror, she felt the familiar sensation of the Stalker pressing down on her, the heat of its breath on her scalp, the helplessness and she screamed. Not a scream of pain, or of anguish, but the high-pitched girly scream of someone terrified.

She felt more then saw the head descending at her, knew that the teeth were closing in on her face and squeezed her eyes shut. Only the bite never came, instead another scream joined hers as the Stalker thrashed off of her, narrowly avoiding stomping on her as it stumbled away.

Cracking one eye open she saw something truly shocking, Deathtrap seemed to be grabbing and struggling with something, pulling with all his might, while Artemis was floating up and down rapidly, as if she was straddling a bucking animal while stabbing it repeatedly.

It took her a second to get her mind wrapped around what she was seeing as she rapidly pieced together what must have happened, as soon as she’d been hit with the spike, the other two had realized what was about to come next, and had charged, knowing that their shots wouldn’t do enough damage to deter the beast. Deathtrap had got there first and had grabbed the creature by the first thing he could, which had been its tail and pulled on it with all his might, dragging the beast off of her at the same time Artemis had gotten there. She must have jumped onto it’s back and latched on, stabbing it with everything she had.

Gaige watched her suddenly leap up and land awkwardly as the beast rolled over and over in the grass. Watching the grass seem to flatten out on its own was a bizarre sight, but it helped Gaige aim at the Stalker, her cheeks burning with shame as she opened fire on it, tearing through the last of its shield.

The creature flickered and popped into sight, thrashing mightily against Deathtrap’s hold on its tail, but it couldn’t seem to get him loose, even when it flapped its wings and tried to take off.

While it was fighting, Gaige switched to her shotgun and unloaded on it, walking forward as she did, trying to erase the memory of the shamefully girlish scream it’d drug from her.

Eventually the beast gave up on trying to fly away and started to try and bite and claw the girls, digging its clawed forelimbs into the ground, it managed to start dragging Deathtrap behind it, though he did manage to slow it down enough that they could stay out of its reach, so the Stalker spun and tried to bite him, only for him to spin with it, keeping out of its range.

It didn’t take long for the combined efforts of the girls to drop the beast.

Doubling over to catch their breath while keeping a close eye on the Stalker, it was Gaige who spoke up first. “Thanks babe, you were a real lifesaver back there. You too by the way.” She said, glancing over at Artemis “Though why you didn’t use your backup piece, I don’t know.”

“I was hoping to save it, besides, its shield would’ve absorbed part of it.”

“You didn’t think of it.”

“That may have contributed.”

“That said, I’d appreciate it if everyone could wipe this fight from their memories.”


Gaige turned away as her face colored. Not getting an answer, Artemis looked to Deathtrap, who turned his head away as well, but he was giving off a low noise that sounded suspiciously like laughter.

“What am I missing?”

“I made a noise I didn’t want to.” Gaige shouted.

“Huh? Oh, you mean that cute scream? I thought it was refreshing.”

Gaige spun on her, her eyes as dark as her face was bright “Stop mocking me!”

Artemis took an involuntary step back and managed to get out “Sorry. I’m not mocking you, I genuinely thought it was cute. But I won’t mention it again.”

Seeing the other girl’s reaction made Gaige feel worse “Let’s just get outta here before the bandits arrive alright.” She grabbed her stuff, but when she caught the look from Deathtrap, she relented and asked in a soft voice “You really thought it was cute?”

Artemis glanced around like a small animal that had been caught. “Uh, that is, I did, but if you don’t like that, I mean, I could, you know…”

“It’s fine, it’s just embarrassing.”

“Ah, I can see that.”

“Great, so let’s get outta here, where are we anyway?”

“You weren’t paying attention while we were flying?”

“I kinda forgot to pull my goggles down before we started, so I had a hard time seeing.”

“Oh, sorry. Anyway, we’re on the other side of the bridge, though we didn’t make it past it.”

Gaige shot her a confused look so she added “The bandit base is over there and the bridge is that way. Oh, and for the record, the Technical is parked that way.”

“Ah, got it, thanks.”

“So now what?”

“Well, we should head back.”

“But we didn’t get everything.”

“Dang, you’re right, but we should still get outta here, at least until the bandits calm down a bit.”

“Will they though?”

“Probably not, but what other option do we have?”

“So, what’re we gonna do? Just flee the planet and never come back?”

“That’s actually not as bad an option as you seem to think.”

“Yeah, this place sucks. But don’t you have friends here?”

“Yeah, but we could meet them somewhere else.”


“Right, let’s get outta here before…” Gaige cut off as the first Buzzard fired at them.

“Son of a…” Artemis spat “Other than flying Stalkers, what’re these things weaknesses?”

“Caustic, or killing the pilot, or shooting off the engines.”


With a nod, Artemis fired, shearing off the first engine, causing the Buzzard to spin into the second one, sending them both to crash into the plains around them.

“I’ll never get used to seeing that.” Gaige muttered “Right, you’ve bought us a second, let’s get moving.”

They took off running and as they cleared the wreckage of their Buzzard, they could see a number of them forming up over the top of the bandit base. Looking in front of it, they could make out a mass of bodies surging forward, no doubt called to action by the injury of their beloved boss.

“Uh, we might wanna go faster.” Gaige said.

“We won’t make it.” Catching the look from the other girl she continued explaining as she ran “They’ll have already got to this side of the bridge by the time we get there, so we won’t be able to hold them and if those Buzzards slow us down, we’ll get caught. And it might not be too many of them at a time, but it’ll be a constant stream, which’ll wear us out.”

“So, what’re you suggesting?”

“We need a place to hide, or someone else to fight them.”

“I’m not going into a Stalker den, hell no, no way, forget it.”

“Alright then, follow me.”

She led them across the plain, skirting as close to the Stalkers as she could without them noticing, though she wasn’t too cautious about that, if they noticed, maybe they’d follow along and tangle with the bandits.

Gaige followed closer than usual, casting wary glances at the Stalker dens. If she hadn’t liked them the first time she’d been to Pandora, she really hated them now. Even thinking about it made her cheeks heat up with shame and no matter what Artemis said, she hated that she’d let out such an embarrassing noise. Truthfully, she thought the other girl was just trying to comfort her, though she chose to ignore how socially inept the other girl was.

She was keeping an eye on the Stalkers almost to the point of losing her ability to see what was going on around her, so it took a bit for her to recognize the distinct sound of the approaching Buzzards, though the low curse from Artemis did help draw her attention. Glancing up, she spotted at least five of them circling around to attack from the side, probably trying to either push them back towards the rest of the troops, or cut off their escape. Either way, it wasn’t good for them.

Artemis didn’t let the number of enemy’s bother her, instead she spun around and shot the first pilot, watching with satisfaction as his head vanished and the bullet split. She didn’t look around to see where they’d gone, instead she turned and kept running, hoping the threat would keep the fliers at bay.

It didn’t work. The next moment she heard the distinct sound of rockets being launched in mass and was forced to take evasive action.

Gaige swore as the other girl dove between some rocks, allowing the chasing missiles to explode around her before popping back up and firing back, dropping another Buzzard. She was feeling useless, she knew she needed to do something, but just bouncing her shots wouldn’t do much damage and would chew through her ammo needlessly. Adding to her frustration, she watched as Deathtrap spun and fried one of the wounded Buzzards with a caustic beam, sending one of its engines falling to the ground where the Buzzard itself quickly spiraled down to join.

Swearing she spun and brought up her rifle, but just as she did, the Buzzards swung around to the side, as if they were avoiding her.

“Damn it.” She growled in frustration.

“Don’t worry about it.” Came Artemis’s cool reply “Save your ammo for the ground forces, we’ll need to keep them away if we’re gonna survive.”

Gaige knew it was true, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. To her relief, the first Buzzard dropped its passengers near them.

“Finally.” She muttered, spinning and bringing her rifle up, only for the bandits to be tackled from the side as the Stalkers joined the fight.

“Aw come on.” She spat as the creatures drug the screaming men back down the rise and out of her line of fire.

“Forget them.” Artemis called out, dashing past her.

With one last growl of frustration, Gaige followed. It didn’t take long for them to come to a slight rise and saw the massing mob of bandits swarming around the bridge. There were enough of them to give even her pause. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out how that many of them had hidden themselves in the base they’d just fled from, especially since the three of them had snuck in without getting caught.

“Should we make a break for the Technical?” She asked, eying the mob.

“We wouldn’t make it, we’re gonna have to hope that I’ve got this worked out right, otherwise, this is about to get worse.”

“Oh, that’s just great.”

“You got a better plan?”

“Well, I don’t even know what your plan is, so how would I know?”

“Alright, let me try again, do you have any plan?”


“Then follow along.”

With that, she ducked low and started moving at a pace that Gaige couldn’t figure out how she was getting from her stature, the only thing she could think of was that since the other girl was used to being that close to the ground, she could move better there, but then felt a bit bad about insulting her friend, even if it was only in her mind.

Even with the way they were moving, it wasn’t long before they were spotted. It didn’t help that the Buzzards had returned and started strafing them.

“Let’s just hope we got far enough.” Artemis muttered and took off running, ignoring the flying menace as well as the slavering hoard chasing them, concentrating on getting the most distance she could out of her legs.

Gaige followed along, letting her longer legs do the work for her, though she had to push a bit to keep up. It didn’t take long for her to realize where they were going.

“Are you kidding me?” She panted.

She didn’t get a response, not that she’d expected one, Artemis wasn’t about to waste her short breaths on arguing. Still, Gaige couldn’t help but think this was a bad idea as they ran for the old Hyperion site.

They had made it to the plant without too much difficulty and slowed down, cautiously moving forward, and to her surprise, the bandits didn’t follow, instead they fell back, almost like there was an invisible wall around it.

As soon as they were sure they weren’t being chased, the girls slowed down and took a look at the massive building ahead of them. It was clear to her that it was an old Hyperion base, but the barricades built on top, while they’d looked like bandit work from a distance, looked wrong up close, as if someone else had been emulating bandit aesthetic and not done a particularly good job of it. Other than the strange barricades, there were lumps sitting along the wall as well as small buildings that looked more like metal posts had been set upright and sheet-metal had been attached to the top, though for what purpose, she couldn’t tell.

Still, something about the place seemed off to her, and apparently Artemis shared her opinion, since she slowed down and started circling it, even as the bandits opened fire at them.

They threw themselves into the tall grass to try and minimize their profile as they moved forward with renewed speed.

Artemis paused and looked back, motioning for Gaige to go ahead. Behind them, she could just make out through the waving plants the bandit boss arriving as she started shrieking at the troops. Straining, she could just make out what the woman was saying.

“What are you doing, get in there after them!”

“But boss…” One of the men responded.

“Did you see what that little bitch did to me? Ah, I can still feel it!” She ran her hand over her smooth cheek, tracing the line that Artemis had gouged into her face.

“But boss, it’s all healed up.”

“I can still feel it! It’s throbbing, it’s aching. Ah, I know only bathing in her blood will make this pain go away. You wouldn’t deny me that, would you?”

Artemis could practically hear the heart being added to the end of the statement and struggled to keep from vomiting. But it seemed to have the desired effect on the troops, since a battle-cry went up and they started surging forward.

“Aw crap.” Artemis muttered and was about to start forward, when a cold sweat popped up on her back. Glancing around, she spotted Gaige frozen as well. Continuing to search, she spotted the cause, the lumps on top of the wall were unfolding and standing up.

Target acquired .” She heard the metallic voice echoing down as the Hyperion loaders started firing on the charging bandits.

The loaders were of all different kinds, they could see a few of the BUL loaders standing there with their shields up, next to them was a WAR loader and a couple of the HOT loaders. Gaige spotted an ION loader start spinning up as it’s shield covered the rest.

While the loaders hadn’t started out uniform, they’d gotten more individualized over the years, with many of them having bits of metal welded on in spikes and a few Mohawks. A few had tires over their shoulder joints and the WAR loader was sporting what looked like the roll-cage of an Outrunner over its front, as if it was wearing it as armor.

It didn’t take long for the firefight to begin in earnest, as the bandits gave up on chasing the girls and tried taking out the immediate threat of the loaders.

Gaige couldn’t believe how well the plan was working, she knew this was what Artemis had been hoping for, but she hadn’t thought it would work, at least not so well.

“Now what?” She whispered to the other girl.

“Now we need to try and get inside.”

“Why would we wanna do that?”

“Because we still need the last part for Tina and this base would be our best bet. I wonder if she meant for us to come here?”

“Not likely, she probably just couldn’t think of a place that would have it and hoped we’d figure it out on our own.”


“Well, shall we?”

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Chapter 11


“What do places like this even produce?” Artemis asked in a quiet voice, looking around at the thick pipes that surrounded them.

“Steam.” Gaige replied “I think they produce steam, you see these places all the time in the movies.”

They’d made their way into the base through a side door that Gaige had persuaded to open for them and found themselves in a factory, or at least something that looked like a factory if it had been combined with a power plant and an accident in a pipe warehouse.

Dripping pipes went everywhere, sometimes in clusters, sometimes alone. Big pipes, little pipes, painted ones and rusted ones, about the only thing they had in common was the fact that they were all covered in condensation. And periodically between them, bursts of steam shot out, hiding everything in a cloud of white.

They made their way through the massive area on a narrow pathway of metal grating, having to be cautious not to touch any of the pipes because most of them were scalding hot to the touch, a mistake they only made once.

Behind the low noise of the pressure in the pipes moving and the sharp blasts of steam whistling and hissing, there was a steady low thumping noise that Gaige associated with every factory she’d ever been in. And behind it all, she could hear the sounds of gunfire.

She desperately wanted to distract herself from the predicament they were in, but didn’t want to let the loaders know that they were there, so she kept her questions to herself.

She hated this. Hated having to rely on Artemis for what felt like everything, saving her, getting them whatever they needed, planning, and just about everything else aside from driving, which left her feeling like a glorified chauffeur. But worse than being a chauffeur, she was the one dragging them into the problem in the first place. In addition to that, she wanted a drink, badly and she’d missed her last two meetings due to timing problems.

As she stewed in her negative thoughts, she nearly missed Artemis slowing down. Cocking her head to ask the other girl ‘what?’ she was met with a hand pointing to a door set into the wall ahead. Catching the look from the other girl, Gaige thought about it for a second and nodded, she was alright with going that way. Nodding back, Artemis dashed over to it and after checking to make sure it wasn’t hot, placed her ear against it. A moment later, she stepped back and tried the handle. Finding it unlocked, she swung it open and swept through, pistol out. Gaige hurried to follow, with Deathtrap bringing up the rear.

They found themselves in a much smaller and cooler area, one that looked like it had been for the maintenance crews, since the walls were lined with lockers and there were still a few pairs of overalls hanging against one wall. The wall opposite them cut off half way and they could see a shower room off to the side through it.

Stepping in, they closed the door and cut most of the sound off with it. Cautiously moving around, they made sure no one was there. As they went, they each mentally took inventory of what they found. Around the opposite way from the showers was an office, which had undoubtedly belonged to some kind of foreman, though the door was covered in a layer of dirt and grime showing the years since anyone had used it. The showers were gross, with mold building up on the tile and the plumbing rusting out. Tiles had fallen off the walls and scattered across the floor, giving the place a dismal air. On the wall next to the office was another door that they guessed would lead into the rest of the complex, holding off on that, they stepped into the office to collect their thoughts.

“This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” Gaige said with a bit more venom than she’d intended.

“Oh, so this is my fault?”

“Well, this was your idea.”

“You’re the one that said we should come here.”

“I never suggested that, you were the one who said they had an idea.”

“No, I said we needed to deal with the EMPs, you’re the one that said we should come to Pandora.”

“Pan…Oh, I thought you were meaning this place, as in the base we’re in now.”

“Why would I say this was your idea, I just led us here?”

“That’s what I was wondering.”

They fell into silence for a few moments before Gaige cleared her throat and spoke up “Look, I’m sorry, no wait for me to finish, I started this out a bit harsher then I’d meant to, so we went wrong from the get go, I…well…”

“You want a drink.”


Artemis nodded and waved her hand “Then forget about it. But we still need to talk about what we do from here.”

“I’m assuming that you mean about this base and not everything else that we need to talk about.”

“Wait, what else do we need to talk about?”

“Nothing at the moment.” Gaige said before realizing that the other girl would no doubt be starting to freak out, thinking about all kinds of dark things and quickly clarified “Nothing bad, just what to do next, after we get the bombs from Tina, as well as where we’re going between us and all that kind of thing.”

“Oh.” Gaige could hear the relief in Artemis’s voice and noticed Deathtrap giving her a subtle thumbs up, telling her that she’d done good.

“Well, putting all of that off for later, what do we do now?”

“I donno.”

“Wait, what do you mean, you donno? This was your plan wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, well, my plan ended with us losing the bandits.”

“That’s all the farther you got?”

“What? I told you I’m not that much of a planner.”

“And then you routinely prove that you are.”

“Well, this time I was telling the truth.”

“I guess so. Well, I guess we just need to figure something out.” Gaige said, giving an exasperated sigh.

“Well, you’re the expert on this Hyperion stuff, so if there was, idonno, another way out, or something we could use, where would it be?”

“How would I know? I mean, the last time I dealt with this stuff was something like eight years ago and at the time, I was more concerned with smashing it than learning, which in retrospect might have been a mistake. Always learn where you can.”

“True, but you’re wrong, the last time you dealt with Hyperion stuff was at the Project Odysseus site.”

“Fine, but that doesn’t really count, now does it, since that was a completely different setup.”

“OK, fine, you’re right, but you’re still the best we’ve got, so anything would be better than nothing.”

“Well I don’t remember.” Gaige snapped back.


Gaige froze and turned to the robot. After a second she hung her head and said “Sorry, it’s just that I don’t remember much of the bases and that each one was different.”

“That’s fine.” Came the meek reply, causing a wave of irritation to surge through Gaige.

“Urgurr” Deathtrap snapped at Artemis, causing her head to pop up in surprise, it wasn’t often that he chastised her, so she took a moment to think about it and nodded.

“I mean, I guess what I was hoping for was that with your, uh, background? Experience? Whatever, that you might know a bit more about how to find your way through this place. Oh, and I wasn’t just meaning your time as a Vault Hunter, but the fact that you know more about factories and machines and stuff, so I was hoping that you might, you know, have a clue about it, or something.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Gaige said, finally getting it. She made a mental note to thank Deathtrap later for butting in and calling the other girl out. She needed to stand up for herself, to express herself better, but Gaige couldn’t seem to get that through to her, so having the steady presence of Deathtrap call her out seemed to have done the trick, at least for now. That said, she understood where Artemis was coming from in asking if she knew anything of use, this was more of Gaige’s area of expertise, so she sat back and wracked her brain, trying to think of anything that might be useful. She had a lot of experience to draw from, so it took a while, but eventually she started to speak.

“So, first off, understand that I have no idea about how this place is laid out, or even what it was originally for, so everything I’m about to say is pure speculation. That said, with the number of loaders around, plus the amount of pipes, but the lack of refinery equipment, I’d say that this isn’t a Slag processing plant, but probably some kind of power plant. Well, at least the area that we’re in right now is. What it feeds, that I don’t know. There’s no way to tell until we get a bit further in, but, like I said, there seems to be a lot of loaders here, which could mean one of a few things. This could be a loader factory. It could also be a repair site. They could be doing something hazardous here. They could’ve just arrived when everything fell apart. Or someone could’ve brought them here afterwards, either to make up for a lack of personnel or for protection.”

Gaige fell silent and back into thought for a second before adding “Well, there is one other possibility.”

“And what’s that?”

Gaige exchanged a look with Deathtrap and after a second, he seemed to get it and nod.

“There could be a Constructor here.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a giant loader, well, it doesn’t look like a loader, more like a Surveyor without the wings only like ten feet high or so, but that part’s not important, what is, is that it Digi-structs loaders. So, one of them could theoretically have supplied the entire base worth of loaders, given enough time.

“Well, I think it could’ve, I really have no idea about their capacity or any of that stuff, we tended to try and take them down as fast as possible, so I’ve never seen what they can fully do, or what their limits are.”

“Alright, so how does any of these affect us?”

“Well, really they don’t.” Gaige admitted guiltily “I just wanted to lay out some ideas, get them out of my head and all that.”

“Oh, alright, that’s fine. But what do we do from here?”

“Well, simplistically, we’ve got two choices, forward or back.”

“Well since back leads us into a fight between loaders and bandits, I guess forward.”

“Yeah. Only problem with that is we have no idea what we’ll find.”

“Do we ever?”

“No. So do you want point, or should I?”

“I’ll take it, but stay closer, I’m gonna need advice on which way to go.”

“Weren’t you the one who told me that when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there?”

“Yeah, but that was different.”


Sticking her tongue out, Artemis turned and led the way back out. While they’d been talking, Gaige had casually been checking papers in the office, but nothing had meant anything to her, so she fell in behind the other girl, with Deathtrap once again bringing up the rear.

After checking the door, Artemis turned the handle and gave it a push, silently hoping that it wouldn’t squeak too bad.

It did. It let out a protracted squeal of protest, before coming to a halt halfway open. It wasn’t that it’d hit anything, it was just that the hinges were in bad shape and she hadn’t given it a hard shove.

Glancing through, she found herself facing a short hallway, lined on either side with a pair of doors. Glancing in as they passed, they found a cheap, dirty break room with vending machines that had long ago been broken into and an assortment of other break room things, like stained mugs and coffee pots. Across from that was a pair of bathrooms that neither of them felt like looking in and the last door led to the most basic medical center either of them had ever seen, just a bed and a Dr. Zed vending machine that had long since broken down.

“Well, that’s just depressing.” Gaige muttered.

Artemis nodded, before heading to the far door. Opening it slowly, she found herself facing a courtyard. Off to one side, she could make out the front gate, opposite it, was what she took to be the main building and straight across from where she was, she could just make out what appeared to have once been a place for vehicles to park and maybe get some maintenance done, though she couldn’t be sure, not just cause the place looked like it had been striped long ago, but because of the crates that had been stacked in her line of sight.

Slipping back a bit, she let Gaige have a look, before they moved back to try and figure out what to do next.

“Well, I think it’s obvious, we need to get into the main building.” Gaige started.

“Yeah, it’s not like we’ve got many other choices. The main problem is how do we get there.”

“On our feet.” Feeling the cold look on her, Gaige snapped “Well I don’t have another way to get there, unless you were meaning something else.”

“Sorry for being obtees.” Came the sad reply.



“Huh, oh, obtuse.” Gaige said, smacking her fist into her palm “Look, maybe you were being obtuse, maybe I just wasn’t getting it, so let’s start again. What were you trying to say?”

“I was just meaning that we needed to figure out how to get there from here without the loaders killing us.”

“Oh, you were meaning how are we gonna cross without being spotted. That kind of how are we gonna get there?”


“Hmm, good point.” Gaige fell into thought, before shrugging “I guess we’re just gonna have to make a break for it at the right time.”

“And if we get there and the door’s locked?”

“Then you two are gonna have to cover me while I work.”

“In that case, should we look for something to use as cover, in case we get stuck out there?”

“Might not be the worst idea, though I’ve seen that used against someone. This one time, Axton had his girlfriend, by which I mean his turret, set up and was cowering behind it, when one of those loaders, which kind was it…”


“It was? Well, I’ll take your word for it, anyway, the Hyperion goon throws a grenade, arcing it perfectly to land on his side, Axton’s side, of the barrier, so when it goes off, almost all the force slams into him. If the rest of us hadn’t been there, he probably woulda died, though considering how much he whined about it, for a while we regretted that he hadn’t. Anyway, point is, you’re a bitch, wait, that’s not it, point is, cover sometimes works against you, and you’re a bitch.”

“Why am I a bitch now?”

“Nothing, it was a reference to something that happened a long time ago, so you wouldn’t get it. Inside joke, that’s what it’s called. Anyway, I’m not arguing with you, just pointing out that sometimes, barriers work against you.”

She paused and added “Like you used those Nomad’s shields against them last time we were here, remember, when you were rescuing me?”

“Yeah, I get it, so should we take something or not?”

“No, but we should try and spot something to use out there in case.”

“Alright, why don’t you and Deathtrap do that, since you’d know what would be best for him.”

It didn’t take long for them to decide on a chunk of metal to use in case of emergency as well as charting a course through the courtyard, though they did put a lot of faith in Artemis’s opinion for that, since out of them, she was the best at sneaking and after a quick check to make sure the area was clear and that the loaders were looking elsewhere, Artemis slipped out of the door and dashed for the nearest bit of cover.

Gaige followed close behind her, trying not to get in the way, while also trying to not make much sound. She followed as the girl ghosted from one piece of cover to the next, trying to stay one behind so they didn’t run into each other and soon were as close to the door as they could get without being exposed, so she made the last dash up and joined Artemis.

Deathtrap floated over to them as stealthily as he could and the instant he was in place, Artemis glanced out, making sure that all of the loaders were looking elsewhere and found that they were, just as they’d expected, it seemed that they never considered anyone getting behind them. Either that, or they had something else waiting.

Gaige took a breath and dashed out, keeping low till she got to the door panel and tapped the button, only for nothing to happen. Cursing internally, she crouched down and got to work on persuading it to comply, leaving her back open, trusting that her friends would protect it.

Deathtrap nearly went for his portable cover, only to be stopped by Artemis, who signaled for him to wait while keeping an eye on the loaders. Immediately he understood what she was going for and agreed with her, lamenting the fact that he’d let his concern for Gaige get the better of his intelligence. If he went for the cover, he’d draw attention the instant he moved it, if not earlier. But if Gaige could get the door open, they might be able to slip through without alerting anyone. And if someone did spot her, from where he was, it wouldn’t take long to dash over and grab his cover, so it was best to leave it until needed, though he wished it was taller, so he could get over to it and wait, so he would be ready to move it if needed, but he couldn’t have everything.

Seconds ticked by as they waited, nerves on edge, until they heard the sound of the door lock giving. The instant they started to relax a mechanical voice boomed out “UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS DETECTED. ALERT. ALERT.”

Swearing Gaige threw open the door and dove through, hoping that nothing was waiting on the other side, even as Deathtrap grabbed Artemis around the waist and shot across the narrow space between where they were hiding and the door, making it through before the sentry loaders had stood up.

He set Artemis down and flung the door shut, glancing around for anything to barricade it with, but nothing was close by. He took in the area and realized they were in another security checkpoint, a narrow hall sided with clear bulletproof glass. On one side, he could see where the larger door that had been off to the side had led into a large offloading and inspection area. On the other, was a security desk and a number of computers that were powered down at the moment. The door at the far end was closed and Gaige was frantically working on it and everything was illuminated by the strobing orangish-yellow light.

Artemis flattened herself on the floor and signaled for him to go help at the other end. Grateful, he moved as high as he could, angling himself to fit over her and down the narrow hall till he was just behind Gaige.

“No one say anything.” Gaige growled in clear frustration “I’ve almost got this, Babe, give me a hand.”

He reached over her and looked at the door, trying to figure out how to get his hands in it, when a narrow bar of metal slid into his field of view. Glancing down, he recognized Artemis’s crowbar and let out a burble of thanks before taking it and wedging it into the narrow crack running down the middle of the door and heaving it to the side.

Gaige grabbed the bar so he could get his fingers in and with a mighty heave, and a whole lot of screeching metal protesting, he got it open.

Gaige dashed through, gun up as she swept the area. She found nothing but a dingy room with a desk on one side with a door behind it and another door straight across from where they’d entered. As much as she wanted to inspect everything, she could feel the pressure of time on her being driven home by the continued strobing light.

As she dashed over to the door, the other two entered the room behind her and Deathtrap immediately went to back her up, but Artemis causally hopped the desk, taking a look behind it.

Gaige rolled her eyes at the other girl’s lack of urgency, especially since she was always the one making a fuss about it, but thought that she might be trying to examine the other door, so she turned her attention back to the door in front of her, choosing not to say anything right then.

The door was much like the last one, lacking a panel or any other way to open it, so she turned to Artemis to ask for the crowbar again, when the door swooshed open, startling her and causing her to spin at it.

“Yes.” Came a soft voice from behind her. Turning slightly, she spotted Artemis hopping back over the desk with a look of triumph on her face. Catching the look she was being given, she whispered “What?”

“Would you be quiet when there’s enemies about.”

“Sorry, but I don’t hear anyone around.”

“Well then who opened the door?” Gaige hissed back.

“Me.” As the look of confusion crossed Gaige’s face, she continued “What? It’s one of those, what do’ya call ems? Log in? Check in? Something like that, but judging by the other Hyperion place we were at, I figured this would be where you get processed, so the door would only be able to be opened by the person behind the desk.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“Cause I figured you knew that and were just waiting for me to open the door so that you could be prepared.”

“Well I wasn’t.” Gaige hissed back, immediately realizing that she was admitting to being stupider than the other girl thought “Anyway, let’s get outta here.”

Artemis shrugged, much to Gaige’s annoyance and let her take the lead.

Sweeping through the door, she found herself in a massive room that must have taken up most of the building they were in. Trucks and other heavy machinery were parked in rows, each one tucked into a berth. Around them were a few pieces of maintenance equipment and a large crane was against the far wall, the once bright yellow of its caution stripes long since faded into a dull shade of greyish muck that could hardly be identified as a color.

But most pressing was the sheer number of loaders swarming the area.

There were all kinds, not just GUN loaders and BUL loaders, but she could see a HOT loader and a pair of PWR loaders. It was enough for her to consider trying to fall back, but right as the thought entered her mind, the large doors to outside started to grind open, revealing the WAR loader on the other side.

Glancing around in desperation, she felt a light tap on her shoulder and glancing that way, spotted Artemis pointing back down the side of the small building they’d just come out of at an opening.

Losing no time, Gaige followed the other girl as she sprinted towards it, both of them figuring that even if there was something hostile on the other side, it would be better than the WAR loader and its friends out there.

Gaige all but dove through the door as one of the nearest loaders walked out to where she’d been standing and looked at the door, as if it was trying to figure out how it had opened. She threw herself against the wall, ducking out of sight as the loader did a sweep of the area and she heard the distinct whine of a pair of Surveyors flying by.

Taking a second to look around and make sure that no enemies were standing there, waiting for them, she realized they were in a workers break-room, with long cheap tables lined up and cupboards on the walls over an industrial counter covered in stains and gross looking coffee pots which had long since surrendered to the mold growing in them, which itself had long since died.

On one side was a door that she thought led to what had once been the bathrooms, but the signs were so covered in dust that she couldn’t tell. On the other side was another door, which must have led to somewhere behind the checkpoint desk. With no other option she pointed to the door and mouthed ‘That way.’

She got a look back that expressed exactly what the other girl thought about pointing out the obvious, but afterwards, she cocked her head for a moment, then glanced out and waved Gaige over.

Gaige darted across the opening and over to the door, which wasn’t locked and after giving the hinges a stern look, trying to tell them not to dare give off any noise, she slowly pulled the door open.

Inside was a better kept room, but only by a little. But there were no loaders in it, so she slipped inside, holding the door for the other two.

As soon as everyone was inside, she let the door shut and let Artemis take point. She wove through the room, avoiding the door that would’ve led to the checkpoint and glanced through where the next door had once been and found herself looking at the security checkpoint, only this time she was on the other side of the glass.

Choosing to ignore it, she went to the last door and went through and into another hall which T’d after a short ways. Since neither way had any disturbance in the dust, she figured that no one had been in this part of the complex in quite some time, so she slowed down and scanned the walls, trying to find some kind of directory and failing that, something to help her choose a direction.

Finding nothing, she glanced back at the other two and pointed a finger in both directions while wearing as much of a ‘which way’ expression as she could. It must have been good enough because Gaige shrugged and pointed, probably choosing the direction at random, but it was still a way to go.

They headed down the hall, trying to spot anything of note, but didn’t have much luck until they’d turned another corner and found themselves in a larger space.

Unlike the previous large area, this one had an average height ceiling from which lights hung, though most of them had long since burned out, prompting Artemis to dig out her lantern to illuminate their way.

Gaige walked over to one of the tables that were scattered around the area and carefully blew the dust off of what had been being worked on when the staff had left and after a minute waved the other two over.

In a quiet voice she said “So I think I’ve figured out where we are.”

Artemis opened her mouth, no doubt to say something stupid, so Gaige continued “This place must’ve been a hub for Hyperion’s road construction department. See these maps and all this surveyor data? That’s a good sign, but if you look, the roads marked aren’t there outside, plus a lot of this stuff is things I’ve seen before dealing with construction, especially of large-scale projects.”

“Alright, so there’s probably nothing we can use here is what you’re saying.”

“Well, no. But we still need to finish exploring the place, cause we need to find another way out. Unless you wanna face those WAR loaders.”


“Yeah, hard pass for me as well.” Gaige said straightening out “But, this is a Hyperion facility, so there’s likely to be something hidden here. It was a common thing Jack did, build a second base inside the first, I think he musta figured, why waste a perfectly good building by using it only for one thing? Or some crap like that.”

“So, all we gotta do is find something that’s, what? Hidden?”

“No, no. You need to. I mean, let’s be honest, I might have more experience at this then you, but every time we find a hidden door, it’s you doing the finding.”

“I mean, I suppose, but where do we start?”

“I guess we could start here.”

“But wouldn’t whomever got all those loaders set to their defense have found it themselves?”

“Maybe, but if that’s the case, then we’d have to fight our way through the loaders to get there.”

“Maybe, but on the other hand, we’re leaving a pretty clear trail back here.” She pointed to the floor, where the dust had been disturbed by their boots.

“Yeah well, nothing we can do about that now, is there? Other than maybe making enough of a disturbance that they can’t track us.”

“Let’s just do a quick once over back here and worry about the loaders when they start looking.” Artemis sighed.

Gaige shrugged and headed for the large door at the other end of the room. Finding themselves in what was probably a work area with offices on one side, they split up, quickly searching to try and find anything that might lead them to an exit.

Gaige found herself in what had to have been one of the supervisor’s offices, which she figured out by the fact that it had carpeting and didn’t ooze depression. She had checked the walls and the small filing cabinet against the wall, but having turned up nothing, had in desperation tried the desk and that’s where she found it, buried beneath a stack of papers.

A single bottle of alcohol.

She licked her lips at the sight of it, at the gentle sloshing of the liquid inside.

She picked it up, but didn’t open it. Instead, she shoved it into her pack, telling herself that it was just to get it out of sight, and besides, it wasn’t like she was going to drink it, she could use it as disinfectant or as a Molotov cocktail. There was no way she’d crack open a bottle she found in an old Hyperion desk, not after the number of years it had been there.

As all of the thoughts ran through her head, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, she looked up and her eyes met the cold, flat expression on Artemis’s face.

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Chapter 12


‘It’s not what it looks like.’ Gaige desperately tried to say, but the words gummed up in her throat, leaving her staring at the girl standing in the doorway, expressionlessly staring at her.

She wished she could say something, anything, but her throat was clamped shut, as if someone was choking her. She felt her mouth move, as if she were talking, but nothing came out, not even the lame excuses she’d just been telling herself to convince her that she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

She wished the other girl would say something, anything, berate her, shout her out, get mad, tell her she was disappointed in her. Instead, to Gaige’s shame and horror, Artemis just turned and walked away.

Maybe it was the thought of losing her friend that finally unglued her throat, allowing her to call out.


“Why.” Came the flat reply “You don’t owe me anything. Certainly not an explanation. You’re free to do what you want.”

“It’s not…That is to say…I mean…” Gaige fumbled for the words, part of her wanted to get mad, to shout at the other girl, to tell her that she was right, that Gaige didn’t owe her any explanation, that she could do what she damn well pleased, but for once, her sensible side won out, squashing her anger under the knowledge that she was now on thin ice and she needed to get back, no matter how humiliating it was.

“You’re wrong.” She said, a bit louder than she’d wanted.

Artemis stopped as the forceful words echoed slightly. Without turning she flatly stated “Really?”

“Yeah, you are. I do owe you, and I ain’t talkin about money or anything like that, but I owe you and you’re also right, I screwed up.”

“I didn’t say”

“Let me finish. Please.” When the other girl held her silence, Gaige took it as a sign to continue “You’re right, you didn’t say it, but I know you felt it, that sense of disappointment in me, that feeling of helplessness, to be at a loss for what to do with me, believe me, I know, I felt it too, even as I did it. It’s just that…”

She took a deep breath, she knew she needed to come clean. Completely clean about this, so she pulled the bottle out and set it on the table in front of her before starting again.

“I want it so bad.” She all but sobbed “I want a drink so much that it feels like it’s killing me.”

“Then take a drink.”

“I want to, but I can’t. I can’t disappoint you again, I can’t fail like that. I promised that I wouldn’t and I want to keep it.”

“I never asked for that.”

“I know, but I promised anyway. I’m trying to be a better person, for you, for myself and I know it’s unfair to put that on you, but you’re the only one who I want to share this with.”

“Then why’d you take the bottle?”

“Because I’m weak. I couldn’t help it. You don’t know what it’s like, to want something so bad it hurts, to feel like you’re denying some basic part of yourself because you know that if you let in, you’ll only hurt those you care about, but even so, you want it. It tears at you and you feel your weakness growing, even as you deny it, you want to give in, to take all that suffering away, but if you do, the only people you care about will turn their backs on you and you’ll find yourself alone again, but this time, there’s never going to be anyone else there, you’ll have lost the best things in your life due to your weakness, but even knowing that, you yearn for it with an intensity that scares you.”

Gaige trailed off, something about the other girl’s back made her pause and think about what she’d just said. “Of course you’d understand.” She finally said, realizing what had been bothering her “You might be the only person who could. But there’s a difference, there’s nothing wrong with you giving in.”

“Only if I want to hurt those I care about.” Came the soft reply.

“That’s not true, not at all. You just need to accept the truth, you can be happy if you want. I mean, look at all the people we’ve met, plenty of them’ve been gay. I mean, do you think that Sir Hammerlock or Wainwright are constantly getting hit with disasters? That they bring misfortune to themselves and those around them? Of course not. Neither does Tina, nor do any of the others we’ve met. It’s just not true.”

“But every time I’ve opened up, it did.”

“And how many times was that? Once? It was once right, with me, and it didn’t mess things up, well it did, but that wasn’t because of you, I’ve already explained that, so you need to be more honest with yourself and accept what you want.”

“Says the person trying to sneak a bottle off.”

“There’s a difference there, this is an addiction, a problem.”

“How’s it different?”

“You sat in on the meeting, you know that this tears apart everyone around it, that it takes time to get over.”

“Plenty of people drink, Wainwright and Sir Hammerlock do, your dad does, almost every party we’ve been to had alcohol.”

“But with me it’s different, I can’t stop. Once I take that first drink, I want more and more of it until I black out or do something stupid.”

“You were fine after we stopped Holloway.”

“I thought I was too, but it’s more complicated than that, it’s like the meetings say, it’s fills a hole in me and in that case, it wasn’t too bad cause I was happy, I was free, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t want more, it was just that I’d made a strict rule with Deathtrap that he couldn’t serve me more than one a day, not that I wasn’t sneaking a bit on the side. Sorry about that, by the way. But it wasn’t until I tried to quit that I realized something, that I couldn’t, that all my talk about quitting whenever I wanted to was just that, talk. And it wasn’t until it had nearly destroyed everything important to me that I figured that out. And it’s like the meetings say, realizing you have a problem is the first step to solving it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“What?” Gaige was confused, she thought she’d laid out her problem fairly clearly.

“I don’t get how you can stand there and say you’ve got a problem, but then turn around and tell me that I don’t. I mean, you just said that realizing is the first step and I know I’ve got a problem, so why won’t you understand that?”

“You’ve got a problem all right, just not the one you think you have.” Gaige knew she was racing towards a thin line between helping and losing her friend, but she had to take the chance, that, and she was a bit too ticked off to stop now “You think that there’s something wrong with you, that you get to be the only one that brings misfortune, but that’s wrong. You’ve pointed out plenty of times that my own beliefs are more likely just spotting patterns cause I’m looking for them, but you won’t accept that the same is true for you. I just pointed out a number of others like you that don’t bring misfortune by accepting themselves, but you choose to ignore it and turn back against yourself. And I hate that, I hate how you’re always cutting yourself down, diminishing your accomplishments, saying you’re not worthy of anything, how you reduce yourself to being nothing but a ship or a burden. How you won’t let anyone close. But at the same time, you desperately want to be my friend, how you’re willing to give up any and everything just to be around me, but then pull back, how you don’t say what you really want.

“I understand that you might not even know what that is, but you won’t even be honest with yourself enough to admit that. Oh, it also drives me crazy that you seem to think you’re some kind of burden on me, how you won’t get it through your thick skull that you were the one who saved me, when I had no one else and needed saving more than I knew. How you stood by my side, even when I gave you no reason to, when I was the worst person in the galaxy. You gave me another chance, and then another and I love you for it, but you need to give yourself that chance. You need to try.

“As for me, I’ll try too. I’ll try not to disappoint you any more, though I know I will. I’ll try to be there for you when you need. And I’ll try to figure out what I want for myself, but only if you do the same.”

Gaige felt her chest heaving and her heart pounding, having forced herself to pour everything that she’d had built up off her chest and was forced to stand there, waiting for to find out if she’d pushed things too far, if she’d destroyed her friendship, or if maybe, just maybe, things would improve.

For the longest time Artemis just stared ahead, but eventually she slowly turned, face down so that Gaige couldn’t read her expression.

“I don’t know.” The voice was so soft that Gaige almost missed it “I don’t know what I want, or if I could change to get it. I don’t know what you see when you look at me. I don’t know what you think when you say all these things. And I don’t know what to say.”

Gaige let her stand, feeling that this was something that she needed to work out for herself.

Eventually Artemis looked up a little and said in a stronger voice “It’s probably a good thing I spotted you, I wouldn’t even use this stuff as engine degreaser.”

Gaige blinked. It seemed that Artemis was trying to dodge the discussion for now and Gaige was tempted to let her, but she knew that the longer she put this off, the harder it was. Plus, if they didn’t finish this now, she’d have to repeat all of her points, again.

“Yeah, it was a good thing you stopped me, because we finally got to get this out in the open, but we need to deal with it, as much as neither of us wants to.”

“This isn’t a good place to do this.”

“Nowhere’s gonna be, so as long as we’ve started”

“You started.”

“It’s started, we should finish it, or at least get things moving in the right direction.”

“And who’s to say that status qoo isn’t good enough?”

“Status quo, and I’m happy with things now too, so much so that I don’t want to rock the ship out of fear of losing what I’ve got, but I want you to be happy, really, truly happy, and because of that, I’ve got to risk what I’ve got to at least try and move us into being better.”

“Better what? And I am happy.”

“No, you’re satisfied. You only think you’re happy because you haven’t had much experience with it. And before you argue with me, think back and ask yourself, when were you the happiest?”

Artemis gave her a blank stare, as if she didn’t want to play along, but inside, she was flashing through all the times she’d thought she was happy. When she’d won her ship. When she took down the Keeper of the End, no wait, that was more of a sense of relief. When she first met Gaige. When Gaige said she wanted to travel with her for a while longer.

Gaige was right, she’d known it all along, she was clinging to the merest scraps of happiness and calling them good enough, and while deep down she knew that they were more than someone like her deserved, a small voice, long ignored in the back of her mind asked, is that really enough?

For her part, Gaige was also thinking back to the times she’d been happiest, the rare moments across the years where she’d been genuinely happy, not just content or pleased, but truly, genuinely, completely happy. Her first night back at home. Realizing that her parents and Artemis had managed to spring a surprise party on her. Defeating Holloway. There’d been other moments that came close, but they were all older, the death of Handsome Jack, becoming a Vault Hunter, sitting on her father’s lap as he showed her how to properly solder a circuit in. But more recently they had all been spending time with Artemis, even if it was nothing more than lounging in the bedroom, watching an old movie.

Which made her wonder, what do I want from her? What would make her happy? And most troubling, what would I do if she doesn’t want me around anymore.

They stood lost in thought for a while, until Deathtrap, who had been reluctant to interrupt, couldn’t take it any longer and finally spoke up.


“Right, sorry babe, just give me one more moment.” She turned back to Artemis and looked at her “I don’t know what you’ve thought of, but for me, there was a lot of you in those happy memories and that’s something that I don’t want to lose, so I’m sorry that I slipped up, I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but if it does, I hope you’re there to catch me, that you won’t give up on me. I also hope that you can at least start to understand that there’s nothing wrong with you. Well, that’s not true, we’ve all got plenty wrong with us, but what I’m trying to say is that you liking girls isn’t something wrong and that someday, I hope you and me can figure out what’s gonna happen with us, but for now, let’s move on as friends and get outta this place so we can do some real thinking on the matter.”

Artemis reluctantly nodded, not looking Gaige in the face, which worried her, but she let it slide.

“Alright, now, we need to get back to looking for this secret entrance, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s back here, which leaves us with the main area, though I’m a bit reluctant to think it’s out there, since everyone would see it when it opens, so you got any ideas?”

Artemis shrugged. It seemed that she was reluctant to speak after everything that Gaige had said, which caused Gaige to groan internally and made her want a drink again. Squashing the thought down, she tried a different tact.

“Alright, so if you’ve got any idea or somewhere you wanna look, lead on, cause I got nothing other than continuing to wander around until either we find it, the loaders find us, or they get so bored that they give up and we slip out.”

Artemis thought for a moment and then said in a rather flat tone “Maybe.” And walked across the room. Gaige gave Deathtrap a shrug, but he replied with a thumbs up, indicating that she’d done alright and they followed along after. They headed through a side door and past another set of bathrooms till they came to a large set of swinging doors that led back out into the main area.

Once Gaige got there, Artemis pushed the door open slightly and pointed. It took a bit of wiggling to get herself into a position where she could see what the other girl was indicating, but once she did, she nodded. It was an area at the back of the building, partially hidden behind a few vehicles, but she could tell that it led to a room of some kind since the loaders were going in and out. After a moment, she realized that the numbers didn’t add up, that the room must have been massive for that many to go in and different ones to be coming out. The only problem was how were they going to get there.

Pulling back, she asked that exact question, to which Artemis rolled her eyes and just said “Follow me.”

She slid back up to the door before pausing and turning back, putting a finger to her lips with over dramatic fashion, causing Gaige to roll her eyes, but she caught the slight smirk on the other girls face before she slipped out which sent a wave of relief flooding thought Gaige’s chest. She’d been worried that she’d managed to screw things up beyond repair, but it seemed that she still had hope.

But that would have to be put on hold for later, she chastised herself and slid the door open, glancing around. She quickly spotted Artemis hiding behind a small bit of cover with her hand up, telling Gaige to wait. Not that she needed to, Gaige could see the three loaders walking past and considering the one in the back was an RPG loader, she really didn’t want to cause any unnecessary fights.

After a few moments, Artemis waved her over. Gaige followed the directions, even though she thought it was awfully risky considering there were over a dozen loaders in the area, but she made it without trouble. By the time she’d got to the cover, Artemis had sprinted to the next bit, which was how they crossed the room, darting from one bit of cover to the next, taking an oblique route to the room, but after a while, they were as close as they could get without exposing themselves.

Gaige looked over and mouthed ‘Now what?’ but Artemis just held her hand up, telling her to wait. She sat there, watching the shadows of the loaders going in and out for what felt like hours, or maybe it was only a few minutes, she’d never been the most patient person, in contrast, Artemis was watching and counting as the loaders moved and when she was sure of the timing, she pulled out the bottle that Gaige had been trying to take and stuffed a rag into it.

Turning she mouthed ‘Anybody got a light?’, but Gaige only shook her head. It seemed that Artemis hadn’t been serious because she had dug out an old lighter and popped it open silently, lighting the trailing cloth.

Before she could throw it, Deathtrap nudged her and held out his hand. Artemis gave him an appraising look, but he only nodded in response, so she carefully set the bottle in his hand and pointed to where she wanted it. Deathtrap nodded again and waited for her to give him the sign. Turning away, Artemis watched the loaders for a few seconds, then dropped her hand.

The instant she did, Deathtrap launched the bottle across the room, where it shattered against the crates and barrels stacked against the wall.

The fire spread quickly up the dry tarps that had been thrown over them and onto the crates. Just as the loaders were starting to go on high alert, the first of the barrels caught fire, exploding dramatically. Then to Gaige’s surprise, there was a massive secondary explosion followed by another and another.

Artemis didn’t bother looking, instead, the instant that the loaders went for the main door to try and find the intruder or barring that, cutting them off, she took off sprinting towards the hidden room.

It took her a second, but once Deathtrap nudged Gaige in the back, she took off as well, glancing into the main area to see what was happening.

At a glance she could tell that the initial explosion had caught an EXP-loader with its shrapnel, destroying it and triggering its own explosion, which had chained into a couple others. The resulting mess had taken a number of other loaders with them and damaged quite a few others, leading to a general sense of panic as they fought to not only put out the spreading fire, but also get the fallen loaders out of the way.

As Gaige was marveling at the timing of it, Deathtrap grabbed her and drug her along, not bothering to pick her up. After a few yards, Gaige managed to get her feet under her and ran for herself, shooting him a look, which he returned.

They ducked into the room and looked around, one of the walls was slid to the side, revealing an opening with a ramp leading down. Artemis was already part way down, rifle out when they caught up to her.

“Nice timing.” Gaige whispered.

Artemis didn’t respond but instead gave a partial shrug, partial nod, and started moving forward faster. The other two fell in behind her as the ramp ended, exiting out into a room lined with pillars. Along the sides were crates of all sizes, from tall ones that were thin and wide, to short square ones. Many of them had been rooted through, with packing material strewn about. But most notable about the room was the wide central path, as if the crates had been carefully moved out of the way so that something the size of a truck could move through.

Hearing the sounds of loaders rushing their way, the three of them dove behind cover as another group of loaders rushed into the room and up the ramp. From their new vantage point, the girls carefully peered out to make sure it was clear and then looked at the crate they were hiding behind.

Leaving it to Artemis, since she was the quieter of the two, Gaige watched as she pulled the packing foam out of the way, revealing a life size Handsome Jack standee.

Gaige hopped up and looked into the crate and found it full with over a dozen of the things. Scrunching her eyebrows together, she moved to the next crate and peeked in. This time she came out with a tube. Opening it up she slid the poster out and unrolled it and found herself staring at a bad parody of a famous ad from long before she was born, with Handsome Jack winking at the audience while pointing at them. Beneath it had the tagline ’ I Want You, To Stop Reading This And Get Back To Work. '.

She glanced over to where Artemis and Deathtrap had pried open a pair of smaller crates, exposing perfectly lined up, desk sized statues of Jack. In one, was him standing atop a fallen pile of creature’s and bandits, in the other was Jack sitting, reading a book. She recognized both of them as versions of the statues that she’d seen in Opportunity.

“I’ve been meaning to ask” Artemis whispered, giving the statues a disgusted look “But this guy, he was, well…”

“In love with himself?”

“A narcissist. Yeah.”

“Yeah, he was.”

“OK, good.”

“Why’s that good?”

“Cause if he wasn’t, and this was normal, I’d have a problem.”

“You have a problem anyway.” Gaige muttered, instantly regretting it.

“Yeah.” Came the sad reply, confirming what Gaige had been afraid of.

“Yeah, you do,” Gaige pushed forward “You’re a weirdo who hangs around me and despite everything you’ve done and accomplished, still won’t give yourself credit. You’re like the inverse Handsome Jack.”

“I’m not”

“And the only thing I’d change about you is to make you more confident in yourself.” Gaige said, patting her on the shoulder “But enough of that, we need to get outta here before we get trapped.”

As if that was their cue, a set of loaders started down the ramp, forcing them to hide once again. This procession took longer, since the loaders were carrying the damaged ones past, making Gaige wonder where they were taking them and if there was something else further in.

After a painfully long time, the loaders started back out and soon the flow trickled off, allowing the girls to breathe a sigh of relief.

Looking around, Gaige whispered “Should we see where they took them?”

“You think there’ll be anything we can use back there?”

“Probably not, but better to find out if there’s a back way out then have to fight out the way we came in.”

Artemis looked around “What is this place anyway?”

“I think it’s a propaganda storage room.”

“Then why hide it?”

“Because Jack would think that all the employees would be so in love with him that they’d steal all this crap.”

“And would they?”

“Some of them, yeah.”

“That’s just messed up.”

Gaige couldn’t help but nod to that.

They snuck back out and started moving deeper into the room, pausing occasionally to duck into cover when another group of loaders went past and had almost made it through the room when Artemis didn’t move after the latest group had made its way past.

Noticing that, Gaige cautiously moved over to where she was sitting.

“This might be useful.” Came the soft whisper as she moved her head out of the way to show what she was looking at. In front of her was a smaller crate filled with polished wooden boxes, or at least they looked wooden, they were probably just simulated wood judging by everything Gaige knew of Jack. Artemis held one of them up and emblazoned on the cover was the Hyperion H, and in its center was Handsome Jack’s mask. Burned into the wood around it were the words ‘Handsome Jack Commemorative Pocket Watch’.

Cautiously Artemis opened the box and inside was a piece of paper. Unfolding it she could read ’ In honor of your (Reason) Handsome Jack would like to present (Name) with this replica of his own pocket watch. Note: CL4P-TP unit not included, you must wind watch by hand. Due to strangulation hazard, watch chain not included.’ and underneath it was an obvious cheap knock off pocket watch.

“Uhg” Artemis groaned “You’d think he’d at least make it look expensive.”

“He didn’t really care about his employees.”

“I know, but you’d think he’d still give it the appearance.”

“Nah, they’d either throw it out, or cherish it no matter how crappy it was.”

“Still, we might be able to use these. For the bomb I mean.”

“Yeah.” Gaige said, brightening at the thought of setting off the explosives with and destroying something of Handsome Jack’s all in the same motion. “Let’s take them.”

As Artemis got to work emptying boxes and placing the watches in her bag, Gaige looked around a bit wistfully.

“What? I know that look, so what else do you want me to carry?”

“Am I really that transparent?”

“Yes. So what is it?”

“Well, it wasn’t really that I wanted you to carry anything, it was just that I was thinking it would be great if we could take some of the rest of this stuff as well.”

“And why would we want that? You don’t…have a thing for him, do you?”

“Ewww. Oh god, no, ugh, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little just thinking about that. Blagh.” She gave a shake, as if trying to get the mental image out of her head.

“Oh, good, but then why do you want this crap? Nostalgia?”

“Maybe a little, but mostly I wanted to give it to Tina and the rest of B-Team, so they could use it for target practice.”

“Little vindictive.”

“Yeah, well, there’s a story behind that.”

“I’m sure there is, and I’ll listen to it on the way back, but for now, if you want something, I’ll try and carry it. Except those standee’s, there’s no way I’m carrying one of them.”

“Eh, maybe we can come back for them once we see what’s ahead.”

“It’s now or never, cause I don’t wanna hear any bitching about it later cause there’s a good chance we’re gonna be getting outta here at top speed.”

“Alright, fine.” Gaige grabbed out a few things “Just these for now.”

Artemis rolled her eyes, but stuffed them into her pack with little ceremony.

“There, now can we go?”

“We coulda went at any point, but yes, we can go.”

Artemis didn’t respond, instead she ducked back down and let another group of loaders go past. Gaige wished the loaders were guards, not that she wanted to kill people, but because they tended to talk to each other, which could give her some idea as to the general state of things, like if they were still looking for the intruders, what was going on or who was in charge, instead she got loaders tromping back and forth wordlessly. They reminded her of Artemis in that regard, quietly going about their business without letting anyone else in.

Shaking the thought off, she slipped out and followed the other girl the rest of the distance across the room and after a brief check, through the far door and found herself in a short hall. On one side was an old office with the lights out, on the other was another smaller room that looked like some kind of shrine to Handsome Jack, with statues and standees, pictures and artifacts. It creeped her out so she moved on.

Artemis also shuddered at the sight of the shrine and turned away, leading them down the hall. So far, she hadn’t found where they’d taken the damaged loaders, which worried her. She felt that they weren’t just being taken down here to get them out of the way, but she didn’t hear any sounds of repairs, so she wondered what was going on.

It didn’t take long for her to find out, since the hall ended in a large room with a vaulted ceiling. A second floor was visible behind a railing and she could just make out doors, but she couldn’t tell what was through them. On her level, spread out on the floor were the damaged and destroyed loaders, lined up in neat rows.

At the far end of the room was a man sitting in a chair and over his shoulder, in the dark was an ominous glowing red lens.

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Chapter 13


“Are you the ones who’ve been hurting my friends?” The man asked, scratching at the tangled beard covering his face.

The girls looked at each other, trying to figure out what to tell the crazy man.

“Why would you do that?” He continued, as if he hadn’t noticed the silence “Connie’s not doing so well and I can’t find parts for him anymore, so it’s hard for him to replace them. He’s so tired, he deserves a nice rest, but now he has to use up some of his last energy to fix this and for what, so you could play hero?”

The girls looked at him closer, he was wearing a faded jumpsuit that was so stained that the original color couldn’t be determined under a heavy chest plate. On his back he was wearing some kind of pack, though they couldn’t make it out and over the upper half of his head he had a cracked helmet of some kind. His left arm was bandaged and he kept scratching at it. His right foot twitched occasionally and his dirty beard had pieces of food stuck in it.

He looked like either a Hyperion troop that had gotten left behind and went psycho, or a psycho that had equipped himself from a Hyperion base, though the first one seemed more likely.

“So, uh, been here long?” Gaige tried.

“You hear that, she wants to know if we’ve been here long.” He said over his shoulder at the glowing lens, cracking a smile like he heard a response “That’s right, that’s right. We have been here a long time. It’s been that long already? Nine years? My my my.”

“So, uh, what’s your story?” Gaige asked, glancing around nervously.

“My story? Why do you care? You’re not here to steal it, are you?”

“No, I just want to hear it.”

“Is that so? Is that so? Then I suppose I can tell your friend there.” He replied, looking at Artemis in a way that sent shivers up her spine. “Handsome Jack sent me here, you’ve heard of him, right? Handsome Jack, such an amazing man, and so dashing. He wanted me here, I know it, even though I wasn’t assigned to this place, I was supposed to be helping to build Opportunity, what a wonderful place that way, and to think that he built it on this forsaken planet, what a man. So, like we were saying, I was supposed to be at Opportunity, but I needed some parts out this way and they hadn’t come in yet, so I was out when the glorious city was attacked by those Crimson bastards, the cowards, the things they did, makes me so mad, and the cleanup, yeesh. I only got to see what happened briefly, but if I’d been there…” He shook his head as if to tell them that he would’ve changed things instead of dieing like everyone else.

“After Opportunity fell, I was sent out to the Highlands to try and restore some of the city’s functions, but that town, what was it?” He looked behind himself again “Oh yeah, that’s right, Overlook. They’d rebelled, joined with those Crimson jerks and set up this barrier, killed a whole bunch of our guys in the area, so I couldn’t get anything from there. The next thing I know, the earthquakes go nuts, like I had to abandon my ride cause it gets swallowed whole by the ground.

“So, I stumble back to the nearest outpost, only it’s been abandoned by everyone but Connie, that’s where I met him by the way, he was just the cutest. But then I hear on the radio that Handsome Jack’s dead. Of course I didn’t believe it, I mean, who could kill the man closest to being a living god? But it seemed that everyone else believed. Fools. They abandoned everything and fell over each other to get away. Well not me, I managed to get to this base with Connie, and that’s when I found him, my Jack.”

The look of pure rapture on his face caused both girls to shiver in disgust. He didn’t seem to notice and continued “Sure there were a few others here when I got here, but they all left pretty quickly. Which was fine, I didn’t need them anyway, though I do miss the boys. But I’ve got Connie and I’ve got my loaders and I’ve got Jack, so I’m good.”

He paused and cocked his head “You…you’re a…girl?”

Artemis realized he was talking to her and slowly nodded.

“Ah, I’d thought you were a bit young for my taste, but I’d have been willing to wait, but if you’re a girl, I don’t need you.” He scratched at his beard with renewed intensity. “Begone.”

“Yeah, uh, so, we’ll be leaving now, thanks for the story.” Gaige said, giving him a small wave as she started backing out, only to be stopped by his laugh, which while crazy sounding, wasn’t crazy enough for the situation.

“Oh, she thinks she gets to leave? No no no, you trampled on my sanctum and must now pay for your sins.”

He rose from his chair and the device on his back swung around. He grabbed the long heavy arms and tugged them into place. Gaige recognized that device, even though she hadn’t seen one in years, the man was a Hyperion engineer.

As he rose, the lights around the room intensified, and the loaders that had must have been waiting emerged. Gaige looked around, trying to figure out which way they should divvy up their enemies.

“You recognize him?” Came a whisper from her side.

“Never seen him before, least not that I can remember.”

“Not what I was asking, I meant, do you recognize his equipment.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s an old Hyperion engineer.”

“You wanna take him then, Deathtrap can keep our back clear.”

“And what’ll you be doing during this time?”

“Dealing with Connie.”

Gaige followed her line of sight and spotted what had been making the red glow behind the Engineer. The massive bulky frame hadn’t moved, but she could now make out the shape of a Hyperion Constructor lurking behind him.

“Oh, that’s just great.” She whined softly.

“Any advice?”

“Yeah, if it starts Digi-structing anything, shoot it’s lens. If it’s not, shoot its lens. In fact, just shoot it’s lens.”


“Yeah, like he said, unless it’s got some kinda gun turret, then take that out first.”

“Got it.”

“Oh, and if it launches a wave of missiles, try and take them out.”

“Missiles? How many attacks does this thing have?”

“You wanna switch?”

“Tempting.” Before she could say any more, the Engineer slammed the strange exoskeleton arms into the ground, launching himself at them.

The girls threw themselves out of the way as he came down where they’d just been with enough force to crack the floor.

Artemis quickly stopped thinking she’d chosen the wrong opponent and dashed away from the Engineer and his stench, heading straight for the massive Constructor. She could see that it was stationary, with stumpy little legs holding it up, but she figured that it could float away if it wanted to. As she charged, she spotted a hex-like pattern form over its lens and cursed silently as she recognized it as a shield being deployed. Since she lacked an electric weapon at hand, she did what she always did and brought her rifle up, muttering “It’s times like these that I wish I had some of those Holloway grenades.” Then winced at the thought of wanting anything of Holloway’s, she opened fire.

The instant Artemis fired, the Engineer spun around and roared “What are you doing?” and started to make a move towards her, ignoring Gaige entirely, which annoyed her, so she leveled her shotgun and fired a blast at him, catching him in the side.

The blast did little more than stagger him, much to her annoyance, but it did seem to draw his attention back to her.

“Why are you getting in my way? Why are you attacking Connie? What do you have against us?”

“Shut it.” Gaige snapped “You coulda let us walk away, but oh no, you had to attack. Well, we’re gonna fight back.”

“You invaded my home.”

“It wasn’t like you had a sign out.”

“It was well guarded.”

“You know what, screw you, but I’ll give you a little understanding since we did kinda come in here uninvited, but you shoulda put up signs or something.”

“I’ll nail your corpses to the door. That should work for a sign.” He shouted, throwing spittle her way.

“Eww, on both counts, eww.”

He ignored her comments and stepped in to throw an augmented punch her way, forcing her back. It was taking her a bit, but she was starting to remember how to fight his kind, though she realized, it was probably better that she was a bit rusty, since he wasn’t fighting like most of the others had.

As she dodged back, he activated one of the emitters on his pack, firing a bright beam that sliced through the wall behind her as she threw herself out of the way.

“Crap, I’d forgotten about those.” She muttered as she came to her feet.

“Oh-ho, it seems like you’ve fought someone like me before.”

Gaige was tempted to throw her past in his face, but decided that this wasn’t the time to rile him up, especially when she wasn’t winning. Not that she thought she was losing, but so far neither of them had landed any especially telling blows.

Deathtrap was trying to keep a sensor on everyone, making sure that neither of the girls got overwhelmed, but he wished they would hurry up with their opponents, cause the stream of loaders was starting to get on his circuits. He dodged another blast from the HOT loader and fired a caustic beam into its lens in retaliation. He didn’t bother watching it melt, instead he spun and hacked a surveyor out of the air with a Digi-claw strike. He caught the now wingless bot and chucked it into the RPG loader that had just emerged, staggering it and giving him a chance to finish it off with another caustic blast.

Artemis kept firing at the shield, and it cracked, giving her access to the hard interior. She paused to reload her rifle, keeping an eye on the large frame in front of her. Just as she expected, it started to Digi-struct another loader, so she snapped the cylinder on her rifle closed and emptied it again into the exposed lens, disrupting the Digi-struction process.

So far she’d only had to deal with the massive Constructor, something she made a mental note to thank Deathtrap for, since she knew that he was taking most of the heat off of her. As she rapidly reloaded, she spotted the distinct signs of Digi-struction on the small wing like protrusions on the sides of the Constructor and cursed slightly, those weren’t loaders being constructed, but small turrets.

Switching off from shooting the main lens, she spun her rifle up and blasted the first one before it had even finished constructing, but by the time she’d finished that, she was forced to dodge the line of blue bolts flying from the second.

Gaige leaped back from the Engineer again as he took another, increasingly frantic swing at her. It seemed that watching his loaders get taken out was having an effect on his mental state.

With the small amount of room between them, Gaige slapped a new clip into her shotgun just as her opponent fired a series of small projectiles from his other emitter. They arched at her forcing her to dodge, only for him to launch a cutting attack at where she was rolling.

Cursing having an intelligent, or more likely, experienced opponent, she slammed her palm into the ground, shoving herself backwards and away from the attack, but felt a sharp pain in her shoulder as she did so.

She rolled it slightly to make sure it was only a sprain before opening fire again. But again, she watched as the shotgun blast seemed to bounce off his side. She knew she was forgetting something, but she couldn’t remember what it was. There had been a trick to fighting these Engineers, something that wasn’t all that hard to figure out once you thought about it, but he didn’t seem to be giving her any chance to think as he made another leap towards her.

She jumped back again, but this time when he landed, he punched the ground, letting the jack-hammer like fists at the ends of his limbs pound the ground, causing micro-tremors, which combined with her already poor footing from the damage strewn around the area, knocked her on her butt.

She could see the Engineer smirk at this as his mechanical hands grabbed a chunk of the ground and tore it up, hefting it easily despite its considerable weight and lobbed it at her as if it were a toy.

Already in a bad spot, Gaige was forced to hurl herself to the side, rolling across the jagged ground, wincing at the way it felt like it was cutting her up, but managing to avoid the chunk of concrete that smashed where she’d been.

Her opponent took advantage of her precarious position and launched himself at her again, both exoskeleton arms held over his head, ready to smash her when a shot hit him in the back, sending sparks flying and a massive arm appeared in his path, clothes-lining him.

He spun a full rotation in the air before slamming into the ground awkwardly, giving Gaige a chance to scramble to her feet and glance around. Artemis had already spun back and was drilling more shots into the Constructor’s lens, but Deathtrap shot her a thumbs up, even as he launched another scything attack on the loaders around the room.

For her part, Gaige felt grateful, humiliated, but grateful. She wished she’d stop needing rescue, but was glad that she had not one, but two companions to drag her out of danger. Still, she wished that she could be the one doing the rescuing, or better yet, that they didn’t need rescuing at all, that would be a nice change of pace.

She took her frustration out on the Engineer, opening fire only to hear a shout from behind her.

“This things being a pain, anyone got a caustic I could use? Or wanna switch?” Artemis called up, as she paused to reload again.

That was it, that was what she’d forgot Gaige realized, it didn’t matter that the Engineers were partially exposed, their exo-suit was still vulnerable to caustic attacks, so if she couldn’t get his helmet off to blast his brains out, she could melt the suit off his back. She flipped the SMG off her pack and opened fire on the man as he tried to get up.

This time he let out a surprised yelp and tried to get away, slamming one of his power arms into the ground to throw himself a ways, but Gaige’s bullets just chased after him, leaving him sizzling as the caustic material started to eat away at his rig.

For the first time, he started to worry, up until then he’d been taking damage, but it had been negligible, having been mostly absorbed by his armor, but now that armor was disintegrating rapidly and worse yet, he wasn’t connecting with the girl. Even worse, the other two were destroying everything around him, with the robot casually taking out the loaders as fast as they could arrive and the other girl continually hurting Connie, even though she wasn’t doing great amounts of damage, at least he didn’t think so, he was having a hard time checking with the redhead constantly attacking him, even when he dodged, so he just had to hope that he could deal with her before the other one did something irreparable.

Gaige on the other hand, glanced over casually to check on the other two’s progress, making sure to keep one eye on the Engineer. From what she could tell, Deathtrap had things well under control, it seemed that the caustic laser was doing wonders on the loaders and if one got through, he would swoop in and Digi-claw it. Artemis on the other hand wasn’t making any noticeable progress, but Gaige could tell that the Constructor was nearing its end, something that she could only tell due to having faced off against her fair share of them back when she was Vault Hunting.

Artemis let out another sigh as she casually picked off another set of the turrets that had Digi-structed on the sides of the Constructor. It seemed to pick between them, trying to construct a loader, placing a larger gun in front of itself and firing a barrage of missiles, though it hadn’t done that often, leading her to suspect that it didn’t have a lot of them, or there was something wrong with it.

Just as she thought that, it launched another wave of the missiles at her. Deathtrap let out a burble and they turned the other way, him casually slicing through the wave of missiles and her dropping the next two loaders that had appeared.

Nodding to him, she called out “You wanna switch?”

“Urur” He replied, motioning to how he could see over the rail. She shrugged in response and after giving him a wave, turned back to continue chipping away at her opponent.

Gaige watched and was about to comment, when the Engineer launched an attack at her, firing his cutter to get her to dodge, but then instead of attacking her, he slammed his hands into the ground and launched himself at Artemis’s exposed back.

Before Gaige could shout a warning, the other girl ducked, throwing herself backwards and rolling behind him. Coming up with an irate expression, she drew her backup piece and ducked under the wild backhand he tried to deliver as he turned before slamming the barrel of the gun into his mouth and pulling the trigger.

His corpse fell backwards as she turned and shot a twitching expression at Gaige “That’s why I wanted to switch.”

“Yeah, yeah, show off.” Gaige retorted with an eye-roll, while opening fire on the Constructor.

Artemis shot her a dirty look as she holstered her backup gun and resumed firing at the sparking and dying Constructor.

It didn’t take long under their attacks for it to collapse, its lens darkening permanently.

The girls stared at it for a while to make sure it was truly finished as Deathtrap continued taking out the loaders as they started to taper off, which he took as a good sign, without leadership, they wouldn’t think to set a trap to lull him into a false sense of security, not that he was going to let his guard down just cause he thought they were finished.

“Well, that was an unnecessary pain.” Artemis groaned, stretching her back.

“Yeah, if only we hadn’t killed his precious loaders.” Gaige shot back.

“Oh, like he would’ve let us leave no matter what.”

“I know, I just wanted to bitch.”

Artemis didn’t respond for a second, which made Gaige suddenly feel insecure, like she didn’t know if she’d pushed things too far.

“So now what?” Was all Artemis said, when she finally spoke up.


“Thought I was clear.”

“You were, except which now what were you meaning.”

“Wait, there’s more than one?”

“Yeah, there’s the now what are we going to do in regards to finding an exit, to checking to see where we’re going next and the now what’re we going to do between us?”

“Uh, wait, what? I was just meaning right now, what are we going to do right now, like are we going to try and look around, see if there’s anything useful, like a back way out, or should we not stick around here much longer and try and rush the last loaders?”

“There shouldn’t be that many loaders left.”

“Maybe, but did anybody, and by that, I mean you bud, kill either of the WAR loaders?”


“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, knowing that, I’ll ask again, now what?”

“Ah, that makes sense.” Gaige said, clearly trying to stall while she thought of an answer. After a painfully long few seconds she continued “Well, since there are still WAR loaders up, that means either they can’t make it down here, they’re on their way, but due to their slow walk speed haven’t made it yet, or more likely, they were left to defend the base, mostly cause they’re less useful indoors. Which means that, if they’re staying up there, then there’s no harm in looking around here and seeing if there’s a back way out.”

“That’s what I was thinking too.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

“Cause I wanted to see if you had any other thoughts.”

“Well, I don’t.”

“Clearly.” Artemis turned away from the devolving conversation and called up “What can you see in those rooms?”

“Uggru gruug”

“I see, well, we should check behind the Constructor, see if there’s anything else down here and if not, then move up to check those out.”

“Works for me, though you sure you don’t want to split up and have me check up there.”

“No.” Artemis flatly replied, clearly telling Gaige that she didn’t trust her if she found any alcohol, which she couldn’t blame her for.

They headed behind the fallen Constructor and found a small room filled with junk and tools which they took to be the Engineer’s workshop. Gaige did better at identifying the loader parts that were strewn around and while she found a good number of interesting parts, she didn’t find anything that would be of immediate use, so they left and headed up.

They found exactly what Deathtrap had said they would, small rooms that had until recently held loaders. The Engineer must have liked having them around to talk to because they found names painted next to the doors.

At the end of the room, directly over the workshop, they found what must have been his bedroom. A filth encrusted mattress so vile that even a bandit would’ve tossed it away was thrown in the corner. A small vertical Hyperion ammo crate was being used as an end-table with a lamp sitting on it that seemed to have been constructed from one of the Handsome Jack statues. The only other thing of note in the room was another Handsome Jack standee propped against the wall.

“Well, this was a bust.” Gaige seethed, lashing out with a kick towards the standee, hoping that would take out some of her frustration.

Her kick sent the Jack flying across the room with a completely unsatisfying flap, but that didn’t matter as both girls looked at the wall that had just been exposed and the door sitting in it.

“You’d think he’d have tried to set up his throne so that he could flee.” Artemis said.

“I don’t think he thought much at all.” Gaige retorted.

“True. So, shall we see where it goes?”

“Well, he must’ve hidden it for a reason, so maybe we shouldn’t.”


“No, of course not really.” Gaige snapped.

“You’re a nasty sober.” Artemis muttered.

“Sorry.” Gaige said, sounding like she meant it.

“Forget it.” Artemis said, motioning for Deathtrap to come over.

Once he was there, she crouched down and listened to the door for a minute, before softly saying “Nothin.”

“Babe, you wanna do the honors?” Gaige asked as she readied her shotgun.

Deathtrap nodded and moved to the door, gripping the handle firmly and once both girls were in position, yanked it open, revealing the dark concrete tunnel within.

Slowly the girls leaned in to see and after a long moment, Gaige asked “So, uh, you got a light?”

“Of course I do.” Artemis snapped, “You saw it earlier.”

“Yeah, I was just trying to be polite, no need to be such a bitch about it.”

“You call me that a lot and I don’t know, sometimes it sounds mean, others, well, almost affectionate.”

Gaige’s retort was brought up short by Deathtrap shooting her a warning look, so after a moment of mulling, she answered “Usually I mean it as a, well not nickname, but, you know, how I call Deathtrap babe. But, yes, sometimes when you’re being snotty or I’m being mean, I do mean it as an insult. Sorry that I can’t think of anything else to call you, but when you’re being a bitch, you’re being a bitch.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“We good?”

“Eh, yeah, we’re good.” Artemis said without showing much emotion as she dug out her light, but Gaige knew that she was just embarrassed about it, so she let it go.

Once she’d gotten the light out, Artemis took point, moving into the tunnel. They traveled in silence for a long way, or maybe it just felt that way to them, since the tunnel had no features and seemed to go on forever to the point that they were feeling like they were stuck in a dream.

But eventually they came to a set of stairs leading up and at the top of them was another door. Stepping through it, Artemis was surprised to see that they were on the cliff-side the opposite direction from where they’d left the Technical. Looking down and to the side, she could see the base they’d just been in. From where they were, she could make out the loaders around the wall as well as the WAR loader in the courtyard.

Gaige quietly moved up next to her and clicked her tongue “Damn, we went around the wrong way.”

“Wasn’t like there were options.”

“No, no, not that, it’s just that if the tunnel had gone the other way, we could’ve dropped down next to the Technical and drove away. Instead, we’re gonna have to go around the base again.”

“Ah. So, you got a way down?”

“Yeah, I could push you.” Gaige said with a smirk, but seeing the horrified look on the other girl’s face, not to mention the cold look coming from Deathtrap, she quickly tried to cover herself “I’m kidding, geez, learn to take a joke you two. But seriously, we could use your cable to slide down, or we could try and find a path down, I mean, if there’s an escape route up here, it’d make sense for there to be a way down.”


“Yeah, I know you could carry us, but I’d rather not, we don’t know what’s waiting for us down there.”

“Might be Stalkers.” Artemis said, rolling onto her toes and stretching upward, like that would allow her to see better.”

Gaige didn’t respond, only felt an unconscious shiver run down her back.

“You don’t like Stalkers, do you?”


“There’s a story there.”


“You gonna tell it?”

“Not here.” Gaige knew she had to start opening up, but in this case, she wanted to be as far away from Stalker territory as she could when she did, like on another planet.

For her part, Artemis just nodded and leaned out a bit further, looking down “Well, I don’t see any down there.”

“They’re invisible.”

“Nah, there’s a slight distortion around them.”


“Yeah, how do you think I fought that one?”

“Hunter magic?”

Artemis blinked and let out a soft giggle “I wish.”

Taken by surprise at the girlishness of that moment, Gaige stared at her, but as quickly as it happened, it was gone and Artemis was talking again “Well, I think I see the way that they were supposed to get down.” She pointed to a series of shattered and crumbling stones. “Bad news is, it looks like something destroyed it.”

“Probably the earthquakes.” Gaige said with a knowing nod. Catching the look from Artemis she continued “Back when I was a Vault Hunter, Jack was doing a lot of Eridium mining and processing, but that was destabilizing parts of the planet, which led to some rather noticeable tremors.”


“Anyway, history lesson’s over, we should get down.”

Artemis nodded and pulled the cable off of the side of her pack while looking around for something to tie it to.

As soon as she had, Gaige tossed the end over and started to descend, leaving Artemis to hurry to catch up.

Just as she got to the bottom, Gaige heard a shout of “Look out!” Right before something slammed into her side, throwing her across the ground to land in a heap.

Artemis dropped the last ways, trying to get between her fallen friend and the badass psycho that’d hit her, but before she could, another figure stepped out and she found herself facing Volupta, who was glaring at her with naked fury as she rubbed her raw cheek along the line where Artemis had slashed her.

“Well, well.” She tittered in a crazy sounding voice “Look who finally returned to me.”

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Chapter 14


“What d’ya want?” Artemis snarled, trying to check to see if Gaige was alright.

“What do…You dare ask that? After what you did to me?!” The busty monstrosity shrieked.

Artemis scratched her head, as if she was trying to remember what she’d done to set the woman off, but ended up shrugging “Well, yeah.”

“You…you…” She sputtered “You marred my beautiful face! You gashed it open.”

“Oh, is that all? I mean, an Insti-health shoulda fixed that right up. Plus, you were kinda threatening my friend, so there is that.” Artemis said, a bit disinterestedly as she made sure that Gaige was alright.

“SILENCE! You break into my house, kill my artist and then disfigure me!” She shouted, foam forming at the corners of her mouth “And then your excuse is that it could be fixed? It could be fixed? I can still feel it, every time I talk, every time I touch it, I feel the scar, the disgusting mark that destroys my perfect beauty.”

“Uh, you know that what you’re feeling is the skin you rubbed raw, right?”

The woman fixed her with a glare even as her finger continued to rub back and forth across her cheek. A pinkish liquid started to ooze down from the ugly red wound she was inflicting upon herself, but she didn’t seem to notice, instead her twitching smile crawled back onto her face.

“Oh, but I’ll make you pay. The things I’ll do to you, you’ll serve as a warning to all the others what will happen to anyone that crosses me. Maybe that loser Handsome Jack was onto something…It’s just a pity that your face is so…so…blah, otherwise I’d try it out for a mask and your girlfriend is barely any better…Oh, but I can still use you, yes I can, maybe bathing in your blood will help restore my face, but then, no, that might not work, you being so plain and all, still you are young…Oh, are you a virgin? That always helps.”

Artemis couldn’t figure out what to feel at first, but she felt something crack inside herself as a rising anger took hold while the psycho continued.

“Who’re you calling plain?” She said in a soft flat tone, her eyes sparking dangerously.

“Why you, of course. If that upsets you, then you’ve never seen a mirror.”

“Who gives a crap about me, I know I’m a monster, but what’d you say about my friend?”

“Your…That’s what upset you?”

“I’m gonna puncture those overinflated…ego…of yours.” Artemis hissed, a creepy smile of her own stretching across her face “Buddy. Go help her out, this one’s mine.”

Volupta stepped back unconsciously “You think I’m going to fight you? Preposterous. Take her, but keep her alive.” She declared with a hand wave.

Artemis responded by whipping her left hand around, throwing something low through the crowd of psychos and bandits. The object traveled a good way considering the density of the people in front of her, but that was why she’d aimed low, to get it to fly between their legs. When the grenade finally landed, it immediately exploded into a fire nova, before beginning to rain down fireballs onto the crowd.

As they screamed and thrashed, she just continued smiling “Now then, shall we?”

Gaige had taken the blow badly, getting thrown a ways before landing, in the process she’d lost her gun and before she could grab another, she’d found herself looking at the end of a badass psycho’s hammer, which had hooked under her chin to pull her face up. The psycho looked down at her, distracting her as she heard the boss begin to rant and rave.

Realizing that the psycho wasn’t going to do anything until the conversation was finished, she turned part of her attention to what was being said, and quickly realized that Artemis should never be put in charge of negotiations.

It wasn’t that she didn’t agree with just about everything she was saying, it was just that she was egging on a raving psychopath, but then the woman crossed some kind of line and Artemis got angry, though Gaige couldn’t really tell what had set her off, mostly because her responses were so soft and low that Gaige was having a hard time making them out, but she could hear the crackling anger in them.

Then she felt a surge of disappointment as she heard her call herself a monster again. Gaige had thought that she was over that, that she’d accepted that part of herself at least a little, but it seemed that deep down, she hadn’t.

In her disappointment, she missed the next bit, but she caught the sudden instructions to Deathtrap and knew that things were about to start, so she subtly shifted her weight so that she could get at the only weapon that she could and waited.

The psychos began to charge, only for them to be interrupted by a giant explosion in their midst, one that Gaige recognized well, so she slid forward, off of the psycho’s hammer and drew her own melee weapon and swung it upward, connecting with the badass’s fingers with a satisfying crunch.

“Owchie!” The psycho yelled, leaping back still managing to hold onto its hammer and gave her a slight appraising look, before laughing at her. Motioning with its hammer at hers, he yelled “Tiny baby in your hands, make mine a meat puppy!”

Gaige regretted listening to him as she tried to fall back to draw a gun, but the psycho didn’t want to give her any time as it sprung forward, swinging it’s hammer recklessly and forcing her to dodge.

It seemed that the others around them were willing to give her to the badass since they fell back to form a ring around them, even as Gaige caught out of the corner of her eye Deathtrap wadding into the back of the pack, and laying waste to them.

Turning her full attention to the fight at hand, she ducked under another wild swing and popped up to deliver a blow to the back of the psycho’s elbow. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do enough damage to really do much beyond annoying him, since he spun the hammer around and tried to slam it onto her, forcing her to dodge again.

He seemed to be getting annoyed with her constant moving, which she interpreted more from his body posture and increasingly wild swings, rather than the yelling of “The intestine balloon waves in the wind.”

After another particularly wild overhead swing, she darted in and delivered another bone-breaking hammer blow to his fingers, causing him to roar in pain. He wrenched the hammer out of the ground and started to spin, forcing her back as the hammer cleared a large amount of space around him. As Gaige managed to get out of the immediate danger, she realized that this was the reason that the rest of them had fallen back, they were worried about getting hit by one of their own.

Just as she realized that, her back hit one of them and he gave her a mighty shove, hoping to throw her into the path of the spinning hammer. Forced to act instantly, she dropped into a roll, feeling the hammer tear at the ends of her ponytails as she did.

Coming to a crouch at his feet, Gaige remembered her time on Jaka suddenly and slammed her hammer down onto the top of one of his feet, breaking enough bones to cause the psycho’s hammer to yank him off balance.

Wasting no time, she sprung up and leaped onto the fallen psycho’s back, bringing her hammer down on the back of his skull with a bone shattering crunch.

After the second blow, he stopped moving, giving her a second to holster her hammer and draw the rifle off her back and opening fire on the stunned crowd.

Deathtrap sliced through the nearest bandit, pushing ever closer to where Gaige was fighting, he knew that if he flew up, he could get to her in seconds, but if he did that, the psychos on this side would attack Artemis from behind and the bandits would all be able to target him, so he had popped his Digi-claws and wadded into the melee.

He managed to get a good look at Gaige finishing off the badass that she’d been tangling with and pop up with her rifle. Knowing things were about to get more chaotic, he took a second to expand his sensor range to include Artemis and saw that she was doing alright, so he continued following her instructions and backed Gaige up.

He was a bit worried about Artemis, not that she couldn’t handle the woman she was facing, but that her anger might be the symptom of something else that was bothering her. He would have to talk to her about it, or better yet, if Gaige had heard her, there was a chance that she might bring it up, even if that chance was slim.

He debated telling her about it, but he worried that if he did, it would either lead to Gaige relying on him to tell her when something was wrong, or that Artemis would feel it was a breach of trust. He stuck his crystal into their business as often as he felt he needed, but to overdo it would be counterproductive, so he had to find a balance.

Still, he was grateful that they seemed to be getting along better. They still had their issues, but they were slowly airing them, so things were moving the right direction for once.

Resolving to think about it some more later, he caught and chucked a leaping psycho into a badass with a rocket launcher, knocking their aim off and sending the explosive ordinance into a group of their allies as he finally made his way up to where Gaige was fighting.

“Well, look who decided to show up, were you on break?”

He knew she was just blowing off steam at being caught off guard, but he still rolled his eyes internally and responded with a “Uggrug”

“Yeah, we could all use one.” Gaige nodded in response “Tell you what, we finish this mess off and we can take a nice break before we head back, or better yet, we can take one once we get back.”

He shrugged and replied with a noncommittal “Urrur”

“Yeah, I guess she should get some say in it, how’s she doing anyway?”

Artemis dodged around the oncoming psycho, firing her pistol into his head on the way past. She clicked her tongue in frustration and holstered the empty sidearm while punching her blade into the throat of another bandit.

She was quickly losing her patents, not that she had many to begin with. Her opponent kept falling back, throwing more and more of her followers in front of herself to try and buy time. Artemis was chewing through them without any real problem, but she was running out of loaded guns and there wasn’t enough time to reload, even with as quick as she was, so she was having to rely on melee more then she liked.

It wasn’t that she was bad at it, it was just that she didn’t like it all that much. It wasn’t something she’d trained herself in to the same degree as the rest of her hunting skills, especially since it was only really useful if something got the jump on her, or she was overwhelmed by numbers, so while she wasn’t bad at it, she knew she wasn’t all that good at it either.

Still, she was making progress.

She let the bandit fall as she retracted the blade and spun around another psycho to find herself facing Volupta. The woman’s face had paled considerably, making the raw red line cutting across her cheek stand out even more. The only other color on her face, aside from her makeup, was the splotchy red of her fury, but even that was being overshadowed by fear.

She’d thought that she’d win, if not through sheer numbers, then because she was special and would therefore always win, but Artemis knew that there was no one like that in the galaxy, everyone lost some time, it was just a matter of when.

Two bandits threw themselves in front of her, bringing their guns up, which Artemis thought absently was foolish, they should’ve stayed where they were and shot as she approached their boss, or at least jumped out with their guns up, instead she stepped in faster than they could get their weapons up and slashed through their throats, letting them fall as she stepped between them and continued towards her target.

It wasn’t like she wasn’t getting hit, in fact, her shield was almost depleted, but she wasn’t about to show this big breasted behemoth any weakness, something had snapped inside her and she wanted this woman to realize her mistake before she died and nothing said that quite like an unstoppable force.

As she made her final approach, the woman snapped up her pistol and opened fire, but her hand was shaking so much that it would’ve been harder to try and dodge. The few shots that did manage to hit their target weakened Artemis’s shield to next to nothing.

Her gun clicked repeatedly as she kept pulling the trigger, but then, something in her eyes changed and a slight smirk touched the corners of her lips. A Digi-blade suddenly popped out from under the barrel and she lunged forward with a fair amount of skill, nearly catching Artemis off guard.

She must have been more skilled at melee, Artemis decided, either that, or she figured that acting scared and throwing her shots around to weaken her shield would be a better use of her bullets then launching an attack that would be dodged. Either way, she was tricky.

As good as Artemis’s reflexes were, she wasn’t able to completely dodge the attack, catching the blade across her shoulder. The cut wasn’t too bad and wouldn’t impede her movement, but it screamed out in pain, forcing her to stop attacking for a moment, which seemed to embolden the woman.

“No, no.” She crowed “Don’t bleed too much just yet, I want to see you writhing in agony as I slowly bleed you dry as I sit underneath you, bathing in your blood.”

Artemis didn’t reply, instead she focused on defense as well as making sure that Volupta wasn’t trying to distract her so that one of her underlings could back-stab her.

But it seemed that wasn’t her goal, since she dashed in and tried to stab again and again, her blade darting forward at high speed.

Frustrated with her lack of connection after her first strike, she started to lose it “Why won’t you be a good little bitch and die for me, if you do, I promise to make your friend’s death only agonizing rather than the full course of excruciating suffering that I’m going to inflict upon her. Tell you what, as an added bonus, I won’t make her watch as I bleed you out.”

Artemis ground her teeth as the woman trailed off into a fit of giggles and felt the fury rise within her again. She was sick of this, sick of all these psychos threatening her friend, of ranting and raving at them, of hurting them. She knew it was par for course with the kind of lives they led, but it would be nice if just for once, things would be easy, if things would work out the way they were supposed to without all the suffering.

It would also be nice if she could stop feeling what she felt, and that might have been what was really pissing her off, that no matter how much she knew it was wrong, how much she knew it would only bring pain and suffering, her feelings were only getting stronger.

But for right then, she’d had enough of this cow, so she let her guard drop ever so slightly. The woman took the bait and lunged in at her usual high speed, only this time Artemis ducked to the side and threw a punch at the exposed elbow.

While she connected fairly solidly, the punch didn’t break the bone, only sent the arm flying across her body, but it did send her gun flying into the corpses littering the area.

With a howl of frustration, the woman jumped at her, catching her off guard and pushing her back. Artemis felt the woman’s thin fingers clamp around her throat with surprising strength as she let out an unintelligible shriek and started throttling the smaller girl.

In desperation, Artemis didn’t try and pry the hands off, instead she grabbed hold of the woman’s arm with her right hand, and punched it with her left. She felt the bone snap like a dry twig and heard the woman howl in pain as her grip loosened. Artemis shoved the arm back and the broken bone tore through the skin and into the woman’s throat.

Volupta staggered back, flailing with her good hand at the foreign object she suddenly found jammed into her neck and yanked it out with a spray of blood. She staggered back and forth while her mouth flapped noiselessly, unable to comprehend what had happened to her.

For her part, Artemis blinked in surprise, she hadn’t fully intended that to happen, in fact, she felt a little disappointment, she’d wanted to slice the woman’s face a few times before killing her, or maybe give those overinflated things hanging off her chest a good punch, but instead, the woman was dying like this.

‘Oh well.’ She thought, turning part of her attention to the rest of the bandits to see how they were reacting. As she’d feared, they seemed to have gone into a frenzy with some of them wailing, but mostly they were split between trying to get to their boss and trying to get to Artemis.

“Well, that’s not good.” She muttered as the hoard turned on her with hate filled eyes.

Gaige felt the shift in her opponents and spotted the target of their malice, as well as Volupta, who was staggering slowly, blood pumping from a wound in her neck.

Realizing what was about to happen, she called out “Babe, help her, now.”

Even before she’d finished shouting, Deathtrap was plowing into the back of the mob, spinning with his Digi-claws out to tear through them.

Gaige trusted that with his backup Artemis could handle what she was facing, so she turned back to the bandits around her and resumed firing, watching the bullets tear through them with increasing ease.

It didn’t take long before she heard the sounds of a second assault rifle opening fire and shortly after that, the last of the bandits fell dead.

Gaige let out a sigh of relief and looked around. Artemis and Deathtrap appeared to be alright, so she walked over to them, rather than doing her usual check of the dead’s weapons.

When she got there, before she could speak, she heard a weak gurgling and looked down to where Volupta was laying, blood still oozing from the tear in her throat, her eyes weakly found Gaige and seemed to be trying to convey something, whether it was pleading with her to finish her off, or trying to convince her to spare her, Gaige couldn’t tell, but either way, Gaige spun to the other two and swore.

“Oh for…Would one of you just finish the…her off?”

“She’s dead anyway.” Artemis flatly said, rubbing her throat for some reason.

“I thought you were one of those who always made sure their opponents were dead.”

“I haven’t turned my back on her yet, have I?”

“Just put her out of her suffering.”

“Some people deserve to suffer.” Artemis muttered as she walked over and stabbed the woman through the chest.

“If you say things like that, then someday it might be you laying there.” Gaige warned.

“Probably will be.” Came the noncommittal response.

“You’ve got issues and we need to talk about them. Again.”

“Great, I can’t wait.”

Gaige shook her head and turned to Deathtrap “And you, what were you doing just letting this happen?”

The robot looked around as if to say ‘Who, me?’, but when Gaige just continued to fix him with a hard flat stare, he hung his head and let out a soft “Urrrr”

“I know she deserved to die, and probably badly at that, but that’s no reason to make her suffer, is it?”


“So don’t let it happen again.”

With that, Gaige walked off to go loot the dead so that they could get outta there.



The ride back had been uncomfortable, there had been some unsaid thing hanging between them, so Gaige hadn’t really pushed to start a conversation or asked if Artemis wanted to ride up front with her, which had led to the ride feeling longer than it had on the way in. A few times, she’d almost tried to say something, if for no other reason than to break up the monotony, but she couldn’t figure out what to say, so she’d just let her mouth close again. She knew that anything like this would just fester and lead them to another confrontation, but she couldn’t even figure out what’d went wrong, if anything, or what she was feeling, so she didn’t know how to say anything, and she knew that unless things were really wrong, Artemis would never start the conversation, which left her only hope being Deathtrap, and he seemed to be being rather quiet at the moment, so it seemed unlikely that he’d be much help.

So they’d reached Boomtown without anything being said and quickly found where Tina was sitting, messing with something that looked like it would explode, so they’d stood off to the side until she spotted them.

“Greetings ladies, and how is the party shaping up?”

“We found the stuff, I think.” Gaige said, too tired to play along with Tina at the moment.

Artemis and Deathtrap set the gear onto the table and Tina nodded in approval.

“Yes, these gents will do nicely.” She grinned until her eyes fell on the watches and a dark shadow passed behind her eyes.

Catching it and the meaning behind it, Gaige said “Thought it would be the best and most satisfactory use of them to blow them up helping me…us.”

A crooked smile twitched at the corners of Tina’s mouth at the thought.

“And the other things?” She asked.

“Other…oh yeah, let’s just say that that Pollux Warhull’s paintings are going up in value as we speak.”

Tina cocked her head as if she wasn’t following.

“He’s dead.” Artemis flatly interjected.

“Ah. Take that you Skag butt sniffin, two-bit knock off defamer o’ Tina’s.” Clearing her throat, she continued “And the other one?”

“That truly monstrous creature’s dead as well.” Artemis spat.

“Last time she steals somebody’s girlfriend, specially mine.” Tina nodded. “Well then, you haz upheld your end o’ the bargain, so there’s just a one more thing I needz before I can begin.”

The girls groaned.

“Tina, haven’t they done enough?” Mordecai asked while walking up with Brick.

“Shut it Mordi! I wasna gonna ask them for nothin else, I just be wonderin, would you two’s be interested in a game of Bunker’s & Badasses? I mean, obviously not right now, but I’s always lookin for mo playas, even if it just be a quick one-shot.”

“Uh…sure?” Gaige replied, nervously looking around.

“Yes! I’z totally gonna run you through my campaign.”

“Tina.” Brick said from the side “If you want 'em to come back, don’t kill 'em in the first session.”

“Wha…but…booo, fine. You’z right, but only for the first hour or so, then, da gloves come off. Oh, and no playin the Siren, she be Bricks.”

“She’s the prettiest.”

“I have no idea what they’re talking about.” Artemis muttered, shaking her head.

“Yeah, I feel ya.” Mordecai said, nodding.

Tina happily turned back from Brick and announced “Good, good, now scoot, the grand Crunk Bunny’s got to introduce these gents to the rest of the party goers.”

“Come on, leave her to it.” Mordecai said, leading them away.

A minute later, the girls found themselves sitting in a familiar spot overlooking the Pandoran landscape.

“We had our first real heart to heart here, didn’t we?” Gaige asked, trying to break the ice.

“Hmmm.” Came the noncommittal response.

“Look, we need to talk and this place seems as good a spot as any.”

“Now what?” Artemis muttered, noticeably deflating.

“First off, stop that, it’s not always bad.”

“Every time I hear ‘we need to talk’ it turns out that way.”

“No it doesn’t. I mean, there was that one time on the Project Odysseus site.”

“It still went wrong though.”

“Only cause you jumped to conclusions. And before you do that again, just listen to what I have to say. I just wish I knew what it was I needed to say.”

“Well, that’s a great start.”

“Don’t be so crabby.”

“Me? You say we need to talk, but then have no idea about what.”

“Well, when you put it like that…You know what, you’re right. It’s just that I spent the entire trip back here trying to figure this out and got nowhere, so I was kinda hoping that if we started talking, I’d figure it out, only now that I’m here, I feel kinda silly.”


Gaige had hoped that the other girl would’ve opened up and said what’d been bothering her, or that Gaige had been imagining things, instead all she got was a minor acknowledgment that they were talking. Just as she was feeling the frustration boiling over, Artemis spoke back up.

“There was one thing,” She paused till Gaige nodded for her to keep going “What’s with you and Stalkers?”

“I don’t have any stalkers. Well, aside from Holloway and you.”

She regretted the joke instantly as the other girl curled up on herself. Gaige quickly tried to spin it with a “It was a joke, I know you’re not a stalker, it’s just that I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“It’s alright, I know I’m creepy. OW!”

Gaige punched her in the arm and when the girl looked up, she held her fist up threateningly “You are not creepy, nor are you a monster or any of those other things, you’re a beautiful young woman who deserves to be happy and have better friends then what you’ve got, so stop doing that.”

“Sorry.” She curled away, making Gaige feel worse. She almost asked for Artemis to punch her back, but knew that she wouldn’t, so she tried to change subjects, knowing that this one wasn’t going to go anywhere “Now, what were you talking about?”

“Um, oh yeah, the Stalkers, what’s with you and being afraid of them?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it being afraid, more of that I just really don’t like them.” She tried not to look at that other girl as her mind spun. She knew it was time to open up, show that she was flawed too, but it scared her to show that side of her, like she thought that everyone would leave her if she did, even though she knew better, then it hit her that that was exactly how Artemis felt all the time, so she sighed and continued.

In the end, she told Artemis all about her bad encounter with the Stalker and how afterwards, she’d been a bit reluctant to face them. It wasn’t that she had a problem with invisible opponents, it was just something about the Stalker’s face as she’d turned to look up at it that unsettled her deeply.

Artemis sat there in silence for a long moment, then finally said “We’ve all got those, things we don’t like facing, you shoulda just told me and I would’ve tried to figure out a way further around them. But there is one good thing here.”

“And what’s that? That you’ve got something to mock me about now?”

“I’d never…”

“I know, though there are times I wish you would, it’d make this feel more like a friendship or something. But anyway, what good thing have you got?”

“Uh, well…”

“Just spit it out.”

“Uh, alright. You remember those twins, on the Project Odysseus station? You know the, uh, what were their names? The death guys, the ones that had the shields.”

“Oh yeah, what were their names? Hadis? No, Hades, that’s it, Hades.”

“Yeah them.”

“What about them?”

“Well, you remember how they went invisible? And how we took the devices off of them? I just remembered that we never did anything with them, I’d completely forgotten about them till we had to deal with the Stalkers.”

“Oh yeah. Once we get back, we definitely need to look into them. Speaking of getting back, where to from here?”

“What? I was hoping you’d know.”

“Nope. I mean, we’re kinda low on clues at the moment.”

“What about the bots? Didn’t we find anything about them? Like where they came from?”

“Hmm, I was able to pull the serial numbers off of them, but that’s about it.”

“Well, can we at least find out where they were made? I mean, you said that they were straight off the production line, right? So maybe whomever modified them was there, or at least we might be able to find some kind of records of where they were shipped, or who bought them.”

“That’s assuming that whomever bought the company didn’t destroy them or that the investigators didn’t take them.”

“Well, what other options do we have? Wait around until they attack again?”

“No. Well, I mean, yes, that is an option, but I reject it. I’ve never been one to sit around and do nothing while my enemies attacked.”

“Except with Holloway.”

“Bitch. Fine, you’re right, but there wasn’t anything I could do in that case, was there?”

“No. But there is one thing.”


“The fact that we could find the serial numbers and they weren’t filed off, might mean this is a trap.”

“Wasn’t this your idea?”

“Yeah, but I’m just putting it out there that this might not be a good move.”

“Well, it’s the only one we have, so as soon as we’re done here, let’s get going.”

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Chapter 15


After getting their bombs from Tina and saying their goodbyes, they headed back to the Hunter’s Moon and started researching into both the viability of the invisibility devices as well as the serial numbers of the bots that had attacked them.

They quickly found out that all of the bots had been built in the same factory and that it was located on a far-off planet called Burgloth, which Artemis knew a bit about from her hunting. It was an ice world that’s description reminded Gaige of Xylourgos, which didn’t help her state of mind in wanting to go there.

Still, they had no other leads, so they didn’t have any other options other than sitting around and waiting, and since neither of them were the kind to do that, they set in the course.

On the way, they contacted A.I.ngel and checked in with her. It turned out that she had fixed the problem there and wished she could go with, but understood that she was in the opposite direction from them, but promised to help in any way she could.

Next Gaige checked in with her dad, not just to talk to him, but to make sure he was alright since Holloway wouldn’t have any problem targeting civilians to get his revenge, but nothing had happened on Eden 5 since they’d been there, which took a great weight off of Gaige’s heart.

They spent the rest of the trip trying to get ready for whatever they might encounter and, in the end, managed to fix one of the invisibility devices, though that led to another argument about who should carry it.

“It should be either you or Deathtrap.” Artemis said “I’m good enough without it.”

“No, you should get it, I mean, it was you who remembered it and besides, you’re the one usually sticking your neck out to scout for us.”

“And I’m used to being stealthily enough.”

“But in a fight, you’re the only one that has to stick themselves out into fire to shoot back.”

“So does Deathtrap, so he should get it, besides, he could sweep in without enemies seeing him, or charge up his deathlaser without being seen and targeted.”

“Maybe, but probably not, considering there’s a distinct red glow, plus that might interfere with the invisibility system.”

In the end it was Deathtrap that came up with a solution, since it was a transferable device, Artemis would carry it while scouting and she could hand it off to either him or Gaige as needed.

So, with that out of the way they made their way to the surface of the planet and found themselves in a small town coated in ice.

At first glance it didn’t seem to be inhabited, but after a moment they could make out the faint lights coming from some of the windows.

“Hospitable.” Gaige muttered, looking around. She could barely make out the doors through the icicles that hung from the low eves and trailed till they met the ground. After a moment, she realized she was mistaken, the eves weren’t low, it was just that the snow had built up to the point that most of the houses were buried. “We just had to make it here in the middle of winter.”

Artemis shrugged and looked at her compass, trying to orientate herself. She was bundled up in her new Orochi hide jacket and had a pair of goggles pulled over her eyes. A thick scarf was wrapped around her lower face and her hood was up. She’d also opted to wear a thicker, intact pair of jeans and had installed heating elements into all of their cybernetics.

“Could be worse.” She said.


“Yeah, this is almost pleasant compared to Gralin.”

“Jeez, how cold was that moon.” Gaige muttered, hugging her jacket tighter. She’d opted to wear the coat that she’d got for her birthday over a heavy sweater, which she found a bit restrictive feeling. Truth was, it wasn’t any colder here then it had been on Xylourgos. If anything, it was nicer here, but that may have had to do with the preparations she’d made, not to mention the heater in her arm.

“Come on, it’s this way.” Artemis said, leading them out of town.

“Why couldn’t we just arrive closer? I mean, there has to be some kind of town or something nearer to the factory where the employees lived.”

“Yeah, but we’re not registered to its fast travel network, so this was the closest we could get. Plus, we don’t want to announce our arrival to anyone still at the factory.”

“Inconvenient is what it is.”

Artemis wasn’t going to argue that, not when she totally agreed, but bitching about it wasn’t going to get them there any faster, so she tightened the straps on her pack and started walking. She wished there was some kind of transport she could rent to speed this up, but with everything closed for the season, she doubted that she could find anything.

“Any idea if we could get some kind of a transport?” She asked Gaige out of desperation.

“Not that I know of, I mean, Xylouros was at least this cold, but there were still bandits and stuff running around there. But here? It seems like everybody’s hibernating.”

“Oh well, worth a shot.”

They trudged out of town, feeling the cold wind’s bite increase as they left the relative shelter of the town and started the long hike across the snowy plains to where the factory was. Gaige tried to keep in Artemis’s shadow as much as possible, using her to try and block the wind, despite the size difference between them. She knew that Deathtrap was doing the same thing to her and that they’d switch out who was in the front to try and ease the strain.

The cold seemed to suck the desire to talk out of her and she felt the fatigue setting in as she continued to march her way across the plain. The sun was out, at least as much of it as could be seen through the solid gray mass swirling over them. To her surprise, the snow didn’t seem all that deep at first, but she quickly realized that it was just frozen that solid and she was walking on a crust, which added another thought to her mind, what if she broke through? How deep was it? Would she drag Artemis with her, or would she be able to help get her out? What was down there?

She knew that Artemis knew a bit more about the planet, but now that she was there, she wished she’d shown more interest in it. Like, what had the other girl been planning to hunt here? And why hadn’t she done so? Was it because she’d never gotten around to it? That it had been one of the places she’d wanted to go, but after what’d happened on Gralin, she’d decided against it, or had it been that she didn’t think she could take down whatever creature had been here.

As she was lost in thought, the wind had picked up, throwing light bits of snow at her, making her glad that Artemis had insisted on her wearing the goggles and scarf. Still, bits were weaving their way through and stinging her face, so when she spotted what appeared to be a row of large icicles growing vertically out of the ground, she tapped Artemis on the shoulder and pointed.

Artemis glanced over to where she was pointing and shook her head and then to Gaige’s surprise, started angling away from them.

“What’re you doing?” Gaige shouted over the wind “We could at least use them as a break against the wind.”

“No way. At least one of those things is likely one of the Crystal Strider’s of Burgloth.”

“The what now?”

“Crystal Strider’s.”

“What’s that?”

“Uh, pray you don’t find out. They were what I was thinking of hunting here, well one of the things anyway, but they hide among the ice spires and rise up if any prey gets too close, they’re fast across this terrain and while not that tough to kill, in all truth, fighting one would not just waste ammo, but it might attract unwanted attention, and not just from other Striders.”

“Oh, wait, what else were you gonna hunt here?”

“You wanna hear about this now?”

“Well, it’d take my mind off of this dreary schlep.”


“Long boring hike.”

“Ah, wasn’t familiar with that one. But back to the creatures, if I told you, then all you’d be able to think about was them.”

“And if you don’t tell me, then I’ll be able to think of nothing else either.”

“True, but you don’t have to worry, if the Crystal Strider’s are here, then most things will be avoiding the area for now, at least until they migrate again. Besides, it’s winter and most things are hibernating right now.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Still, at least tell me about what else is in this area, especially anything that might not be hibernating or anything that we might stumble upon.”

“Fine. Let’s see, Barghasts might still be up and around. Think of them as the local version of the Xylourgos Wolven, similar in build, but a bit bigger and more aggressive. The main difference is that the Barghast can cloak themselves in shadows, their fur emits a secretion that absorbs light. Unfortunately, the light absorbing properties of the secretion only lasts a short time, so it can’t be harvested, not to mention it’s impossible to get out of the fur, making it gross to the touch, and kinda useless for its hide.

“Other than them, we might stumble into a Yeklei nest. They’re kinda like, hmm, what can I compare them to that you’d know? I guess they’re kinda like Bullymong, but with only two arms.”

“Kinda like a Jabber?”

“Hmm, no, though I guess just a little bit, now that you mention it, they do look a bit similar, don’t they? The Bullymong and the Jabber I mean, wonder if they’re related? Anyway, not important, the Yeklei are more feral like a Bullymong then the social Jabber, though they’re covered in thick fur and have large claws at the ends of their fingers. They also have a row of spines down their back and onto their short tail, but they should be hibernating now, so unless we stumble into a nest, we should be good.

“Let’s see, other than that, we shouldn’t have to deal with Velikor, they’ll have burrowed deep and Harplings will be deep in their caves, so that should be it.”

“See, I’m not worried about them anymore.” Gaige said, shooting her a smile that was hidden behind her scarf. “Now I only wonder how much further it is?”

“Now who’s being a kid?” Artemis muttered, taking the lead back.

A Number of Hours Later

They’d trudged through most of the scant daylight hours, but just as the light started failing their goal came into sight. It took another two hours for them to get close enough to actually scope the place out, so after they took a break to get something to eat and take in a mug of coffee, Artemis broke off and went scouting.

Gaige had insisted that she take the invisibility device, but she’d pointed out that in the snow, her footprints would give her away, so she’d convinced Deathtrap to hold onto it while she went out.

It didn’t take long for her to find a small rise to observe the factory and the surrounding town. From her vantage point she could make out a number of things, which after as thorough a check as she could do from a distance, she headed back to report.

“Well, the place certainly seems abandoned.”


“But, what?”

“Well, when someone starts with it certainly seems abandoned’ there’s usually a but something.”

“Not in this case. In this case, unless there’s some other way of moving around town, no one’s lived there in a while, at least since winter started.”

“Couldn’t they just be staying inside?”

“What would be the point? If they aren’t going to work, why stay here?”

“That’s a good point. Maybe they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“Could be, but then why not go back to the other town, I mean, this place doesn’t seem to have any of the necessities to live here.”

“Hmm, that would be a problem. Maybe inside the houses?”

“Maybe. Doubtful, but maybe, but if not, then that leads us to another problem.”

“What’s that?”

“If there’s nobody here, then would the bots really have been worked on here?”

“Hmm, maybe. I mean, they could’ve been worked on here right after Holloway faked his death and then got sent somewhere else, along with the workers.”

“I guess.”

She didn’t sound very convinced so Gaige tried to move along “So what else was there?”

“Well, it’s just that if they really did shut down and everybody leave, then why’s the factory still intact, I mean, wouldn’t whoever bought it have started it back up, or if it wasn’t purchased, then shouldn’t the stuff inside at least have been auctioned off or something.”

“Possibly, why, what’d it look like?”

“Like they just shut the doors for the day and walked away. I mean there were still cargo containers sitting out and at least one truck that looked partially loaded.”



“So, I guess we have no other option but to go down there and see if it’s a trap.”

“Guess so.” Artemis reluctantly agreed.

“Now what’s wrong?” Asked an extremely exasperated Gaige.

“Nothing, not really, it’s just that, well, I’ve got a bad f”

“Nope, we’re going.” Gaige said, cutting her off quickly and hopping up. Artemis looked at her for a second and then sighed and followed after.

They made their way around the perimeter of the town, keeping an eye out for anything, from people to bots to beasts, but nothing moved. Gaige was tempted to try a few houses, just to see what had been left, since that’d tell her how fast everyone had fled, but the sense of wrongness that had settled over the town made her think twice about it.

The buildings ended a ways away from where the factory itself stood in a large squarish set of buildings. Short stacks rose over the tallest points and the cold, solid grey building as it squatted, windowless and grim, reminding Gaige of some evil lair or laboratory from one of the movies she used to watch with her father.

She tugged on her coat, feeling reassured by it, as if some part of her dad was there with her, watching over her and started forward, only to be stopped by a hard hand clamping onto her arm.

“Ow, what’s the big idea?” She complained, turning to Artemis, only to lose steam once she saw her face. “What’s up?”

“Watch out, the ground around here’s a bit fragile.”

Gaige looked around, but didn’t see anything. “Why would you say that?”

“Cause it is. I mean, look at it, the colors and stuff.”

Gaige looked around, but didn’t see anything odd about the area, with a shrug she turned back to see the exasperation on Artemis’s face.

“Look” She said with a sigh “Just trust me about this.”

“It’s not that I doubt you, but if you know so much about ice and all, then how’d you fall through it before? You know, back on Gralin?”

“I didn’t know this back then, it’s just, um, after, the, you know, when I…”

“You researched it afterwards so that it would never happen again, right?”

“Yeah, not that I’ve been back to an ice world since. Not that I’m afraid of them or anything, it’s just that I haven’t had any cause to, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it. But why would they build a factory on thin ice?”

“I don’t think they did, it’s probably that the factory melted the ground. They probably built the thing on metal posts driven deep into the ground, but the heat from the factory melted the ice around it.”

“Ah, that makes sense. Wouldn’t be surprised if they also ran some of the heat from the plant under the floors to warm them up, which would’ve contributed to the melt. So how do we get over to it?”

“There’s a path, I mean, once it started melting, they must’ve installed a road for the trucks and stuff, right, so we just need to follow it.”

“Oh, right. Duh. How is it you know so much about this stuff? The buildings and all that, I mean.”

“I researched ice planets, remember?”

“Right, lead on.”

She followed Artemis across as she led them off a little ways and across a frozen bridge. As soon as they were on the road, Gaige could tell the difference. There was something about the way the ice lay on it, the way she could almost see through to the road that made her feel more secure, but only in her footing. The thought that she only had one path to get over to the factory made her uneasy, like she was walking into a trap or some beast’s den and she didn’t know the way out.

Usually she didn’t care, she could just power through, fight her way out. She was confident in her ability, despite the number of recent setbacks and evidence against that, she still felt that she could take on almost anything, especially with these two with her, but this time she felt off, like there was something that she couldn’t put her finger on that was bothering her.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to drag them into her problems, they already had been, so it was a bit late for that. No, this was something else, something that she didn’t want to think about too hard, like she was afraid of what she’d find. But even beyond that, she didn’t like the fact that she felt like she was being led into something, that this was all a trap and that she didn’t have any choice but to spring it.

She looked up at the building looming in front of her and wondered what she’d find within, would there even be anything there? If so, would it just lead them to another trap and if they managed to get out of that one, to another?

Lost in thought she followed the other two until they were hunkered down behind the truck, observing the silent building.

“So, how we wanna play this?” Artemis whispered, as if she might wake something up if she was too loud.

“I was hoping you had a plan.”

“My plan was to get here and that’s about it.”

“Shoot. We’re definitely gonna have to work on your whole planning past getting to the place thing, but for now, well, I guess we need to think about this for a moment.” Gaige said, leaning back so that she could get a better look at the door. “Well, I guess since we don’t know what it looks like in there, we should proceed with caution.”

“Really? So, no kicking down the door and going in guns blazing?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you either, you know?”

“Yeah, well, sometimes you don’t have a choice, do you?”

“Guess not. Anyway, like I was saying, we don’t know what’s in there or what kind of trap’s waiting for us. With that said, I’d guess there aren’t a lot of people in there, if any, so we should figure on mostly bots.”

“Makes sense.”

“So, we should at least have caustic weapons at hand. Other than that, electric, in case of shielding and be ready for those EMP things. Other than that, who knows.”

“Sounds about right.”

“You got anything else to add?”

“Yeah, you missed one possibility.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“That they left the trap out here.”

“What, like to spring it as we leave?”

“That or something else.”

“So, what’re you suggesting? That we leave someone out here?”

“Just laying out all options and such. And besides, they don’t need to be out here, they could follow us inside for a little ways and keep an eye out the door.”

“Don’t you mean sensor, cause let’s be honest, you’re talkin about leaving Deathtrap, aren’t you?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“First off, why him?”

“Well, he’s the most versatile one of us. I mean, if it comes to that, he’s got the most options when it comes to detecting his opponents, he can fly around the building to scout and if we wind up in trouble, he’s the fastest one out of us, so he could catch up easiest.”

“All that makes sense. Too much sense actually, damn it. What do you have to say babe?”


“Yeah, I hate it when she makes sense too. Plus, you do still have the invisibility, so you can hide. Alright, you win. I don’t like it, but you win.” Gaige grumbled.

“Hey, I don’t like it either, but it’s the best option out of the bad ones we have.”

“Those are always the worst.”

Artemis merely nodded, knowing that saying anything else would be futile. Giving the death machine a pat on the shoulder, she slunk out, picking her way to the door as carefully as she could.

1 Like

Chapter 16


It didn’t take long for Artemis to find herself pressed up against the cold wall. She could feel it trying to leach her heat even through the thick jacket. Working quickly, she checked the door for traps and gave a listen. She didn’t hear anything, not that that surprised her, after all, if there were bots waiting on the other side, they didn’t have to move around and could wait there for years silently.

Checking the door, she wasn’t surprised to find it locked, so she motioned for Gaige to come join her. Following Artemis’s footsteps as close as she could, just in case there were any mines planted, not that either of them thought there would be, but it was better to be safe, Gaige made her way to the door and when she got there, she immediately double checked to make sure there weren’t any booby-traps, and then got to work persuading the door to open.

Artemis didn’t feel offended that Gaige had rechecked the door, in fact she was relieved since it meant that she was taking this seriously and was merely checking to make sure that something hadn’t been missed, after all, they each had different sets of skills and experiences so what one of them might look for, the other might not.

It didn’t take long for the door to swing open and once they made sure there wasn’t a welcoming committee waiting for them, glanced into the cold dark interior. What greeted them was the first floor of the loading office, with a dark window on one side and the signs for bathrooms just ahead.

Hoping to get lucky, they snuck into the office and Gaige pulled out a portable power source. Plugging it into the computer, she got to work trying to find any record of the bots they were after, but after a few minutes she slumped back.

“Nothing.” She sighed.

“Not that we really expected anything.” Artemis added “I mean, you said they were likely taken off the production line, so there wasn’t likely to be a shipping record on file, especially if they were being used for nefarious purposes.”

“Yeah, but it would be nice if things were that easy, even if it was just once.”

“But would we trust it if it was?”

“Probably not. Come on, I feel bad about leaving Deathtrap out there so let’s get going.”

Artemis nodded and led them to the end of the hall and after a glance through the door, out into the shipping area. It was a large room filled with crates, each about the size of one of the Holloway bots, which bothered her. If the plant had been shut down, why was there still things here, why hadn’t someone seized the goods here, if not whomever had purchased the plant, if anyone, then why not some authorities or another corporation and barring that, why hadn’t the townsfolk taken them, it wasn’t like they had any big secrets to keep and they certainly could use the help, but it seemed as if no one had been here, like the employees had up and left at the end of their shift and never returned.

She walked over to one of the crates and gave it a quick once over. The label had been filled out and everything, it was a barista bot to be shipped to Waylan City, on planet Portobolo. Looking around confused she spotted Gaige looking at another crate.

“Got anything?” She whispered to her, causing her to jump.

“Stop that, seriously, stop sneakin up on me.” Gaige hissed, holding her heart. “And no, I don’t have anything aside from that good old freshly bubble-wrapped smell of a new bot.”

“They wrap them in bubble-wrap?”

“What? No, it was a joke. They pack them in custom foam, jeez.”

“Oh, I’ve never bought one so I wouldn’t know.”

“Well neither have I, but I guess I’d know more about this stuff then you. Still, this is weird.”

“You mean how it looks like everyone just up and left?”


“Well, let’s get going, I want outta here as soon as possible.”

“I’m with you on that.”

Artemis took point again, slipping around the crates till she got to the back of the room where she found a large opening where the assembly lines ended, bots still hanging from it in nearly finished states. She guessed that the final bit would have to be done on site, probably so that they could install the proper security parts or whatever.

The various lines each held a different bot on them, from bright red ones with a light on their head and a fire extinguisher for an arm, to douchie looking barista bots, to ones that looked painfully generic, which she figured were for home use. Each line ended at a packing machine that she could see the crates lined up next to, as well as the foam that would form the inserts.

Moving into the factory itself, she quickly realized that she was in the secondary assembly lines, each one slithering around the room with partially constructed bots hanging on them. Each line took the basic body and added the necessary parts to customize it for whatever job it would be assigned to.

Cautiously stepping through the room, her eyes darted everywhere, feeling like the bots would activate the instant she looked away. Her general sense of unease had been growing ever since she’d set foot on the ice ball and she wanted nothing more than to get through with the place and put it behind her. Still, she wasn’t about to do anything that would put the other two in danger, so she set out across the floor as cautiously as she could.

It didn’t take long for them to get to the small door on the ground floor, the lines of the partially constructed bots went through a larger opening a ways up on the wall, and after a glance through, Artemis turned back to Gaige and whispered “You stay down here, I’m gonna get a better vantage point to keep up with you.”

“What? Where’re you going?”

Artemis just pointed up and Gaige let her eyes follow, but she couldn’t figure out what she was meaning, so she gave her another look in hopes that she’d provide a bit more to go on, but she didn’t, instead she lightly scampered off and hopped up onto one of the machines. She continued climbing till she was on top of the rail that the bots were being carried by and cautiously climbed her way up till she was heading through the higher opening.

Gaige couldn’t help but shake her head, it wasn’t like she couldn’t have done that if she’d tried, at least that’s what she tried to convince herself, it was just that she didn’t want to, her fighting style was more appropriate for being on ground level. It didn’t have anything to do with her worrying about staying balanced on the narrow beam while she shot or tried to dodge attacks, especially not with Deathtrap not around.

She pushed through the door, trying not to feel lonely. It wasn’t that she was by herself, she could always look up and try to spot the other girl, but she couldn’t turn to her and say something, or share a look. Gaige felt a strange sensation in the back of her mind, like she should be aware of something, but she couldn’t figure it out, and besides, this wasn’t the time or the place for it. Instead, she focused on the room she’d just entered.

Much like the last one, this room was dominated by heavy machinery, though the equipment in this room dwarfed the ones in the last. Which made sense to her, since this was where the bots were actually assembled. She could trace the production lines around the room as they went in and out of the various stages, which were easy to tell since the partially assembled bots were still hanging from the various lines.

Gaige looked around, from where she was within the tangled mess of lines and machines, she realized that she couldn’t make out which way the offices might be. Suddenly glad that Artemis had decided to get a better vantage point, she looked up and for a second felt cold panic sink though her heart when she couldn’t find the other girl.

She glanced all over the place trying to locate her, only to realize that she’d lost the line that she’d climbed up upon. She’d been sure that it was the one above her, but she could see where that one had come in from the side. She swallowed hard, unwilling to accept that she was lost and not wanting to head back to where she’d come into the room, if she could find her way at all, especially since she didn’t know where Artemis would be by the time she got back.

She was about to either panic or call her on her ECHO, when she caught sight of an arm waving at her. She’d been almost right, the line she’d been looking at had come in from the side, but there had been another one directly above it that she hadn’t seen, which was where the other girl was.

Gaige felt a wave of relief blow through her heart as she waved back. Artemis didn’t seem to have picked up on any of the turmoil that Gaige was feeling since she casually pointed to one wall. Gaige looked around, trying to find a way to get that way, but couldn’t see anything in her immediate vicinity that would allow her to get there, so she had to walk down the machine for a ways until she found a short ladder mounted on the side.

Climbing up and over, she took a moment to look at the room from a different vantage and found that it wasn’t all that maze-like, it was just a jumbled mess thanks to the variety of machines and their placement. She was sure that if she worked there for a day, she’d be able to navigate it without any issues, but being there for the first time was what had thrown her.

She hopped down and made her way towards where Artemis had indicated, at least she hoped she was, it was a little hard to tell with the machines and lines going every which way. But it didn’t take long for a wall to come into sight, though when she did get to it, she found that she had to backtrack to get around a large piece of equipment that had trapped her.

Eventually she found a large double door and looked around, trying to find where Artemis was, but she couldn’t find any sign of her. None of the lines were near the door and in fact, most of them started a ways away. Wondering if she should use her ECHO, if not to call her then to try and locate her, she was startled by a soft cough next to her. Whipping around she found the other girl standing a few feet away, fist in front of her mouth.

“Damn it.” Gaige hissed “I’ve asked you to stop doing that, so that’s it, I’m getting you a bell.”

“But I made some noise to let you know this time.”

“When? That cough? When you were, like, three feet away from me?”


“Yeah, me too.”

“So, are you still going to get me a bell?”

“Yeah, but I’ll make sure it’s a nice one.”

Artemis shrugged, looking a bit dejected, but quickly turned to the matter at hand and looked at the doors. “So, what’s through there?”

“Wha? How would I know? I was waiting for you.”

“And you didn’t peek?”

“No. You know, as curious as I am, I’m not an idiot. I’m not about to get myself into a fight when I don’t know where my backup is.”

“OK, OK, I get it. It’s a smart move. But with how loud you were being, I just…”

“What? Assumed that I’d looked?”

Artemis shrugged again, which caused Gaige to grind her teeth. She hissed out through them “Well I didn’t, so there.”

“Alright.” Artemis responded a bit nervously “Well then, uh, shall we?”

Without waiting for a reply, she slipped the door open a crack and peered through. After a few seconds, during which Gaige calmed herself down and felt like an idiot, she pulled back and said “Seems like some kind of storeroom or something. Lots of shelves, couldn’t make out if there was anything waiting for us amongst them.”

“Right, so, shall we?”

Artemis led the way into the room and as Gaige followed, she tried to take in the massive amount of shelving that filled the area. Each rack ran from floor to the ceiling high above and was covered in boxes and parts, all of which she could identify as being for the bots.

Looking around, she found that there was another entrance a ways down the wall they were standing on, but other than that, she couldn’t see any other way out of the room, but that didn’t tell her much since she couldn’t see the far wall from where she stood.

“Any idea where the office might be?” Artemis whispered to her.

Gaige just shook her head. It was probably on the second floor or higher, but that wasn’t always the case, take the factory on Jaka for example. She thought about it some more, but without any clues, she couldn’t get anywhere, so she just shrugged.

“Didn’t think so.” Came the reply. It didn’t sound disappointed, so Gaige figured that Artemis must have run through the same train of thought. Still, that didn’t help them, so they started to walk the perimeter of the room, checking for doors.

Gaige wanted to go through the first door they came to, but Artemis stopped her.

“We should check to see how many other ways there are before we decide.”

“Why? We didn’t with the last room. For all we know the office was on the opposite wall from where we left.”

“Maybe, but the size of the room, plus it’s placement compared to the shape of the building indicate that it’s against at least one outer wall.”

“Really?” Gaige was genuinely surprised, but had to ask “But what if it isn’t? Or if there’s a small room or stairwell over there?”

“Then we’ll have to go back, but until then, we should scout out as much as we can. Plus, when we get attacked, having a lay of the land could prove invaluable.”

“Shouldn’t that’ve been, if? If we get attacked.”


“Yeah, I didn’t think so. Well, shouldn’t we check what’s behind this door before we head out, so we don’t have to come back in case?”

“I…yeah, that makes sense.” Artemis conceded before pressing lightly on the door to move it open as quietly as she could. On the other side was another room filled with crates and miscellaneous things.

Gaige peeked around her shoulder and whispered “I think it’s probably the receiving area. That’d make sense, since it’d be on the same wall as the shipping department.”

If Gaige was right, and neither of them had any cause to doubt her, then that told them how twisted they’d gotten in the assembly room, not to mention how big the receiving area and the storeroom they were now in was.

Having figured out what was through that door, they made a loop of the room, spotting two more doors on the far wall as well as a freight elevator. They looked at the elevator for a moment and then up at the high ceiling.

“Do you think there’s another floor above us?”

“What’s the other option?”

“Down, it’s not like the elevator goes sideways.”

“It could, I’ve seen it before.”

“Really?” Artemis said, turning to look at Gaige.

Gaige nodded “Yeah, but I doubt this one does, the building doesn’t seem to be big enough to warrant one of those, so it probably goes up. I mean, if I remember the size of the building, that’d make sense.”

Artemis nodded “Yeah. Well, let’s check the other doors first, see what’s in them and if we can’t find a stairwell.”

“You wanna take the stairs?”

“No, but it’d be safer to do that then to get ambushed in the elevator.”

“I still hate it when you make sense you know.”

“Yep.” With that, she went to the nearest door and peeked through, finding the stairwell that she’d just mentioned. Showing Gaige, they headed to the last door and found a short hall with bathrooms on one side and a break-room on the other.

Heading back, they took the stairs, which wove back and forth for what seemed like an eternity, but eventually they came to another door.

Pausing before they went through, Gaige stated “You know, if the offices are up here, then there had to be another way up that we missed.”

“What, you don’t think that the office workers wandered through the entire plant and storage to get to their desks every day?”

“When you put it like that, it does seem like a possibility.” Gaige said with an eye-roll.

“Whatever, shall we?”

“After you.”

Artemis pushed open the door and scanned the room. It was another large room filled with shelving, much like the last one.

“Why would they have a second room like this? I mean, why drag all this crap up here just to store it?”

“If they hadn’t, they would’ve had to build the ground floor much larger to store all this stuff.” Gaige responded, looking around.

“Then why not build it that way? I mean, it’s not like this was a building they just happened to find or anything, so why not build it with enough space?”

“Efficiency I’d guess. Think about it, if you had to heat an entire building, which would be easier, a long flat one, or a taller one that you only had to heat the lower level?”

“I guess. But I bet the employees weren’t happy with this setup.”

“What employees ever are?”

They headed out into the room and moved around the out edge. At first glance they’d thought it was as big as the one that was down a floor, but as they started around, they quickly realized that, while it was still large, it was considerably smaller than the other one.

They found another set of bathrooms and then continued along to the wall closest to the assembly lines. On that wall they found a door that led to a narrow hall, on one side was cement, but on the far side the wall was made of mesh, with small doors set into it as it overlooked the factory floor. Moving out and to the first door, Artemis looked out and saw that it was an access point to the upper machinery. At the far end of the hall, she could just make out a solid metal door that looked to be the maintenance department.

Ducking back through the door she let Gaige know what was out there and immediately regretted it when Gaige started for the door.

“Hold it, where do you think you’re going?” She asked, catching her arm.

“I just wanna see what they’ve got in there.”

“Maybe later, after we find what we’re looking for, if we aren’t attacked, you can make Deathtrap sit around in the cold some more while you poke around in there.”

“That’s low.”

“It’s true.”

“But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t low. But you’re right, let’s move on.”

Artemis nodded and led them around the room till she found another door. This one led to another room lined with shelves, but on them she could see boxes of all sizes, including ones that seemed about the same as the ones that the bots were being shipped in.

Pointing them out to Gaige, she waited while the other girl got a good look at them from the doorway before they fell back.

“Those look like bots to you?”

“Could’ve been, my eyes aren’t as good as yours.”

“But you could at least tell that they were roughly the same size, right?”


“So now what?”

“What do’ya mean?”

“Well, do we go in there?”

“First off, it’s not like we’ve got a choice. And second, we should probably finish searching this room first.”


They quickly and quietly made their way to the last wall and found nothing. Sighing, they headed back and made their way into the room, keeping an eye on the suspicious crates. Moving around the room they found the wall furthest away from the factory floor had a single door that led to a hallway. Opposite the door they were standing in was a row of doors that might’ve led to offices or conference rooms, but they couldn’t be sure without entering. Rather than continuing that way, they made their way up the wall in the storage room till they found another set of doors. Opening these led to another hall, but something about this area told them they were in the right spot.

It wasn’t just that the area seemed cleaner, but the wall opposite them was made out of a different material, something that Artemis didn’t recognize, but Gaige had seen in the office she’d worked in.

Hustling out of the storeroom, they made their way to the door that would lead into the office area and into a different world.

The floors were suddenly covered in carpeting. The walls were covered in framed pictures and plaques. There were dead plants sitting in the corners and on low shelves. Even the ceiling was different.

Gaige nodded and they headed deeper within, checking the rooms as they went. At first, they didn’t find anything but a few mundane offices, nothing that would help them find where Holloway was or any clues about where the bots had been modified.

It wasn’t until they found the first locked door since they’d entered the place that they finally felt like they were onto something, that they were in the right place. It was located behind a small waiting area with a desk next to it for what they guessed would’ve been the secretary.

Gaige got to work on it and it wasn’t long before the door swung open revealing the office within. The room obviously belonged to the building supervisor, not just because the furnishings were much nicer, but the overall air of the place spoke of arrogance and leadership. The desk was wood with metal accents and the papers were still strewn across it from when the place had been in use. On their side of the desk were a couple of chairs covered in vinyl that looked decidedly uncomfortable, especially compared to the rather luxurious one opposite. The walls were covered in plaques and shelving which they both hoped they wouldn’t have to go through.

Gaige went to the computer sitting on the desk and tried powering it up, but found that it wasn’t working. Cursing at the expected result, she dug out her portable power unit and plugged it in. This time the computer booted up, but she was promptly met with a log-in screen.

Cursing again, she started searching around the desk for the password while calling out “Help me look for the log-in stuff, you know, user-name and passwords, things like that.”

Artemis shrugged and started looking around the outer part of the room. Gaige joined her after a minute of searching through the desk, but it was quickly becoming apparent that they weren’t finding anything.

“Can’t you just bypass it or something?”

“Maybe, but that’d take time.”

“And looking around here isn’t?”

“OK, fair, but it might also have a security system in place so if I try and use the wrong password too many times, we get locked out for good.”

“Oh, well that sucks.”

“Yeah, so it’s better to look first.”

“Well, I don’t think we’re gonna find anything in here.”

“In here…you might be onto something.”

“I am?”

“Yeah, hold on a second, well, actually keep looking and I’ll be right back.”

With that Gaige left the room leaving a confused Artemis to continue searching.

It didn’t take long for Gaige to return, triumphantly holding a scrap of paper.

“You found it? Where?”

“About where you said it’d be.”

“I did? Where was that?”

“In the secretary’s desk. See, a lot of bosses are useless without their aid, so it stood to reason that they might have the log-in info stored in their desk.”

“Oh, uh, guess that makes sense.”

Gaige nodded and headed back to the computer, quickly logging in and starting to scroll through the info to locate anything that would be useful.

Minutes ticked past as she worked and Artemis hung around behind her, feeling useless. Rather than continuing to lurk, she started examining the rest of the room, looking for secrets, more to kill the time than any real thought of finding anything, so when she found a hidden panel, she was surprised.

“Find anything?” She called back to Gaige, while working on the panel.

“Not yet, jeez, keep your pants on, I mean, I’ve just started.”

“Oh, uh, guess that’s right.”

“Why, you bored or something?”

“I was, but now I’m wondering what’s behind this.”

“This what?” Gaige said looking up and spotting the panel the other girl had slid out of the way, revealing the hidden door behind it. “When’d you find that?”

“Just now.”

“And I suppose you want me to open it for you?”


“Get outta the way.” Gaige had immediately hopped up and made her way over to the control panel and got to work. It took a bit longer than the other door, speaking volumes about how heavy the security on it was, but it eventually gave way and slid aside revealing a small room behind it crammed with a computer terminal and various other technological looking things that Artemis couldn’t make heads or tails out of.

She stepped out of the way and let Gaige in so that she could push the chair out of the way and get to work on this terminal.

“You don’t wanna finish with the other one first?”

“Nah, I can always go back to it, but I’ve got the feeling that this one’s where the info we want is being stored.”

Artemis shrugged, she had no reason to argue with her about that and she knew that talking would only extend the time it took Gaige to figure this out, so she silently leaned against the door and waited.

The minutes ticked past and just as she was wondering if she should check in with Deathtrap and let him know what was up, Gaige declared “Got it.”

Artemis just waited for her to continue and after a second Gaige let out a sigh and said “You know, when someone declares something like ‘Got it’ you’re supposed to say something like ‘What’d you get’ or something like that.”

“Oh, uh, sorry, so, uh, what’d you find?”

“Close enough. Anyway, there’s a lot of stuff in here, internal memos and shipping manifests and most of its useless, but I did a search for anything that’s been sent after Holloway’s supposed death and came up with three hits.”

“And…what are they?”

“I don’t know yet, I was about to get to them.”

“Ah, well, sorry for slowing you down.”

“Rrrgh.” Gaige growled, tugging her hair “Stop that. Seriously, you’re not slowing me down, or holding me back or anything like that. I mean, if it wasn’t for you, I’d still be wasting my time on that other computer.”

“Oh, um, I guess.”

“No guessing about it. Now let’s see what we’ve got.” Gaige opened the first document and scanned through it “Junk, junk, junk. Blah, blah, blah. Nothing here, just a notice to close the factory until further notice, effective immediately. Moving on. Next one’s, nope it’s basically the same as the previous one, telling them to lock the doors and that any missing items, tools or products will be investigated at the appropriate time. Useless. Well, except that it kinda tells us why it looks like everyone just up and left and didn’t take anything.”

She continued on to the last message and froze, Artemis leaned forward to read it over her shoulder.

Initiate emergency override Protocol: Marcie 18.

Activate all available units.

Send units 26359-26892 to Apate 3

All others set to standby.

Authorization code: H37M51962

Activation condition: Read

Approval: Holloway 1

Artemis swore as she read it, even though she didn’t understand most of it, she did recognize the approval.

“So, he is alive.” Gaige muttered, staring at the name at the bottom.

“Yeah. But what worries me is the rest of it. It looks like he’s setting up a trap and since we’ve got what we need, we should get the heck outta here, now.”

“I’m with you.” Gaige sprung up, pulling out her ECHO and just as she was about to call Deathtrap and let him know what was up, it crackled to life as a frantic “Urgurg” Came through.

“■■■■.” They said in unison, dashing for the door. Gaige suddenly stopped and leaped to the desk.

“What’re you doing?” Artemis cried.

“Can’t leave this behind.” Gaige said, yanking the cord out of her power supply.

“Is it worth dieing over?”

Gaige didn’t reply as she dashed past the other girl and into the hall, making a beeline for the door. Artemis followed close behind her when the entire building gave a terrifying shake, sending them bouncing into the wall. Not waiting to see what was next, they pushed off and started forward again, only for the building to shake again.

“Earthquake?” Gaige shouted, looking around as she tried to move forward.

“I hope so.” Was all Artemis muttered, sending a cold wave up Gaige’s spine as she questioned ‘What would be worse than an earthquake?’

She’d made it to the storeroom door when she got her answer. The entire building started to tilt as she heard a series of metallic screams and the ground gave way, tilting sideways. She slid uncontrollably towards the door that they’d been trying to get to, only to be shoved from behind, sending her clear of the door.

She turned to see Artemis fall through it just as the wall became the new floor.

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Chapter 17



He’d moved to the shelter of the building not long after the girls had gone inside, not because he was cold or worried about his parts freezing up, he was too well built for that, plus the girls had made sure he’d be fine in the cold before they’d come down. No, the reason he’d sought shelter was because the small flakes of snow in the air had been making his invisibility noticeable, something he hadn’t thought of until he spotted them landing on his arm.

It had absolutely nothing to do with the creepiness of the ghost town and the way he felt like he was being watched, even though he knew nothing could see him. And it certainly wasn’t that this place made him think of a robot graveyard, with all the deactivated bots sitting there.

So he’d been waiting by the entrance, he’d been tempted to go inside, but he figured that being outside would give him better sensor coverage. He thought about calling in, just to see how things were going, but kept deciding against it, after all, if they were sneaking, his call might give them away and if not, it would probably spook them and make them a bit short. Still, he hoped they were getting along alright in there, he was still a bit worried about them, especially since the incident on Pandora, but he thought they were starting to mend, to really get back into the groove of being together.

He didn’t really have an opinion on their personal lives. He liked Artemis, but he wasn’t sure if she was right for Gaige, then again, he thought, was there anyone right for her? He’d seen a procession of men who’d hit on her, from cheap come-ons at the bar to more serious ones at jobs, but he’d chased them off, after all, none of them had been good for her either, not that Gaige had been appreciative at the time. Most of them had been looking for a quick score, or had been interested in conquering the Vault Hunter. None of them had really been interested in her, which he supposed made Artemis different. She at least cared about Gaige. Wanted to make her better, not for her own personal desires, but to make Gaige just be better, which was what he’d realized the first morning they’d spent together.

So, he supposed that out of all the would be suites that had come over the years, he liked Artemis the best, even though he knew that she didn’t consider herself one. It wasn’t that he disliked her, far from it, he actually enjoyed traveling with her and knew that Gaige felt the same way, but as for anything else, well, he supposed he was a bit like Gaige’s dad in that regard, that he felt that no one was good enough for her.

But he understood that that was her choice. One that he would have to respect, unlike her drunken antics that he’d interjected himself into, mostly because this would be an actual choice, not a mistake. Well, that wasn’t necessarily correct, it could still be a mistake. The truth was he often wondered if she ever could settle down with someone, if she wouldn’t just drive them away like she did to everyone that spent any time with her. True, Artemis had been on the receiving end of the worst that he’d seen Gaige dish out, and she was still around, but he wondered how that would be in the long run.

He’d helped her out since he knew that Gaige needed someone else around and he’d hoped that she could be the friend that Gaige had needed, but he wasn’t sure about anything else. Still, he was glad that Gaige had been giving it honest thought instead of just jumping into something like she usually did. That didn’t mean he had any idea where she’d end up, not the choice she’d make, nor where that would lead, but for once, that didn’t really bother him since he knew that Artemis would be alright with it either way. Actually, it might be harder for her to accept a relationship then it would be for Gaige to initiate one, if that’s what she chose, but that was a circuit they’d have to solder when they came to it. Either way, he’d back Gaige up with whatever she decided.

As he mulled where things were and where they were going, he ran his sensor over the ice once again, trying to detect what was feeling wrong about it. He knew it was something and that all his processing of Gaige’s relationship issues was in some way to try and set his mind at ease, but he knew he needed to figure out what was actually wrong before it bit him in the back. But again, his sensor sweep came back negative.

Giving up on the shelter he’d taken, he flew out, hoping that the small amount of snow he was disrupting wouldn’t give him away to anything that was watching and started to fly around the building, doing a more thorough job of it.

He tried to pierce the ice as far as his sensors could in the hopes of finding anything and part way around the building, he detected something strange. There was something metal in the ice. It was down a little ways so if he hadn’t been directly over it, there was no way he would’ve found it, but it was there, too near the surface to be a support, not to mention too far away from the building.

Floating down, he did a sensor sweep to make sure there wasn’t anyone around and then carefully wiped the surface clear of the snow that’d built up.

Looking at the slightly rough surface of the ice, he angled his head back and forth, trying to get a reading on what it was and though it took him some time, eventually he was able to figure out that it seemed to be one of the Holloway bots, frozen into the bottom of the ice.

Confused, he nearly called it in, but he needed to check something else out before that, so he took a slow sweep of the surrounding area and found that it wasn’t just one of them, there seemed to be an entire fleet of them.

This worried him, if it had just been one or two of them, he could’ve written it off as strays that had gotten buried by accident, but this many would have to be for some kind of purpose.

He opened the channel to Gaige, when suddenly all of the bots activated at once, causing him to pause, but only for a split second. He immediately got his circuits firing as fast as they could and sent as much of a warning as he could to the girls, even as he watched the bots come to life and the fleet tear loose from the ice, many of them bursting through upwards, shattering the ice field around the factory and sending chunks of ice falling into the gaping pit that surrounded it. But the majority of the bots flew downward, towards the supports that held the factory up and started throwing themselves into the massive metal pillars.

He reacted as fast as he ever had, firing his caustic laser through the swarming hoard, melting as many as he could in an attempt to stop them from bringing the entire place down, but despite how many he brought down, there seemed to be an endless supply of them and though they weren’t equipped with armor or weapons, they didn’t seem to have any programming besides attacking the pillars.

Ignoring their compatriots deaths, the bots continued to throw themselves into the supports and Deathtrap quickly realized what would happen, the entire building would fall into the ice and be destroyed, or at least it would close all the exits and then they could set off some kind of explosion, perhaps the reactor and there’d be no way for the girls to escape, so he made a snap decision and after doing some quick math, figured out the only solution, he turned his laser onto one of the pillars, slicing into it and weakening it for the next wave of impacts.

He moved onto the next and then the next, making sure that his plan would work and soon enough, under the constant onslaught of bots, the factory started to fall, tilting sideways as the supports on one side gave out first, falling into the massive hole in the ground till it came to a rest with a terrifying noise, but like he’d hoped, it didn’t fall all the way and had instead wedged itself into the hole with the entrance facing upward.

Now he had to defend those entrances against the swarming bots and hope that the girls were alright. And that they could make it out before anything else went wrong.


She’d seen what was about to happen, Gaige had been next to the door when the building suddenly tilted, throwing her towards the opening, so Artemis had reacted without thinking. It wasn’t that she had any plan, not that she thought that her being prepared would allow her a better chance to survive, she’d just seen Gaige about to fall and reacted by shoving her out of the way.

The next instant the ground fell away, sending her falling through the door and into the storeroom. She hit the floor as it fell and in a moment of clarity, knew that she had to stay as close to it as possible, if she got too far away from it, she’d be unable to control the direction of her fall and would therefore fall all the way to the far wall, a fall that she had next to no chance of surviving, so she’d flattened herself down as soon as she’d hit, turning to slide as the floor became the wall.

She dug her hand into the ground, trying to change the angle of her descent and managed to start turning just as she passed the first row of shelves.

With a kick, she threw herself out onto the second rack and managed to catch the metal post in a death-grip. Slamming into one of the supports, she winced as her thin chest took another hit. Her ribs had been taking a beating for the last few months and this wasn’t helping, especially since she was missing a few. Thankfully, she’d hit on her other side and her jacket had helped absorb some of the impact, but it still stung.

Dragging herself up, she looked above her, at the shelves of crates that had wedged into place and were hanging precariously over her. She looked away and surveyed the room, in an instant, everything had changed. What had once been vertical was now horizontal and visa-versa. But it wasn’t just the change in perspective that was throwing everything off, crates had fallen and smashed against the far wall, now the floor, the shelving creaked and groaned as it took weight in a way it wasn’t designed to, but despite that, it seemed to be holding, at least for now.

“You alright?” Came a panicked cry from above.

Leaning out, she could see Gaige peering over the edge of the door. A wave of relief spread across Gaige’s face as she saw Artemis was at least alive, then her expression hardened. “What the heck was that, trying to sacrifice yourself for me, again? Do you have any idea how worried I was? What that felt like? Huh? Well, do you?”

“No, I was too busy not falling. You’re welcome by the way.”

“For what? Saving my life, again?” Gaige paused and looked abashed “Thanks. Again. I just wish you wouldn’t throw yourself in danger like that, it’s not good for my heart.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t a well thought out plan.” Artemis said, indicating her position “But it was better than you falling through unprepared, wasn’t it? At least I was able to get myself stopped.”

“Yeah. Still.” Gaige trailed off, like she was unsure of what to say next and a moment of silence fell between them. A moment that was interrupted by a sudden cracking noise.

“Oh, now what?” Artemis muttered, looking around. The sound seemed to be originating in multiple places at once, both above and below her.

Edging closer to the drop, she looked down, but other than the crates that’d smashed open against the new floor, she couldn’t see anything. Looking up, she caught Gaige’s confused expression, but then out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement. One of the crates that’d been wedged was wiggling and not due to the effects of gravity. As she watched, it shook again and her mind started to process what was going on. It was one of the large crates, the ones the size that the bots were shipped in and it was starting to thrash around.

Now that she knew what to look for, she spotted the rest of them were also moving. Looking back down she found one amongst the smashed crates on the floor and spotted a bot trying to lift itself out, only another of the crates had slammed into it, destroying most of its head and torso, leaving it helpless.

“Get back!” She shouted at Gaige, just as the crate between them broke open and the bot flew out. Gaige managed to yank back before it spotted her, but Artemis had nowhere to hide as she threw an arm over herself to shield herself from the falling debris.

The bot seemed to lock onto her and dove straight for her. Without any hesitation, she threw herself forward, rolling along the thin metal bar that had supported the second level of the shelves as the bot slammed into the post that she’d just been standing on, smashing the bot and bending the support with a hideous shriek.

She felt the entire shelving unit shudder as it started to come apart, sending boxes and crates falling into the unit below. Two of them broke open as the bots inside flew out, throwing themselves at her in another suicidal gambit.

Unable to flee very far she had to jump to what had been the next shelf up and then jump forward to the next support as the bots smashed their way through the spots where she’d stood.

She was forced to drop into a crouch to steady herself as the entire shelving unit shook and the side she’d caught in the first place tore off and fell, bouncing off the next unit down and spinning till it smashed into the floor.

The rest of the crates burst open around the room and dozens of bots swarmed up. Some made a shot for her as soon as they emerged, but a number of them couldn’t see her, so they circled to the ceiling, trying to get a better line of attack.

With nothing else to do, she dodged the ones that were directly attacking her, while searching for a way out. There was no way she was going to be able to climb back up to where Gaige was, it wasn’t just the constant attacks, given a few minutes, they could be dealt with. No, the problem was that she had nothing to climb to get to the door. Even if she went to the wall that had once been the ceiling and climbed it to the new ceiling, the door was too far away for her to jump and if she missed, the fall would kill her.

Optimally Gaige could’ve lowered a cable or a rope down to her, but she knew the other girl hadn’t packed one, so that was out. Her other option was to hope Deathtrap flew in and could lift her out, but she wasn’t going to count on that, after all, he undoubtedly had his hands full dealing with whatever must’ve been going on outside, so she was on her own.

She twisted and danced across the disintegrating metal frame as the bots continued to tear it apart. It seemed that they had no weapons, nor any orders beyond ‘take out the intruders’ so that at least was helping a little, if they’d been given more thorough instructions, they might’ve attacked in mass, destroying the entire platform she was on, or maybe taken out all the ones below her and then attacked.

Still, she was faced with a rapidly narrowing list of options. She figured she should keep letting them destroy this shelving unit and then, once it was almost gone, jump down to the next and keep going, but that plan only worked for so long, and it also counted on no backup arriving and since there was an entire factory floor worth of bots, she worried that they might be active too, so she needed time to think of a better plan, or at least one that minimized her interaction with the rest of the building.

Then she spotted something that might work, or at least, would give her a chance at catching her breath, the door on the nearest wall, the one that’d led to the hallway that they hadn’t really explored.

She looked up and spotted the swarm of bots that’d circled upward had gotten into position and as if her gaze were their cue, started dive bombing her.

She took off running, feeling the impacts on the frame as they hit. Twisting, she jumped up just as the frame gave a strained groan and broke loose. Following it down, she managed to twist so that she didn’t impale herself on one of the twisted girders and landed on the next frame.

Directly ahead of her was the door that she wanted, so she started sprinting again, nimbly dodging the diving bots. Just as she got to the end of the frame and gave a mighty jump, the frame gave out and fell. She soared through the space and slammed into the door, hands scrambling to try and find the nob or anything else to grab onto. Just as she felt the nob in her hand, something smashed through the wall above her, sending chunks of blocks and what appeared to be a filing cabinet hurtling towards her.

She kicked off the door, throwing herself back as the cabinet flew through the space she’d just occupied and twisted, managing to get her hand onto the last twisted few inches of what had once been one of the shelving supports.

Swinging out, Artemis kicked her legs, trying to build momentum as she adjusted her grip. Twisting her body, she let go and threw herself back at the door, slamming into it with enough force that it fell open to lay flat, like a platform.

She managed to catch herself before she went over the other side and took a second to look around. The hall continued to fall down beneath her for the full length of the room, behind her the rest of the bots were swirling and started trying to get to her. Her only consultation was that straight across the hall from where she was crouched was a door to one of the rooms, it’s nob on the lower side. She couldn’t reach it from where she was and she couldn’t figure out any safe method over, at least not one she could do quickly. Her choice was made for her when the first bot flew into view behind her.

Taking as much of a start as she could on the narrow door, she leaped across the hall and scrambled at the door, trying to get purchase on it as she started sliding down the wall. Her fingers dug into the frame as she nearly fell. Pulling herself up with her left arm, she desperately flailed for the handle with her right, managing to latch onto it and yank the nob around. Shoving the door open as far as she could, she heaved herself through, falling into the room as the door swung shut behind her.


The entire building shifted under her, throwing Gaige towards the door to the storeroom at a bad angle. For a second terror gripped her heart, she knew that going through that door this high up and without any means to control her fall would be fatal.

Just as the icy grip tightened on her heart, she felt a strong shove from behind, sending her sprawling onto the new floor. Rolling over she locked eyes with Artemis just as she fell through the doors in Gaige’s place.

Picking herself up as fast as she could, Gaige lunged over to the hanging doors and looked down. In her panic she mistook a piece of one of the crates for Artemis for a split second and felt her heart vanish, but then she spotted movement on one of the shelves a little ways down.

“You alright?” Gaige yelled, voice cracking in a mix of panic, anger and relief.

She watched as the other girl leaned out and looked up, blinking at her for a second before she gave a small wave that sent a surge of relief, followed immediately by an intense anger.

“What the heck was that?” She snapped down at the other girl, feeling all the fear of having thought she’d lost the girl and the frustration at having to be saved, again, coming out. “Trying to sacrifice yourself for me, again? Do you have any idea how worried I was? What that felt like? Huh? Well, do you?”

She could see Artemis’s face twisting as she imagined it, but instead of apologizing like Gaige had expected, she snapped back “No, I was too busy not falling. You’re welcome by the way.”

“For what? Saving my life, again?” Gaige snapped back, feeling the frustration inside, but she had to calm herself. What Artemis was saying was right, Gaige knew that, just like she knew that the other girl had reacted without thinking, she’d just seen Gaige in danger and moved. But knowing that didn’t alleviate the worry Gaige had felt, nor the guilt at having made her put herself in that position, but she did know that she needed to acknowledge that she’d been saved, that she owed her again for saving her, so she took a breath and tried her best to express herself “Thanks. Again. I just wish you wouldn’t throw yourself in danger like that, it’s not good for my heart.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t a well thought out plan. But it was better than you falling through unprepared, wasn’t it? At least I was able to get myself stopped.” Artemis smiled wryly as she motioned around herself, indicating the mess she was in.

“Yeah. Still.” Gaige tried to counter her, to say anything, but the words stuck in her throat. She wanted to ask again to make sure the other girl was alright, to ask if she could make her way out, what they should do next. Should Gaige join her down there? Or would it be better if Artemis stayed still while Gaige went looking for something to pull her up with?

Before she could come up with anything, a loud cracking noise, like wood popping, echoed through the room, causing Gaige to jump.

Below her she heard Artemis mutter “Oh, now what?” Causing Gaige to groan, ‘Would she ever learn?’ She thought to herself even as she looked around, trying to find the source of the noise.

It didn’t take long for the source to reveal itself to be the bot sized crates that were stacked around the room, since they started to bulge and hop, as if their contents were trying to escape.

Gaige watched as the splintering grew worse on the one that she could clearly see, but before it exploded, Artemis shouted at her “Get back!” Causing Gaige to instinctively throw herself away from the opening just as she heard the crate burst open.

Gaige heard the sounds of the bots flying through the air and quickly debated leaning out to open fire, but before she could, she heard a cracking sound from down the hall, in the direction that they’d been headed in.

Cursing, she pulled out her caustic SMG and aimed towards the source of the sound, but then she realized, if she got into a fight where she was, then if any of the bots in the storeroom heard, or if the ones she was engaging sent out an alert, she’d quickly become pincered between the ones in front of her and the ones coming up from below.

So she knew she needed to fall back, but at the same time, she didn’t want to abandon Artemis to the swarms she would be facing. Without any other options, she decided to move a ways down the corridor back towards the offices where the bots could only come at her from one direction, at least she hoped they could, there were too many unknowns in the layout of the building and how many bots there were. Still, she knew any decision she’d make was a gamble, so she had to choose the best bet that she could live with.

So she fell back, getting just past the doors that hung open that led up into the office area and crouched down, waiting for the bots to burst through, while sending a silent apology to Artemis, feeling like she was abandoning her friend.

It didn’t take long for the door at the far end of the hall to burst open, flying off its hinges and sliding along the ground as the blank bots started to enter.

There weren’t as many of them as she’d feared, probably due to the size of the room they’d been in, but it did cause Gaige to pause for a second and wonder how they’d gotten there. She couldn’t imagine the employees rolling the crates into the room, but she supposed that must have been what happened.

As she opened fire, tearing through the first one, it suddenly hit her, the order that Holloway had sent, that must’ve been it. She bet that it activated an automated system that not only shipped the ones that had been requested out, but also activated a few bots to carry the crates and stack them around the building as a form of a trap.

Which led her to wondering what had activated the trap, was it opening the computer room door? Or perhaps it had been a timer on the main door. But the most likely scenario was that it was tied to her opening the message, there was probably some kind of code she was supposed to enter into the computer to disable the trap or else it sent out a signal, activating the bots.

It was so obvious in hindsight, she should’ve known that Holloway wouldn’t make things easy on her, not to mention she’d seen the crates scattered about, so she should’ve opened one up, made sure what was inside, that way, when the trap was sprung, she’d at least’ve know what to expect. But no, she’d failed again. And she’d once again put those around her in danger, just because she couldn’t learn to think ahead. She’d put them in danger because of her own selfish desires, her problems. After all, Holloway was her problem, Artemis had only gotten involved because of her. She knew the other girl wouldn’t see things that way, she’d argue that he was also after her because she’d been the one to trick him into spilling his plans, that she’d been the one to warn Gaige, that she was part of this because she wanted to be. But none of that made Gaige feel any better about herself, so she did the only thing she could do at the moment and continued killing the bots.

About then, she heard a terrifying shrieking noise followed by a crashing sound that made her think of one of the shelving units tearing loose and tumbling all the way down to the floor.

Panic started to set in, she wanted to run forward and see what was going on, but the bots in front of her weren’t about to let her. To make things worse, she’d been right about them coming to investigate the sounds of gunfire as one of them poked its head through the doorway, only for her to melt it off.

She didn’t have enough Anarchy to make much of a difference at this point, neither in accuracy, nor in damage, so she was able to effectively aim where she wanted, which was useful, not that she didn’t want the power that the Anarchy lent her, but for right now, she’d take what she had.

She heard her gun click empty and as if they’d been waiting for that, a half dozen bots popped out of the door to the storeroom. Swearing at them, Gaige knew she didn’t have enough time to reload before they got to her, so she was forced to do the only thing she could, she rolled forward and sprung up, catching the hanging door and scrambling her way up it.

She’d just managed to pull herself into the room when the door was knocked off as one of the bots torpedoed into it. Taking the brief second to reload, she ran away from the opening as the bot reorientated itself and flew up through it. She met it with a hail of caustic rounds.

Turning away from the melting bot, she tried to figure out what to do next, she wanted to try and help Artemis, but the only thing she was doing that would be of any use, was drawing the ire of the bots away from her, so she had to get more of their attention. Before she could come up with anything, the wave of bots burst through the doorway and flew up at her.

Backing away, she unloaded on them while looking around for anything she could use, only to spot something that made her heart sink. In the far corner of the room was a stack of crates. The only reason that they hadn’t opened yet was that they’d landed together awkwardly, pinning them, but she could tell at a glance that it wouldn’t hold for long.

Quickly finishing the bots that were chasing her off, she scanned the area and spotted a solution to her soon to be problem, a massive row of filing cabinets that seemed to have gotten hung up and they were hanging directly over the crates. With a smirk, she slapped a new clip into her gun and gave a short spray, causing the corners that were hanging it up to start to melt and soon enough, it broke loose, falling with tremendous force and just as the top crate broke open, the cabinet slammed into it, smashing it to pieces, along with the rest of the crates, and the floor under them.

She winced as she heard another crashing noise and ran over to the new hole in the floor and looked down, seeing the hole in the hall below her as the cabinet had kept falling until it hit the floor of the storeroom far, far below.

Not seeing Artemis from where she was, Gaige briefly considered calling her on her ECHO, but saw a hoard of bots flying for the door that was set into the wall. So, figuring they had to be chasing Artemis, she opened fire on them, killing one and drawing the attention of a number of the rest.

She kept pouring fire into them as they flew mindlessly at her, melting them before they even got close.

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Chapter 18



Firing his laser at the bots still swarming around the fallen building, Deathtrap fervently hoped that the girls were alright. The thought of them being injured because he’d failed tore at him, but he had to keep going, at least for a little while longer before he could call them. It wasn’t that he couldn’t muti-task, he could, easily, it was just that when he considered the number of bots outside, he had to figure that there would be at least that many inside, so if the girls were alright, they’d be in a fight right about then, so they wouldn’t be able to take his call, so he’d just have to wait until either enough time had passed, or one of them thought to call him.

As he continued to fight the bots, which were still ignoring him, he wondered what their programming had to be, after all, after they’d tried to take the building down, they’d started floating around kind of aimlessly for some time. If they’d been programmed to destroy the building, then they should’ve been continuing to attack it. If they’d been programmed to make it fall, then they’d only partially succeeded, so shouldn’t they be trying to destroy the ice holding it up? And if it wasn’t that, then what were they going to do next, shut down?

A few of them seemed to be still on some kind of task, flying around with some purpose, so those were the ones that he targeted first, but it seemed that for each one he killed, another took up its task, which he supposed made sense, though it would’ve made more sense if they’d all swarmed up and took care of it together.

Without anything else to do, at least until the girls called, he stuck with his task, which made him feel like one of the bots, which made him depressed.


She fell into the room, hoping that there wasn’t anything hard under the door and was rewarded with a solid, painful impact against the floor. She sat up slowly and looked around, taking in the room. It appeared to be some kind of meeting room, with a long table flipped against the floor, where it had slid and fell, surrounded by chairs, one of which was inches away from where she’d landed and another one peeked out from under the table.

Other than that, the room was mostly bare. There was a screen set into what was now the floor, which was smashed beyond repair, as well as a vent in the wall, but it was out of reach even if she wanted to try for it.

Looking up at the door, she found that it had swung shut after her, which she’d already anticipated, but to her surprise, no bots had smashed in after her, which got her thinking, how were they programmed? It wasn’t like she had extensive knowledge to draw upon, in fact the nearest thing she had was her knowledge of animal behavior, which was barely similar, but it did give her a method to gauge how they were acting.

For starters, they’d attacked her on sight. That was fairly self-explanatory, though she felt that there was probably something else there, some way of determining friend from foe, maybe some kind of electronic signature or shape recognition, though that would still have them attacking any employees that happened to be nearby. The second thing was that some of the bots in the storeroom hadn’t attacked her, she’d lost sight of them, but then they didn’t show back up with the rest and that had been about the time she’d heard gunfire, so she was tempted to extrapolate that if they couldn’t see a target, they’d be attracted to sound. Other than that, she didn’t have enough to go on.

Right as she was figuring that out and starting to work on how to get out of the room, not to mention what to do afterwards, her ECHO crackled to life, causing her to jump.

“Uh, hello? I hope this isn’t a bad time…” Gaige’s voice came through.

“It’s fine, just keep your voice down.”

“Jeez, it’s not like I’m yelling at you or anything.”

“It’s not that, I think these things might home in on sound.”

“Oh.” Gaige’s voice came back, much softer than before “That makes sense.”

“Yeah, from what I’ve gathered, it seems they attack on sight and if they can’t find anyone visually, then they go by sound. After that, I’ve got nothing.”

“No, no, that’s actually pretty good.” Gaige sounded impressed “But, uh, where are you now?”

“In one of the meeting rooms, I think. One of the ones across the hall, out the side door.”

“How’d you get there?”

“I jumped. You?”

“Me? I didn’t have to jump, well I did, but it was up.”

“No. I meant, where are you?”

“Oh, that makes more sense, I’m currently in one of the offices, a bit, er, down from the bosses office and on one side. So, what now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, now what? Do you want me to come down to where you are? Are you gonna try and climb up to me? What are we gonna do?”

“What’s Deathtrap say?”

“Uh, I haven’t called him yet. I was more concerned about all that crashing going on down there.”

Artemis thought back to all the noise that the falling shelving had made, not to mention whatever that filing cabinet thing had been and nodded to herself. “That makes sense.”

“So? What was all that?” Came an exasperated sounding question.

“Oh, uh, the bots were trying to attack me, but ended up hitting the shelving instead, which eventually broke it loose and sent it falling down. Other than that, something came crashing through the wall as I was trying to get into this hall, but I didn’t see what it was.”

“Crashing through the wall?”

“Yeah, well, actually it was more like the ceiling, nearly hit me too, had to jump back and catch one of the supports still attached to the floor.”

“Oh, sorry.”

Artemis nodded, it made sense that Gaige would be worried about her nearly being hit by something like that, not to mention feeling guilty about not being there to help, not that there was anything she could’ve done even if she had been there.

“Eh, no problem, I’m fine.” Artemis said, trying to assuage the other girl’s guilt. “But back to more pressing things, I don’t think you should try and come down here.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, first off, you don’t have any cables or ropes with you, do you? Without them, how’re you getting down here, especially since most of the shelves near the top have been taken out. That also means that I’m not getting back up that way.”

“You’re probably right.” Gaige answered, sounding depressed “So what’re you gonna do? And for that matter, what should I?”

“I’m gonna wait a minute and then try and figure a way outta this room and back across the hall. Then, depending on how clear it is, I’ll probably try and get over to the service access for the machines and climb up as far as I can on the mesh, before exiting and climbing the rest of the way till I get to the top of the shipping area, though I expect heavy resistance up there.”

She paused and thought for a second, then added “As for you, why don’t you contact Deathtrap and let him know we’re alright and what’s up. Then you could try and find the stairs that lead down to the receiving area. I mean, there’s gotta be some way for them to get to the office that doesn’t trek through all the storage, right? Once you’re thought there, you could wait for me or Deathtrap.”

“That sounds like a plan. But what happens if you can’t get up?”

“Then I’ll have to find an alternate route.”

“Or I could try and send Deathtrap down to get you?”

“Maybe, but I don’t know how easily he’d fit through the stairwell or some of the other places and until we know that, I think I should be at least trying to get out on my own.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Oh, one last thing. Don’t contact me for a little while unless it’s an emergency, cause if these things are actually drawn by sound, I’d rather not make any more of it then I need to.”

“Oh, OK, makes sense, well, be careful and don’t hesitate to call if something goes wrong, we’ll figure it out together, alright?”


“Be safe.”

“You too.”

Artemis looked at her ECHO for a moment, something about that had struck her as odd, but she couldn’t really put her finger on it, so she mulled on it while she carefully made her way across the table, feeling it rock beneath her.

She made it to the other side and started to push on it, but quickly realized that she wasn’t getting anywhere. Taking a step back she looked at the problem and tried to think about it. The instant she took her mind off of the strange conversation with Gaige, her mind snapped into place and she realized what was wrong about it. Gaige had told her to be safe, something she never would’ve done normally since she would’ve thought it would invite misfortune. Artemis smiled slightly at that, maybe she was learning to not be so superstitious.

Looking back at her problem, she also realized that she had the solution to it too. She carefully walked back across it and drug one of the chairs over, sitting it upright. She crouched down and grabbed one edge of the table and with a heave managed to pick it up, mostly thanks to her cybernetics and set it on the chair.

Making sure that the table was leaned against the wall, she made her way to the other end and repeated the process. As soon as she was finished, she took a breather, leaning against the wall until her heart rate was back to normal.

Once she was feeling up to it, she wheeled the table over, moving slowly since she could tell that the far chair was quite tippy and she could barely keep the table from falling into one of the walls. But eventually she managed to get it over to the wall.

Working her way back along the table, she made her way till she was about in the middle and let the table tilt towards her till it was resting against what had once been the floor. Just as it made contact with the wall, the chairs snapped out from under it, throwing them into the far wall and sending the table crashing down.

She crouched under the angled table, rubbing her head where it had been knocked into the wall and waited to see if any of the bots would come and investigate.

She waited, and waited and just as she was starting to think that she’d been wrong about the noise, she heard a thump come from the door, causing it to rattle in its frame. Freezing, she nearly held her breath as the thumping continued, she could almost see the bot bouncing uselessly off the door, unable to figure out why it couldn’t get through, which nearly caused he to laugh.

Clutching her hands over her mouth, she waited. After almost a minute of the rattling, the bot seemed to give up and silence returned, but Artemis didn’t move.

She sat there for minutes, waiting to make sure that the bot had in fact, given up and wasn’t just sitting there waiting to see if anything moved. After a while she started to feel ridiculous, these bots didn’t have the programming to sit around and make a trap, at least not once they were activated, so she crawled her way to the wall and used her back to start lifting the table up, propping it against the wall as she went, till she couldn’t get it any higher.

She wiggled her way out from under it and went to the far end of the room to examine it.

The table made it almost up to the door, but there were two problems she could see. The first was that there was nothing preventing the table from sliding back down the instant she tried to climb it, so she’d have to figure out some way to brace it.

The second was easier to fix, one of the table’s legs was in the way of the door opening, which meant that she’d have to cut it off once she’d made her way up and hope that she could do it quickly and quietly, before she drew the attention of any of the bots.

Looking around the room, she quickly realized there wasn’t anything that she could easily use to reinforce the table, at least not anything immediately apparent, so she had to think a bit while she dug around in her pack.

A minute later, she gave up and sighed, leaning against the nearest table leg. There was nothing in her pack that could be used, or rather, nothing she could use. Had Gaige been there, she was sure the other girl could’ve used something to get the job done, after all, she was a genius. Just hanging around she occasionally made Artemis feel dumb, like she could barely keep up on some of the conversations Gaige had. It totally escaped her that whenever she talked about hunting, meat prep or anything like that, Gaige felt the exact same way.

Bringing herself back to the problem at hand, she turned and looked up at the table, only to ■■■■ her head, then swing back around and look at the rest of the room. She sprung to her feet and got to work. First, she sliced off the nearest table leg, the one she’d been leaning on at a sharp angle and then the other leg on her level. She made her way to the broken screen and tapped on it lightly, having her suspicion verified, she dug out her crowbar, which wouldn’t be great for this, but was the best that she had and then took a spare top from her pack and wrapped it around the non-angled end of the first leg. Positioning it as far to one side as she could she drove it into the screen and the wall behind it, pounding it in with her crowbar while using her jacket to muffle the sound as best she could. Once it was in place, she repeated the process with the other one.

Putting her stuff away, she moved the table back the few inches until it rested against the legs. Nodding to herself, she carefully tested it and to her relief, the table didn’t knock the legs loose.

With everything in place, she double checked her gear and made her way across the room. Once she was set, she took off running and hit the table with as much momentum as she could, scrambling up the smooth surface until she was able to grab onto the top leg.

Hanging on with a look of triumph on her face, she switched her grip to the edge of the table and popped her Digi-blade. She wished she had another hand as she aimed at the leg that was in the doors way and sliced it off, wincing as it fell and clattered with what felt like the noise of a cannon going off in the room.

She waited for the banging on the door to start back up, but after a little while, when nothing happened, she relaxed slightly and reached for the doorknob. Gripping it tightly, she twisted and very slowly raised it enough to peek out.

Finding the hall empty, she raised the door enough for her to poke her head out and glanced up and down. Finding nothing, she let out a shaky breath and looked at her next problem, how to get back across.

She eyeballed the gap, she’d made it over with a bit of a start, something she had no way of accomplishing from this side, still, she might make it, but it was right at the edge and if anything went wrong, such as the door swinging shut onto her and she might not make it. She briefly considered cutting the door off and using it as a bridge, but she didn’t think it’d fit, not to mention be time consuming and she’d already wasted enough time, something that some part of her warned she didn’t have a lot of, so she scrapped that idea.

She also considered using her cable to try and throw a loop around something, but she couldn’t see anything over there that would work, other then maybe trying to get it all the way around the door itself, but that would be tricky, so in the end, she went with the first bad idea she had and holding the door up with one hand, tensed herself and after a moment, threw herself across the gap with as much force as she could generate.

Once again grateful for her cybernetic, she felt the acceleration it imparted on her as she focused entirely upon the door rushing towards her and flailed her hands out in a desperate attempt to catch it before her momentum died.

Her fingertips brushed the edge of the door just as she fell past it and with a titanic effort, clutched onto it. Her other hand grabbed on even as she heard something in the door give a heart freezing crack and the entire thing started tilting precariously. She yanked herself up as fast as she could and scrambled across the surface of the door with all four limbs till she hit the door frame as fast as she could and without pausing to think about it or aim, launched herself into the space on the other side.

As soon as she was clear, she realized how dangerous what she was doing was as the twisted metal frame of the shelving unit that had fallen passed beneath her and she managed to twist her body enough to land on the narrow shelf, hitting with enough force to force her into a roll that brought her off the side, but she managed to hit the next support with her stomach and stop herself.

Letting out a soft groan of pain, she hung there for a few seconds, not just to get the wind back in her stomach, but to make sure she hadn’t alerted any bots. But it was mostly to get the wind back.

Eventually she hauled herself up and looked around, the room was a mess, but she could still make her way around, so she headed to one side of the shelves and looked down, spotting the door she needed was hanging open, but she couldn’t see anything within.

Taking the cable off the side of her pack, she looped it around the frame in a similar way to what she’d done in the dump on the Project Odysseus station and slid her way down. Once her feet touched the scree of broken crates and parts, she struggled to find suitable footing and, in the end, just gave up and continued to hold the cable for support as she tried to peer through the doors.

From where she was, she couldn’t see anything, but she knew that didn’t mean much and her hearing wasn’t doing much better if the bots were sitting still, waiting for someone to appear. But without any better options she knew she was going to have to go down, so she kicked out and continued sliding down.

The room opened up around her, but to her surprise, she didn’t encounter any bots. When she thought about it, there had been an abnormally large number of them in the previous encounter, so it stood to reason that they’d come up from down here to join in the fight.

Kicking slightly, she managed to land on the shelves on the side she wanted and started re-coiling the cable. Walking over to the far edge she spotted the door she wanted and quickly figured out the best way to get back down to it, which was remarkably similar to how she’d entered the room, looping the cable over the end of the shelves and rappelling down.

Once she got to the proper level, she wrapped the cable around her arm and started swinging till she could grab the doorknob and after a brief struggle, managed to get it open, only to get thrown back as tools and parts started spilling out.

Wincing at the crashing and tinging that they made as they bounced off the ground, she grabbed the nearest shelving unit and waited to see if any bots appeared, but it seemed that they were either dead, too far away or otherwise occupied.

Letting go of the shelf, she kicked her way back over and pulled the door back open to look in and let out a sigh, it seemed that almost everything in the maintenance department had fallen and was now blocking the way.

Without any other way to go she resigned herself to having to go the long way and began lowering herself down.


Watching as the last of the bots in the immediate area fell into a pool of melting goo, Gaige turned and examined her surroundings again. The offices were a mess, which was to be expected considering their current rotation, but even so, she could make out a number of things that worried her, filing cabinets and heavy desks that looked like they might fall at any time, broken things that had once been electronics or furniture were now smashed and strewn across the floor all of which made the place a precarious hazard to maneuver through.

It was times like these that she wished she was more like Artemis, who could hop around this stuff with ease, or at least appeared to. Thinking of the other girl, Gaige realized she needed to check in, to make sure she was alright and now would be about the best time to do it, especially since she couldn’t see any bots in the area, but first she’d need to get somewhere a little more secure, so she looked around and spotted an office that shouldn’t be to hard too get to.

She climbed up the side of one of the fallen desks and onto the wall of a cubicle, which she was tempted to kick as the memory of her day in one came back with a vengeance, but she repressed it, now wasn’t the time.

Once she was on the thin, flexing wall, she dashed and made a leap at the doorway, catching the frame she pulled herself up, feet kicking at the air and rolled into the room.

She lifted the door closed and leaned against the desk while pulling out her ECHO. Staring at it, she was suddenly hit by the fact that she had no idea how to start this, she didn’t want it to be too casual, or to sound too panicked.

Unable to think of something, she swallowed and just let the first thing that popped into her mind out.

“Uh, hello? I hope this isn’t a bad time…” Gaige winced at how lame that was as she trailed off.

“It’s fine, just keep your voice down.”

She felt a wave of relief at the sound of the girl’s voice, it sounded like she was alright so Gaige replied in a light fashion “Jeez, it’s not like I’m yelling at you or anything.”

“It’s not that, I think these things might home in on sound.”

“Oh.” Gaige kicked herself, it should’ve been obvious that’s what they were doing, after all, they’d homed in on her as soon as she’d fired, so she dropped her voice as she continued “That makes sense.”

“Yeah, from what I’ve gathered, it seems they attack on sight and if they can’t find anyone visually, then they go by sound. After that, I’ve got nothing.”

“No, no, that’s actually pretty good.” Gaige was impressed, she hadn’t thought about it at all really, she’d been more concerned with taking them out before they’d body-checked her to think about why they were attacking, which made her feel like an idiot, after all, she was the robotics expert here, still, she knew that she could feel stupid later, right then, they needed to get back together, so she needed to know where Artemis was “But, uh, where are you now?”

“In one of the meeting rooms, I think. One of the ones across the hall, out the side door.”

“How’d you get there?”

“I jumped. You?”

“Me? I didn’t have to jump, well I did, but it was up.”

“No. I meant, where are you?”

“Oh, that makes more sense, I’m currently in one of the offices, a bit, er, down from the bosses office and on one side. So, what now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what now? Do you want me to come down to where you are? Are you gonna try and climb up to me? What are we gonna do?”

“What’s Deathtrap say?”

“Uh, I haven’t called him yet.” Now she really felt bad, how could her first thought not have been about her BFF? He was out there freezing his servos off and she was in here babbling away “I was more concerned about all that crashing going on down there.”

“That makes sense.”

“So? What was all that?” Gaige asked, wishing the other girl would start picking up on the subtleties of conversations.

“Oh, uh, the bots were trying to attack me, but ended up hitting the shelving instead, which eventually broke it loose and sent it falling down. Other than that, something came crashing through the wall as I was trying to get into this hall, but I didn’t see what it was.”

“Crashing through the wall?” Gaige felt her heart fall, she knew what it was and the thought that she’d almost killed her friend crushed her spirit.

“Yeah, well, actually it was more like the ceiling, nearly hit me too, had to jump back and catch one of the supports still attached to the floor.”

“Oh, sorry.” Was all she could say. What else was there to say about it? She’d apologize properly later, but for now, she’d just have to feel bad, cause the words wouldn’t form.

“Eh, no problem, I’m fine.” Artemis replied, obviously trying to wave it off to make Gaige feel better, which only had the opposite effect. “But back to more pressing things, I don’t think you should try and come down here.”

“What? Why?” Gaige asked even as she knew, she was a danger to the other girl, so she should stay as far away as possible, like another planet. She had to wonder how often Artemis had been hurt before they’d met that she didn’t think this many injuries were excessive?

“Well, first off, you don’t have any cables or ropes with you, do you? Without them, how’re you getting down here, especially since most of the shelves near the top have been taken out. That also means that I’m not getting back up that way.”

“You’re probably right. So, what’re you gonna do? And for that matter, what should I?”

“I’m gonna wait a minute and then try and figure a way outta this room and back across the hall. Then, depending on how clear it is, I’ll probably try and get over to the service access for the machines and climb up as far as I can on the mesh, before exiting and climbing the rest of the way till I get to the top of the shipping area, though I expect heavy resistance up there.

“As for you, why don’t you contact Deathtrap and let him know we’re alright and what’s up. Then you could try and find the stairs that lead down to the receiving area. I mean, there’s gotta be some way for them to get to the office that doesn’t trek through all the storage, right? Once you’re thought there, you could wait for me or Deathtrap.”

“That sounds like a plan. But what happens if you can’t get up?” Gaige was grateful that the other girl was thinking ahead, planning things out as well as she was, it allowed Gaige to not have to think, which was a dangerous thing at that moment, with the dark thoughts spiraling around her.

“Then I’ll have to find an alternate route.”

Gaige wanted to help, to do something that could ease the burden on her friend, so she offered “Or I could try and send Deathtrap down to get you?”

“Maybe, but I don’t know how easily he’d fit through the stairwell or some of the other places and until we know that, I think I should be at least trying to get out on my own.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Of course she was right, Gaige knew that, after all, she’d designed and built Deathtrap, so she knew how big the halls would have to be for him to fit through, so why hadn’t she thought of that? The answer was obvious to Gaige, because she’d become desperate to not be deemed useless by the other girl, so instead of helping, she’d only proven her right.

“Oh, one last thing. Don’t contact me for a little while unless it’s an emergency,” Gaige understood, she wouldn’t want to talk to herself either given everything that’d happened, but Artemis continued “cause if these things are actually drawn by sound, I’d rather not make any more of it then I need to.”

“Oh, OK, makes sense, well, be careful and don’t hesitate to call if something goes wrong, we’ll figure it out together, alright?”


“Be safe.”

“You too.” And she ended the call.

“Be safe? Wow, that was the lamest way to end, sound desperate much?” Gaige’s cheeks flamed as she chastised herself and looked at her ECHO. She knew that she should get onto it again and contact Deathtrap, but she couldn’t bring herself to face him at that exact second.

‘I just don’t want him to fly into an unknown number of enemies, at least not without backup.’ She told herself ‘It has nothing to do with being unable to face him right now.’

Having made excuses to convince herself, though they hadn’t really worked, she pulled the door open and looked around, trying to find the stairwell. They hadn’t seen it on their way through, at least not that they’d noticed, it could’ve been one of the doors around the room, but those all led to offices, so that wasn’t likely.

Thinking back to what she knew of corporations and their bosses, she tried to think about how the place would be laid out.

‘The boss would want to travel the shortest distance they could, but also not have the rest of the employees walking past their office all the time, so it should be close to the main office but a little ways away, probably on one side, like down a hall or something and considering what’s below, it’s probably on the outer wall, since if it was on the inner, it would end up being in the middle of the room or something in the receiving area.’ She thought, so she started searching from the boss’s office out and quickly spied a side hall.

The only problem was how was she going to get there? She couldn’t fly like Deathtrap, nor was she as good at climbing as Artemis. Still, she was no slouch and she’d proven her first time on Jaka that she could in fact climb, so she’d have to do what she needed.

She crawled out of the office and looked around, it seemed her best bet would be to climb the rather flimsy cubicle walls, so she jumped back over to them, feeling them sway distressingly under her. After she got used to the give in them as she shifted her weight, she found that they actually weren’t that hard to climb, as long as she went slowly.

That didn’t mean that it was easy, since the higher she got, the more worried about falling she became, especially since the walls weren’t feeling all that stable. She kept reminding herself that they were fine, that it was the lower ones that would’ve been weaker since they’d been hit by the falling desks and such.

Soon enough, she’d made her way to the top and looking down the hall, spotted a number of doors and openings. Making sure to check the other side of the room, where there were only more offices, she took a run and leaped at the opening. She would’ve made it easily except the wall gave out as she pushed off of it, sending her stomach falling faster than the rest of her.

She slammed into the wall and punched her hands into the wall, her cybernetic fingers cutting clean through the plaster and into the concrete behind, while her other hand just hurt as it tore into the surface as her chest smacked painfully into the hard wall.

Wincing in pain, she pulled herself up and grabbed the edge, dragging herself up and onto the flat of the hall. Rubbing her chest and blowing on her sore fingers, she made sure they weren’t broken or bruised so that she could use her gun when she needed, she moved forward.

Above her were doors to the bathrooms as well as a drinking fountain. Up ahead, she spotted the opening in the floor that fell into the break-room and straight ahead were the closed doors of an elevator, which meant that the last door, up ahead and on the ceiling had to lead to the stairs, which was confirmed when she saw the sign next to it.

With a small jump she grabbed the doorknob and tried to pull herself up, but her hand just slipped off the knob, dropping her back down.

She looked at the door again and found that she had a bit of a problem, how was she supposed to open the door from below, push it up and get something in to prevent it from closing again so that she could get through? She considered briefly trying the elevator, but without some way to open the doors, she knew that it wasn’t happening, so she went back to the problem at hand.

She pulled out her hammer and looked at the ceiling and shrugged. With another jump, she latched onto the knob and pulled up as fast as she could, swinging the hammer at the frame as she did, driving the claw into the ceiling just behind the frame as hard as she could.

Luckily for her, it found enough purchase to hold her, even if it was temporarily as she twisted the knob and pushed the door open enough to get her left hand through. Letting go of her hammer temporarily, she drug herself up and through the door, pushing it out of the way until she was through. Leaning back, she pried her hammer loose and holstered it before looking at the new challenge the stairs made for her.

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Chapter 19



He was getting worried that no one had contacted him yet. He’d been getting bored of melting the bots as they continued doing whatever it was, they’d been programmed to do and was seriously considering flying up to the entrance, whether to make sure it was clear for the girls or to bust in after them he wasn’t sure, but it would beat floating around here killing time and wasting energy, so when he received an incoming message the first thing he thought was ‘About time.’

“Hey babe.” Gaige said to him “You good?”

He replied that he was and that he was glad she was alright, he’d been worried when the building fell over.

“Yeah, that was a ride wasn’t it?”

He told her he didn’t know, he’d been outside when the bots had started attacking the supports and asked where they’d been when it happened?

“Oh, uh, we were in the office when you warned us, thanks for that by the way, and we were trying to get out when everything went sideways.”

He nodded to himself and asked if they’d found anything.

“I think so, we’ll have to see once we get back to the ship.”

Well, that’s good he told her, at least it was for something, so where were they now, how long before they made it to the door and what did she want him to do?

“Yeah, um, about that, see, the thing is that we kinda got separated.”

What? How did that happen, he wondered?

“It’s, well, uh…”

She saved you from falling and fell herself, didn’t she? He guessed.

“Yeah.” He could hear the depression in her voice, he knew that she didn’t like being saved all the time, nor the fact that Artemis kept putting herself in harm’s way for her and he sympathized, not just with her either. He understood how she felt, how stressful it was to watch someone put themselves in harm’s way over and over, he knew how down she got when she watched the other girl try and sacrifice herself for her, but on the flip side, he also sympathized with Artemis. He understood her instinctive desire to protect Gaige, her willingness to act without thinking to do so, it was one of the things they’d bonded over the first morning. So, he was a bit torn on how to react, which is why he was a bit grateful when Gaige continued “She’s making her way around and up so we should meet her when she gets to the shipping area. Oh, and she figured out the bots programming, well, at least what she said makes sense. She thinks, and I have to agree with her, that they attack first on sight, then, if they can’t see anything, they follow loud noises. After that, well, we don’t know. So, what do you think?”

He thought about it, it would’ve made sense, except he wasn’t being attacked, so that was a fault in the theory, unless they mistook him for one of them, which he doubted, so he told her as much.

“Hmm, that does put a rather sizable dent in our theory. Dang, I thought she’d got it. Oh well.”

Deathtrap shrugged and asked again what she wanted him to be doing, explaining that he’d been frying the bots as they went about, well, he didn’t know what they were doing. Did she want him to continue with that, or should he come to the door and wait, or should he enter and try to join up with her.

“Hmm, that’s a good question. How far can your sensors reach inside? Like, did you hear any of the gunfire as I was killin the bots in here?”

He responded that he hadn’t heard anything.

“Alright, so, why don’t you stay there for a couple of minutes, make sure they aren’t trying anything, then come and get to the door, make sure that it’s clear and when you hear gunfire, you bust in here and start kickin ass. We’ll try and keep this place clear till Artemis gets here, that sound good?”

He had no problem with it and let her know, she’d just started to respond when the entire building shifted slightly, the end falling another ten feet or so as a bit of ice gave way, allowing it to slide down. Hurriedly he called out, asking if Gaige was alright.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I think I’m pretty near the, well, what used to be the ground floor so it didn’t shift that much, it’s a good thing I’m not at the other end cause that would’ve been terrifying.” She said with a thin laugh, obviously trying to mollify him. He shook his head, seeing through her was easy after knowing her for so long, but he was glad she was alright.

“Well, I better get going. See you in a few babe.”

With that, she signed out leaving him alone again. It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to operating by himself from time to time, it was just that he preferred the company of being with her. It made him feel more at ease to not have to worry about what was happening to her, what kind of trouble she was getting herself into. He was a lot more comfortable now that she’d got back in the groove of things, for a while there, she’d been awfully shaky, between the booze and the self-denial. It wasn’t that she had been incompetent or anything like that, it was just that she was much better off once she remembered who she was, which was something else that he was grateful for Artemis about.

The thought of her suddenly reminded him of what Gaige had said, about her having fallen further down, which made him wonder where she’d been in the building when it had shifted and if she was alright. He knew she could take care of herself, but there were things that you couldn’t do alone, like shift a large piece of machinery off your leg. Still, he figured she’d call if she needed help, or if it came to it, that once him and Gaige were back together, they could figure it out if she didn’t arrive within a reasonable amount of time.

His mental clock told him that it was time to go and start towards the meeting point, so with one last caustic beam, he flew up and towards the entrance.


After poking her head into the stairwell and finding out that, while it wasn’t impossible to traverse, it would be extremely difficult, having to use the railings to climb up and down to get around the floors, Artemis went to the elevator, pulled out her crowbar and got to work opening it up.

As she heaved against it, she realized that she’d been using the tool quite a bit lately, it along with the cable were proving to be invaluable additions to her pack. While she’d carried the cable while she’d been a hunter, the crowbar was a new addition, after all, there wasn’t much call for it while hunting, not many creatures required the bar to pry them open.

The door creaked open with a grinding noise and after a readjustment of her grip, she was able to get the doors open wide enough to slip through.

Poking her head down through the gap, she had a brief vision of the doors snapping closed on her, but shook it off and focused on the shaft stretching ahead of her. Looking down, she realized that she was lucky and that the elevator had been on the ground floor when the building had fallen, so she wouldn’t have to try and figure out a way around it or worse, have to go through the stairs.

Dropping into the hole, she landed lightly, trying to make as little sound as possible so as not to alert the bots that might be waiting and started padding forward. The going was a bit difficult since the walls of the elevator shaft hadn’t been designed to be used as a walkway. There were support beams and electronics amongst other things sticking out, not to mention the grime of years of use.

Still, it was a lot easier and faster than going through the stairs, so she couldn’t really complain as she made good time getting to what had once been the ground floor.

The real challenge came once she was at the other end, first she had to climb up the elevator itself, grateful that the floor had been made out of reinforced grating so she could find purchase on it. Once she was to the top, she had to find something to hook her legs through while she worked on getting the doors themselves open. Remembering what Gaige had done on the Project Odysseus station elevator, she unlocked the backside of the doors and jammed her crowbar into the gap. These doors opened easier, no doubt due to her having undid the opening mechanism on the back and she soon drug herself up and onto what had once been the ground floor’s wall.

Taking a second to catch her breath and look around for bots, she was relieved to not find any floating around waiting for her.

The room was pretty much how she’d imagined it would be, boxes and parts were strewn across the floor, shelves tilted dangerously, but it would still be manageable.

She stored her crowbar and got her cable back out. She looked around and found the most secure looking route upward. She’d have to throw the cable up and over one of the supports of the shelving up one level, then pull herself up, climb the rest of the way up the side, then repeat the process all the way to the top. Once she was there, she’d probably have to call Gaige to get her help, or barring that, try and loop her cable around one of the doors.

She knew she should figure that out before she got there, but she wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, so she’d worry about it when she got there.

Just as she started to spin the cable to throw it, the building gave a terrifying shake and the ground vanished out from under her. Flailing desperately as she fell, she smacked into the ground as the building came to a sudden stop.

She guessed that she’d only fallen about ten feet or so, but the combination of the terror of it and the unexpectedness of not just the start but the stop, had left her bruised and battered worse than the initial fall of the building.

Then she heard the noise from above and realized that the shake had knocked loose crates and parts that had been wedged higher up and they started tumbling down, smashing into the shelves below them, shearing them off and adding to the force hitting the next one down till a virtual avalanche of metal was flying towards her.

Acting on instinct, she dove back into the elevator shaft and curled into a ball, waiting for the cacophony to stop.

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a handful of seconds, it petered out with one last tinging as a small bit of metal bounced down the newly formed piles.

Nervously raising her head, she looked around. A few small bits had fallen in with her, but nothing too bad. Looking up, the door didn’t seem bent or dented and she could still see a way up through it, so she wouldn’t be forced to go all the way back, so that was at least something, so she set to work climbing back up, keeping in mind that the bots may well have come to investigate the racket.

Poking her head up, she did a quick sweep of the area, but didn’t see any bots. With everything falling like it had, they probably wouldn’t be able to investigate all the sound in all the rooms, there was probably enough to keep them occupied in whatever room they’d been in to prevent them from coming here, which she was grateful for as she pulled herself the rest of the way up and surveyed the damage.

The room was a mess. It was worse than she’d anticipated, with the shelves tangled and piled together into an almost impassable wall. Looking up she could see that at least two thirds of the shelves in the room had been taken out in the fall, meaning that she couldn’t get up that way.

Sighing, she turned and looked through the mountain of scrap towards the last place she wanted to go to, the factory floor. She couldn’t see the door from where she was, but it was her last way out, barring calling Deathtrap and having him come in and carry her out, which was looking increasingly tempting. But she couldn’t do that, if he came in, all the bots would attack and despite his immense capability, without at least one other person there to help, he’d probably get overwhelmed, so she wanted to try and not have to rely on him if she could help it.

Besides, he needed to make sure Gaige was alright.

Thinking of her, Artemis wondered if she was alright. She should be, after all, she should be closer to the hinge point of the building, so she shouldn’t have had as much of an impact.

Still, she was simultaneously grateful that the girl hadn’t called her and a bit disappointed she hadn’t. She didn’t want her calling for nothing and giving away where Artemis was, but it would’ve been nice to know that she was at least a bit worried about her well-being.

Shaking the thought out of her head, she turned to the pile in front of her and got to work. First, she needed to figure out a path over it or maybe through it. Tilting her head, she examined the problem and her eyes flicked across it, picking out the layers with the unconscious ease of someone trained to spot camouflage. It really wasn’t all that different, spotting things and figuring how far back they were, the harder part was trying to figure out what was stable and what might slide, not to mention how much weight it would take to cause it to slide.

After a few seconds of this, she got to work picking her way up and through the mountain. Grabbing onto juts of metal, slipping around the arches the shelves had made and occasionally having to crawl her way through. It reminded her of the dump for some reason, only this was a lot more pleasant, even if she was having to crawl a lot more often. It was probably the fact that there wasn’t as much glass in it, not to mention no strange beast trying to eat her.

Using that to keep her mind occupied, she picked her way through till she could see the doors that led to the factory. Unfortunately, the lower of the two doors was buried under a scree of trash, so she couldn’t get to it and the piles didn’t reach the second one, leaving her wondering how she was going to get out.

The thought of calling Deathtrap resurfaced, but she pushed it down and looked at the upper door. It wasn’t all that high up from where she was and the door itself was hanging her way, the problem was that she didn’t have any means to climb up to it. Looking around she spotted a part that could be useful, so she picked her way over and carefully pulled it out. Attaching it to the end of her cable, she gave it a spin, building up momentum until she launched it at the door.

It took her a few tries, wincing each time it clanged against the wall and fell back into the trash with another clanging noise, but eventually she got it to wedge into the corner of the opening. Giving it an experimental tug, she nodded, it was good enough, so she kept tension on it as she made her way to the wall and started climbing.

It didn’t take long for her to make it to the door and after detaching the scrap and re-coiling the cable, she looked into the factory floor.


The stairs had provided her with some good exercise, being forced to go up and down, walking on the rises of the steps, which were narrow and steep, making it a bit hard, but eventually she made it over to the loading bay door.

Pulling it up, she scouted the area to make sure that it was safe and that she had a way down, before closing the door and pulling her ECHO out. She needed to check in with Deathtrap and make sure that he was alright, not that she had any doubt about that, but mostly to let him know that they were alright and what was up.

She took a deep breath and tried to put on her calmest, most nonchalant voice as she keyed him in and said “Hey babe. You good?”

“Urrgurgu” His welcome voice came through, sounding a bit relieved at the sound of her voice.

“Yeah, that was a ride wasn’t it?”


“Oh, uh, we were in the office when you warned us, thanks for that by the way, and we were trying to get out when everything went sideways.”


“I think so, we’ll have to see once we get back to the ship.” She didn’t say that she wasn’t sure if it was a trap, or that Holloway was still alive like they’d suspected, him knowing wouldn’t change anything now, besides, he probably already had a good idea of that anyway.


“Yeah, um, about that, see, the thing is that we kinda got separated.”

“Urgu” And there it was, the question she didn’t want to answer, not just cause it was embarrassing, but also because she still thought she should’ve found a way down to help Artemis.

“It’s, well, uh…”

“Urggr rurrug” He hit it on his first shot, causing her to wince at the predictability of it all.

“Yeah.” She felt down as she said it, she hated that she was having to be saved all the time. ‘One of these days, I’m gonna be the one doing the saving.’ She told herself, determined to make it happen. Knowing that Deathtrap would see through her, that he’d know that she was down if she didn’t keep going and not wanting to worry him, she quickly continued “She’s making her way around and up so we should meet her when she gets to the shipping area. Oh, and she figured out the bots programming, well, at least what she said makes sense. She thinks, and I have to agree with her, that they attack first on sight, then, if they can’t see anything, they follow loud noises. After that, well, we don’t know. So, what do you think?”


“Hmm, that does put a rather sizable dent in our theory. Dang, I thought she’d got it. Oh well.” Gaige felt like she was missing something there, some part that would explain what was wrong with the theory, but she couldn’t grasp it, she wished Artemis was there, it wasn’t that she was particularly good at robotics, in fact she wasn’t as good as Gaige’s dad at it, but she was fairly good at behavioral analysis, not to mention she seemed to pick things up that Gaige had missed, which is what she was feeling at the moment.

“Urrgurg” She could hear him frying a bot in the background, so she thought about it for a moment, then asked him something.

“Hmm, that’s a good question. How far can your sensors reach inside? Like, did you hear any of the gunfire as I was killin the bots in here?”


“Alright, so, why don’t you stay there for a couple of minutes, make sure they aren’t trying anything, then come and get to the door, make sure that it’s clear and when you hear gunfire, you bust in here and start kickin ass. We’ll try and keep this place clear till Artemis gets here, that sound good?”


She nodded to herself and opened her mouth to respond when the entire building gave a giant shake that bruised her tailbone when she slammed back down onto the step she was using for a seat. Wincing, she leaned forward, rubbing her butt. She was glad she was alone at the moment due to how utterly undignified she looked, but right then she didn’t care, it hurt.

“Urgurr” Came the slightly panicked call, which did wonders for calming her down.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I think I’m pretty near the, well, what used to be the ground floor so it didn’t shift that much, it’s a good thing I’m not at the other end cause that would’ve been terrifying.” She said with a thin laugh, trying to put him at ease and not convey how much her butt hurt.


She smiled at the ECHO and said “Well, I better get going. See you in a few babe.”

Disconnecting, she hung the ECHO back on her belt and stood up, still massaging her tailbone. Taking a couple of experimental steps, she found that the ache was going away, so she made her way back to the door and lifted it to peek out again and see what, if anything, had changed in the tremor.

Her first impression was that she was looking into a different room, similar, but in no way the same. Everything that had managed to hold on when the building had tipped over was now smashed against the far wall, completely obscuring the doors that she knew were there. Of the stuff that remained, there was only a small office off to the side of the unloading docks and a few racks that must have been bolted to the floor that she guessed were to stack parts to organize them as they were unloaded.

The real problem she was facing was how to get across the room. Actually, before that, she had to get down. Looking around she saw that she could drop down, if she swung a bit and landed in the small indent that held the elevator.

She pulled the door open as far as it would go, but the auto-close feature was still functional, so it wouldn’t stay. Letting it close, she pulled out a couple of tools and fixed that. As long as she was at it, she knocked the pins out of the hinges and just picked the door up and set it aside.

Lowering herself though the opening, she had a moment of clarity as she realized how bad of an idea this really was and swung over, letting go to drop into the few inch wide space in front of the elevator doors.

Grabbing onto whatever she could to hold herself, she took stock of her situation. From where she was, she could see that there were no bots in the room, at least not active ones, she could make out a few busted ones amongst the wreckage strewn across the floor. Other than that, if she could drop down properly and throw herself about seven feet to the side, she should be able to catch the shelving that had been bolted to the wall and use that to try and climb down.

Sighing, she shimmied as far as she could towards it and lowered herself down till she couldn’t go any further and then let her legs swing out into space as she dropped the few feet to grab onto the edge.

Panting and feeling sweat pouring down her back despite the cold temperature, she took a moment to calm herself down till she could feel her heart-rate slow back to normal. ‘If I’m this bad with just that drop, how long will I have to sit after the next part?’ She wondered.

Not looking forward to finding out, she started swinging her legs, building momentum till she let go, falling with a sickening feeling, she couldn’t have screamed if she’d wanted to, in fact, all that came out was a thin whimper when she flew past the first rack.

Her hands flailed desperately for it, but she was too far away. Realizing that she was still falling, she nearly succumbed to panic, but managed to stave it off as she continued falling, moving closer as she did, till her hand locked around the hard metal frame, nearly pulling her arm out of the socket as she slammed into the metal with a cacophonous crash.

Wincing in pain at the pain in her chest and arm, she still managed to throw herself into the shelving and behind a broken piece of pallet that had wedged a short ways over just before the bots arrived to investigate the noise.

They seemed to take forever, drifting around the room, looking for anything. Gaige knew she could easily take them, but the sounds of gunfire would draw more and while they weren’t a challenge to take out, she’d need to reload. Not to mention that she couldn’t dodge from her current position, so she was stuck there until they left.

Eventually they drifted off, seeming to have come to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything there. If they’d been smarter, they probably would’ve thought that it was just another crate falling after the last shake, but they weren’t programmed that well, so if they couldn’t see anything, then the room was clean and they left.

Gaige had been afraid that they’d just stop where they were once they’d swept the room, waiting for the next sound to activate them, but to her relief, they drifted off, back through the door to undoubtedly wait by the entrance.

She gave it a little bit, just to make sure they were gone, before slipping back out and climbing down.

Once she was at the ground, she let out a small sigh, it was good to not have to worry about falling for a moment. Of course, if the ground gives way under the weight of all the junk on it, that was a different matter, after all, she’d seen that happen once here already. Granted, the floor had a bit of help from the filing cabinet she’d dropped, but still.

Walking quickly but carefully around the room, trying to avoid the bigger piles of junk, she eventually made it to the far wall and climbed up the shelves there. Occasionally she had to climb over a cabinet or two, a few of which had warning labels on them that worried her about their contents leaking, but before long she’d made it to the door into the shipping area.

She peeked in, but didn’t see Deathtrap, which wasn’t a surprise since if he’d been there, she’d have heard the racket of the bots attacking by now. Instead, she saw a fleet of the bots hovering in the center of the room. So many in fact that she couldn’t see the other wall.

‘Great.’ She thought ‘Now how am I supposed to deal with them?’

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