Not only was Lilith determined not to help, she also seemed to be trying to make matters worse. Tasha was calm when she woke, mostly because the moment she tried to move she found that her head was spinning with pain and that she'd been tied up at the ankles and wrists. She sank back to the ground at that discovery, resting her head in the dirt and staring hollowly at nothing in particular.
"That was Mordecai's idea," Lilith supplied immediately, "Tying you up, that is. Figured it'd be better than having to knock you out again. Of course, I think the best option would have been not shooting at you to begin with."
Clearly, the siren was irate at Mordecai using an electric gun so close to where she was and wasn't going to place the blame on Roland. Mordecai thought that was most unfair.
"What is this all about?" Tasha asked weakly.
"Had to see how you reacted to a combat situation," Roland replied, "I, uh, didn't think it'd be quite so – extreme."
"You couldn't have asked?"
"Would you have been honest?" Mordecai asked quietly. She did not reply, which was answer enough.
"We figured out how we're going to assault the base while you were unconscious, at least," Roland said, stooping to untie the girl. She sat up, slowly, carefully not looking at any of them. "We've picked a spot to leave the runners and from there, we'll go on foot. Mordecai and Lilith will infiltrate the base first and will be creating a distraction away from the area you need to access. Brick and I will escort you in after that and will establish a perimeter to give you room to work. Once you're done, we'll get out, signal Mordecai and Lilith, and everyone will rendezvous back at the runners."
"It will be," Mordecai said with a grin, "You got me along. And the other three, I suppose."
"Just one condition," Roland continued, "If we come under fire, you duck and cover and let us take care of it. That crazy act might work on bandits, but it ain't going to do shit against Crimson Lance. They got shields and body armor."
"Works for me," Brick rumbled. He'd been sticking close to Bunny and the skag seemed to have calmed down once it realized that Tasha wasn't in danger anymore.
"Yeah, but you're like... six times skag-girl's size."
"More like seven," Tasha muttered, pushing to her feet. She dusted herself off and took stock. Roland had kindly left her knife and assault rifle sitting nearby and she retrieved these, sheathing the blade back at her waist, and slinging the rifle back over her shoulder.
"We waiting for the night cycle?" she asked them.
"No point to," Mordecai replied, "They've got night vision inside their helmets. The only people it'll hinder is us. We're going now. And since we've got three runners and Tasha is the only person that doesn't know where we're heading, I get to drive hers."
Tasha's protests fell on deaf ears. Mordecai was already sprinting for the driver's seat before anyone could stop him and he threw his Maliwan into the back, springing lightly into the seat and searching for the harness. Bloodwing hopped in a moment later and climbed over Mordecai's shoulder to flutter down into the space behind the seat where he'd be sheltered from the wind. Then Tasha was there, leaning against the roll bars and glaring down at the sniper.
"What do you mean, you're driving?" she growled.
"I never get to drive," he replied, "They always say that since I'm a sniper, I belong in the turret. Besides, you can spend the ride with Bunny that way."
"Fuck no, it's crowded up there with a full-grown skag. Bunny is all yours. I'm riding with Lilith."
She turned to go. Whistled at Bunny, who leapt to his feet and went running for the turret of her runner. The entire vehicle rocked as the skag clambered up the side and into the turret, vanishing under the edge of the tarp. Mordecai watched as there was a brief discussion among the remaining three Vault hunters and it seemed that Lilith had no qualms about partnering up with skag-girl. Mordecai thought that perhaps this was not a good development. But it was too late to reconsider, for everyone was making for their respective positions and within minutes the desert was shaken to life with the roar of three engines.
The Crimson Lance outpost was at a bottleneck in a remote part of the Dahl Headlands. It was on the very fringe of the sector, right up against the very edge of civilization. There was a line on Pandora, where humanity pushed up against a wall of hostile fauna, and found it could go no further without significant resources. In most parts, no one walked out their front door without a gun. In these parts, no one walked outside without a gun and at least three friends that also had guns. The Crimson Lance had settled their outpost where the surrounding cliffs grew narrow, effectively channeling anyone that would pass straight through their encampment. The ridges were devoid of cover and anyone trying to traverse those would be exposed to their watchtowers. It was a highly defensible area, but there didn't appear to be anything of immediate value for the Crimson Lance to defend. Roland commented on this as soon as the runners were stopped and the engines killed.
"The land past the outpost is flat and open," Tasha replied to his observation, "It's only inhabited by scattered camps as well, most of them bandit ones, and the ones that aren't bandits are too small and unimportant to warrant any attention. It'd be quite easy for the Crimson Lance to clear the area out and use it as a landing and staging area for interstellar ships."
"We can't have that," Roland said.
"I agree," Tasha replied, "But unless you want to murder everyone in that outpost, I think we'd best be content to simply restore power to the people living there."
The four Vault hunters exchanged glances. Then Lilith shrugged.
"I'm cool with killing everyone," she said.
"Can I be your best friend?" Tasha asked the siren, "Seriously, I don't have any best friends and you're the only person here that hasn't shot at me, hit me, or taken my gun away."
"Yeah, we can be friends. C'mon, help me get the runners covered up. We can talk about boys and gossip while we do."
The two women wandered off to start pulling tarps over the runners. The paint on Tasha's was well-suited for camouflage, but the other two were not. The team stashed brown tarps in the storage bins for just the occasion when they needed to leave the runners behind and didn't want them to stand out.
"This is a terrible development," Mordecai muttered to Brick, watching the two women talk.
"Seems okay to me," Brick replied.
"That's because you like your women crazy."
"I like my women hot."
"Skag-girl is hot?"
There was a pause as Brick thought this over.
"Not sure yet," he said with a shrug, "But Lilith certainly is."
"Yeah. She is."
There was a polite cough from behind the two.
"If you're done," Roland said pointedly, "We need to get moving."
There wasn't much more chatter after that. The five started out, leaving the runners behind in the shadow of an overhang. Roland took the lead, Brick brought up the rear. Mordecai straggled off to one side so that he'd have a clear shot at anything in front of them without Roland getting in the way. Lilith and skag-girl seemed content in the middle, walking side by side, with Bunny just a pace behind his mistress. Bloodwing was unusually restless on Mordecai's shoulder, shifting on the piece of metal that was his perch and complaining in an undertone. Mordecai reached a hand up and gently stroked the bird's head with his thumb to calm him somewhat.
Snippets of conversation were drifting over to where Mordecai walked and he made his way closer to overhear. Tasha seemed to take her declaration of friendship seriously and Mordecai wondered if this wasn't the first time she'd had a chance to talk to another woman that wasn't legitimately insane. There were a number of female bandits, of course, but their position was a unique one and didn't engender itself to making friends. Bandit camps in general weren't a place for making friends. Lilith seemed intrigued about the particulars of growing up in such a manner and Tasha was content to relate stories. She glanced over as Mordecai fell into step a bit closer but otherwise gave him no attention and continued talking.
"My first and only boyfriend was a midget," Tasha was saying, "I guess I thought he was my age since he was around my height."
"How'd that go?" Lilith asked. Mordecai wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"Well, being in a bandit camp is sort of like having dozens of homicidal older brothers. Remember that incendiary shotgun Lars had? That's how it ended."
"And I was the one that shot the midget. Lars said I could have the gun if I did. Bastard lied to me, he took it back once my boyfriend was done burning to death. I suppose it makes me a terrible person that I'm more upset I didn't get that gun rather than I murdered someone."
"Maybe not," Mordecai interjected, "Look at us, we're merciless Vault hunters motivated only by money and we find amusement in the suffering of others. Or at least, I do. But we're not necessarily bad people."
"Yes we are," Lilith countered, "We're bad people."
"Well, okay, I suppose we are. But at least now we have something in common."
"I laughed while he burned to death," Tasha said evenly.
"I think it's funny too. See, we're friends now."
Tasha eyed him critically.
"Alright," she said, "But don't think this means I forgive you for shooting me with that rifle."
The conversation shifted a bit after that. Mordecai got Tasha talking about what she knew about guns and it turned out she was more than just someone that could repair them. The bulk of the work she did for bandits was keeping their electricity and water working, but occasionally she worked on guns as well. This she tried to do sparingly, as she feared what would happen if word got out that not only could she fix guns, but also potentially improve them. The bandits viewed her as too important to kill – save for a handful of camps she dutifully avoided – but if she became someone that could give them an edge against their enemies, she might become something they wanted to possess, instead of merely allow to live. Most of her experiments were failures but the handful of successes went to Marcus, and the money he paid her was about the only cash she received, as the bandits were content to pay in provisions alone and she did not want to push her luck.
"Most of the time I just make 'em more accurate or fire faster," she told them, "There's no in-between on it either, my improvements either work or the gun won't fire straight or jams on every other bullet. I once tried to combine elemental effects on a Maliwan. That was a disaster. The gun exploded the first time I fired it. Shield absorbed most of it, but I was still picking shrapnel out of my shoulder."
She had barely finished the sentence when Roland turned and gestured for them all to be silent. Mordecai dropped into a crouch out of habit and crept up beside the soldier, who was edging up to the crest of the hill. Mordecai joined him while the other three stayed behind, on the slope and out of sight from anyone on the other side. The outpost was ahead, the terrain falling into a steady slope until it butted up against the metal and concrete walls of the fortress. Or rather, what would be a fortress when it was fully built. A small one, but a fortress nonetheless. Mordecai could see the half-finished towers where sentry guns would go. He did not like their placement. They'd give the gunners a clear view of the entirety of the surrounding terrain, including the ridges, and there weren't any good sniping positions that would allow him to fire on them without exposing himself.
"I think Lilith is right," Mordecai whispered, "We should kill everyone inside. Once they're entrenched it's going to be damn hard to dig them out."
"This is going to take a drastic change of plans. Let's talk."
The two scooted back down the hill to join the rest. Roland laid out the problem and while Brick and Lilith seemed unperturbed by the idea of taking on the entire outpost, Tasha stared at the four like they were crazy. From a girl raised by bandits, with a pet skag, and an insane mother and father, this was something.
"If we do this," she said, "The Crimson Lance are going to be out for our blood."
"Uh, hello?" Lilith said, "They already are. Don't you hear any of the rumors? They're even blaming us for Commandant Steele's death."
"And the worst is we're not even directly responsible for that one," Mordecai sighed, "I so wanted to shoot her in the head."
"You're already on their list of people they kill," Roland said, "simply because you've got bandit contact. You're just not important enough to go after – they probably don't even know you exist – and if we do this right, it's going to stay that way. Can you take down ECHO for this area?"
She frowned and walked away from the four, skirting up the hill to stare down into the outpost. She was there for a long while, studying it, before returning to the two. Her shoulders were hunched, a nervous gesture, but her face remained composed.
"I see a relay tower," she said, "They use those to boost the signal where the satellites can't get a direct line either due to terrain or simply being outside of their range. If we take that offline, there's a good chance it'll bring down ECHO. This area has never had a good connection and with the power grid down, the one relay tower outside the outpost is non-functional."
"We won't be able to communicate with each other once that happens," Roland warned, "I think we've been working together long enough to know what to do though. Mordecai, I want you outside the outpost to start with. Cover Tasha and Lilith – they'll sneak inside and get to the tower. Make sure if they're seen, no one lives long enough to raise the alarm. Once ECHO is down, start emptying the yard. Brick and I will go in at that point. Lilith, get Tasha back outside the complex, and then help Mordecai clean up any stragglers."
"Once the outpost is empty, I can go reroute the electrical grid," Tasha said, "I think I can also overload the Crimson Lance generator and blow the place up."
"I like this plan," Brick said.
"Let's do it," Roland said, "No sense waiting. Lilith, Tasha, you're up."
Lilith nodded. She looked Tasha over and then pulled out her spare pistol, holding it out to the girl.
"Take it," she said, "Leave the assault rifle behind. This one is quiet."
Mordecai was irritated to see that Tasha made no protest at this suggestion. She got all upset when Mordecai had taken her rifle away, but then again, he supposed that's because he did so while holding her at gun-point. That might have had something to do with it. Surprisingly, Tasha walked over to him with the assault rifle, holding it out to him. He took it, carefully.
"Keep hold of it for me," she said, "I'm also ordering Bunny to guard you. He'll stay put. And if anything happens to me..." A worried look flitted momentarily across her face. "My dad's name is Gerald Barrin. Tell him the nice girl from the streets sent you and you need your rifle fixed. He should be able to."
Then she turned and fled to Lilith's side. The two started off towards the outpost, neither looking back. Mordecai followed only far enough to give himself a clear vantage of the outpost. Roland joined him with binoculars. He'd spot and tell them when the sentries were not looking, so they could dart to the next piece of cover along the ridge wall. Mordecai would be insurance to ensure that if something went wrong, the other side would be the ones that died instead of the two women. Out of curiosity, he dropped the cross-hairs of his scope over the two. They were crouching behind the first piece of cover, waiting for Roland's signal over their private ECHO channel. For a moment, Tasha turned to look back up the hill. They were too far to see him clearly, but in that brief instant it seemed like she was looking directly at him. There was naked fear in her face. Then Roland murmured 'go', and Lilith was taking her wrist and the two were running for the outpost.