A/N: Buh. Wanna get my only final out of the way and get back to presentations and writing.

Note: Changed a name in Chapter 2… no one mentioned I used the wrong first name for a character… I guess no one aside from my odd and somewhat neurotic situational memory noticed.

Note 2: If you haven't noticed, I'm trying to move things along without leaving out anything I wanted to cover. Please let me know if you start finding the pacing weird or unbearable.

Note 3: I'll be using an old scene in this chapter from the prologue. Since I wrote that bit without reference, I'll stick with the lines I wrote, rather than the in-game lines verbatim.

End of Semester Note: I'm gonna spend most of this week reviewing and studying and probably won't write too much of the next chapter. I would also like a bit more time to gather my notes in planning the rest of the story. As such, there will be a one week break again. Thank you for your patience.

Borderlands 2 – New-U

Chapter 9 – Disconnecting

Axton awoke rested and ready to tackle the rest of the information gathering mission. The four vault hunters were unsurprisingly tired and decided to take the remainder of the previous day to relax instead of heading off to the Arid Nexus right away. This left Angel and the new girl, who had both gotten plenty of sleep the night before, free to explore Sanctuary. Interested in learning more about the young engineer, Angel followed her around as she spoke to the residents and caught up with recent events. They were both awake by the time Axton came downstairs, stretching as his body woke up. Now that he had slept, the soldier was able to get a good look at the newcomer. She had fiery red hair and looked about fifteen.

"Hey kid. How's it going?"

The girl looked up from where she was working on her prosthetic left arm.

"Not bad, this place is pretty nice considering all the other places on Pandora."

She paused staring at him questioningly.

"I don't think I caught your name."

Axton smiled, shrugging.

"Ah, sorry 'bout that, we were all pretty tired yesterday. Name's Axton, the blue-haired girl is Maya, and the midget is Salvador."

A rough voice sounded behind him.

"Who you callin' midget, puta?"

Axton turned, grinning.

"There he is!"

This earned the soldier a punch in the gut as Salvador wandered out of the house.

"Oof. Ornery son of a bitch, that guy. Anyway, you are?"

The girl held up her free hand, the human one.

"Gaige, engineer extraordinaire."

Axton smirked.

"Man, how old are you anyway? Vault Hunters just get smaller and smaller, huh?"

Gaige glared icily at the man, closing the panel on her prosthetic with a decisive snap. A moment later, the unfortunate soldier found himself face to face with a pissed off robot. The hovering metal beast growled and the man took a hesitant step back.

"Er… right. You're right. This is pretty badass. Please don't kill me."

With a triumphant smirk, the mechromancer deconstructed her robot.

"So, soldier boy. What are we up to now? I got the general gist of things from the townspeople yesterday."

Axton shrugged, checking his pack and making sure he had supplies for their journey.

"We break into the Hyperion Info Stockade and find out where Jack and the Warrior is. How hard could it be?

The man with the false face strode calmly across an ancient summoning altar. Stone guardians stood some fifty meters high, ever vigilant. Taking a handkerchief, he wiped his brow, which had accumulated a bit of perspiration from the nearby lava flow. Just a few meters away, a purple pulse of energy crackled and hissed as the injectors artificially imbedded in the ancient rock pushed the Eridium flow past complete saturation. This concentrated energy was pushed through both a conical stone object and a hovering woman with curving symbols burning as bright as the lava. Turning around, the man stared at a metal control console.

The metal structure stood out against the aged background, but the man neither noticed nor cared. He pressed a couple buttons and typed in a brief line of programming. This would alter the flow rate a bit to adjust for the woman's constant struggling. What those uneducated bandits never knew was that to manually charge the key, you needed a high density, high energy material like Eridium and a reaction catalyst, like the Siren he had captured. He learned through years of experimentation with his daughter that orienting the energy source and the catalyst opposite to each other worked best.

The Key was like a highly resistant sponge, naturally taking in energy over a course of two hundred years. By putting the Key in between the two required elements, the Key would draw energy from both the Eridium and the Siren. This allowed for the Siren's essence to be pulled into the Key, which would in turn purify the Eridium already being drawn into the Key, speeding up the entire process by around one hundred ninety years. Truly a magnificent discovery. His adjustments would maintain the ratio of Eridium running between the three components of this system, no matter how the Siren struggled.

In fact, he preferred her struggling as her overflowing emotions pushed her own energy output to the limit was speeding up the process even more, even if it was only by a couple hours at best. So he had entertained himself as he waited by torturing the energy-saturated Siren, both mentally and physically. He had quickly learned that any injury healed with amazing speed due to the pure energy coursing through her body. That and the fact that she apparently had some kind of unrequited love for the dead commander of the Crimson Raiders only made it easier to torment the woman. The man smirked up at the Siren struggling a couple meters in the air, bound by the Eridium pulse. His voice drawled out, loud enough for her to hear.

"Your little murder buddies are scrambling around. It's so pathetic, really. But I love the look on their faces when they find out everything they do is in vain."

Golden irises burned as they trained on the man below. Even in the dim light provided by the lava, her eyes shone with hate and malice.

"Go to hell, Jack. You're gonna pay for Roland."

This only made his grin widen.

"Oh I doubt that. See here's what's gonna happen. If your buddies manage to somehow get here, the Warrior will tear them apart. And if not, well, the same thing really. So you see, you bandit scum are screwed. And it will all be thanks to you."

Humming a cheerful tune, he busied himself with programming. Even as he waited for the Key to charge, there was always stuff to do, things to build. The Siren threw herself against the bonds.

"You're sick! You put your own daughter through this! You're the scum that deserves to die!"

Handsome Jack froze, back turned to her and unresponsive. He suddenly whirled, one arm lashing out. The Siren coughed harshly as a knife was embedded in her chest, just off center of her heart. The pain was maddening, each second lasting an eternity. Then it was gone as the knife was disintegrated from the Eridium flow and her wounds healed. Jack drew his pistol and began firing round after round into her body all the while spitting venom at his captive.

"YOU are a bandit! YOU are a goddamn murderer! You have NO RIGHT to accuse ME of anything when you've killed so many! I'm changing this planet from a filthy pisshole into a PARADISE! You on the other hand go around killing people for sport! You uneducated scumbags are destroying this planet and YOU HAVEN'T EVEN GOT A CLUE!"

The pistol clicked empty as the gunshots rang in the ancient chamber. Blood ran freely from multiple wounds and the Siren had long squeezed her eyes shut in pain. Jack was breathing heavily, eyes dancing wildly. The only sounds that could be heard were the flow of the lava and the low hum of the Key charging.

"You're all greedy, selfish monsters who lost your right to say anything long ago. It was your own selfishness that killed that idiot soldier and all those people. Never forget that!"

He threw the emptied pistol at her and stormed off. After half an hour, it was clear the man was not returning. The Siren bowed her head and wept angrily at her own helplessness. Suddenly, someone spoke up from just behind her.

"Doing alright up there?"

The person's voice was smooth and controlled. Though Lilith couldn't see the person from her position, she remembered the voice from her past adventures with the other Vault Hunters. He had been coming around daily, allowing her to contact the other Vault Hunters to warn them. Sniffing hard and fighting back her emotions, she tried to calm herself but felt anger rise inside anyway.

"You again. What do you want? What are you even getting from all this?"

A mirthless chuckle.

"Nothing much. Just checking in on you. You're not my primary concern, but I thought your allies might be a bit interested in your wellbeing. Plus, I can only do this when Jack's not looking anyway, so it's not like I keep coming down here."

Lilith scoffed.

"You've been down here every day. Why should I believe you?"

There was a light hum from behind her.

"You shouldn't. But that's the kind of person I am. Suffice to say this is within my employers' requests anyway."

There was a pause as the person behind her waited for a response. When there was none, he prompted again.

"Well? We don't have all day you know. Jack's sleep schedules are getting a bit unpredictable, so this is really all the time we can afford."

Lilith remained quiet for a moment longer, considering the man's offer.

"Do it."

The smooth voice sounded again, teasingly.

"Do what?"

Biting back a grown, the Siren spoke again.

"Connect me to my friends. Not much I can do from this position anyway…"

The unseen man chuckled before walking over to control panel and starting a couple hacking programs. Time was limited so he worked fast. The more information the Vault Hunters got, the better.

"What kind of IDIOT crossbreeds a skag with a rakk!"

Angel and the five Vault Hunters were travelling through the Arid Nexus trying to disrupt the Eridium pipelines enough that they could use the empty pipes to get service access the other side of the mountain range where the Hyperion Info Stockade was situated. This, of course, only happened after Salvador decided it would be fun to jump a nearby ramp, crashing his vehicle into the pipeline, denting the industrial-grade steel piping and completely destroying the service ladder. While skeptical, it seemed to be the only idea Mordecai had short of physically scaling the rock walls surrounding this part of the Arid Nexus. Seeing how there were three pumping stations to hit and now six travelers, they split up into three groups, with two pairs driving off to pumps one and two and the remaining pair walking to pump three which was closer to Fast Travel station.

It was through this arrangement that Angel and Gaige found themselves swerving across the sands, trying to take down the flying skrakks while Hyperion loaders tried to destroy their runner. Angel was manning the turret using her powers to fine-tune her aiming. Gaige was proving to be rather reckless driver as the vehicle slammed into yet another loader. Letting out a shout of annoyance, the young engineer summoned her robot for the second time in their harrowing battle.

"Go get 'em, boy!"

The robot was thankfully ridiculously accurate when it came to shooting down the flying beasts. Gaige shouted over the noise of combat that she had programmed him to predict movement at long range on top of his standard auto-tracking mechanisms. Needless to say, with the robot helping out, the flying nuisances were finally all dispatched and it became a routine matter of taking out the rest of the loaders. The mechromancer ran over one last Hyperion soldier with a satisfied grin and brought the vehicle to a stop just outside the entrance to Pump Two.

"Welp, let's get this over with."

Descending the service elevator, they reached a short tunnel system that led to the pump controls. While there were a couple nuisances along the way, it was fairly uneventful and the two pushed through with relative ease. They caught sight of the pump controls as Angel's ECHO communicator rang and an accented voice came through.

"¡Oye, niña! ¿Qué estás haciendo? We're waiting on you!"

Gaige rolled her eyes.

"Geez, impatient much?"

Angel answered the call.

"We ran into a bit of a problem near the pump, we're shutting down pump two now."

With that, the two girls locked the pump valves. The machinery let out a loud whine and several unnatural clunks. The nearby machinery shuddered so much they had actually moved a couple millimeters. Gaige glance over at Angel, eyes wide, and the two quickly got out for fear of an explosion. As they reached the surface, both of their ECHO recorders sounded. They looked down to see the purportedly dead Roland contacting them en masse.

"Hey buddy! It's me, Roland! Let's kill Handsome Jack and then we'll ALL go out for milkshakes!"

Pausing on the elevator platform, the two girls stared incredulously at their communicators. The speaker sounded like he was either mentally ill or had a mouth full of food, both were rather disturbing thoughts. They continued staring at their communicators, wondering if there would be more. There was. The display showed Handsome Jack this time, who sounded amused and rather pleased with himself.

"Nah, I'm just playing. He's really still dead. Grabbed his ECHO unit when I left."

With that he hung up. Gaige had a curious look on her face, as if she was unsure whether to laugh or scoff. Angel stared somewhat sadly at the screen, surprised at her own indifference for how far her father had stooped to do such a thing. Finally, Gaige turned and spoke hesitantly.

"Was… was that supposed to be funny?"

Angel grimaced slightly. Gaige continued.

"Cuz it wasn't…"

The Siren shook her head.

"Never mind. Let's meet up with the others."

As they were about to get into their runner, a loud explosion roared across the landscape, causing the ground to visible shake and sending the two travelers to their knees. Gaige looked surprised and shaken.

"Wow… I guess they burst that pipe…"

Gaige's communicator sounded this time and she connected to Axton. He spoke in a somewhat hushed voice, as if he was afraid to be overheard.

"Hey, kiddo, I notice you and Angel are closer to Zer0 and Salvador… Mind joining up with them? Maya didn't take that message too well and she ran off ahead… we'll scout the area and I'll send you guys any requests we pick up in the next area."

Gaige frowned visibly but agreed. After that, she turned back to Angel with a questioning look on her face.

"That other Siren, Maya… she's a bit unstable, huh?"

The younger Siren looked unhappy about this statement and was silent for a moment.

"Yeah."

The mecromancer pushed.

"What happened?"

Angel considered this question, not knowing the answer herself. She eventually drew from her memory from researching the older Siren.

"I think she doesn't want to lose us, us Sirens I mean. She came here to learn about her heritage and powers. From what Axton told me, she took Lilith's capture and my death rather harshly. I think, for her, Jack's taunting is opening up old wounds."

Gaige looked troubled at this.

"Will she be alright?"

Angel's face remained neutral.

"I think so. Axton might not be too tactful, but he's pretty perceptive when it comes to Maya."

Gaige nodded and started the engine of the runner.

"Fine. Let's go, we gotta meet up with the other two."

Once again, Axton found himself chasing after a Siren that was carving a trail of bodies through the place formerly known as Fyrestone. She stopped in the middle of the town, staring at the bounty board with some interest. He ran up to her, hoping she hadn't injured herself like last time.

"Hey… you okay?"

Maya looked at him with a bit of amusement in her eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry yourself so much. You'll go bald."

Axton frowned and scratched his head slightly.

"Oh… I thought you had gone off again… wanna talk about it?"

Maya gestured at the board.

"It's not that interesting. Let's get this job done, we might be able to get something useful about Jack."

Axton glanced over Mordecai's request and nodded.

"Sounds good."

The two tore off through Fyrestone, destroying several broken loaders in the process. It seemed that, in addition to containing the Info Stockade, Jack had tried his hardest to defile this quaint little town, one that many Vault Hunters in the past had traveled through at one point or another. It was unsurprising that the madman had filled this iconic location with as much trash and broken components as possible while the Info Stockade jutted out like a sore thumb. As they fought, Maya revealed bits and pieces of her past, most notably of her earlier teachings.

"We were always taught to respect the dead. Even if most of the monks turned out to be complete dicks in the end, they got that bit right. It's… wrong to defile the dead like that."

Axton nodded as the Siren fired at a couple skags that had wandered too close. While he might've liked the glory of his various campaigns, the fallen was always shown some form of respect or simply ignored if they were the enemy, never mocked. They pushed their way towards the closest marker on their map and picked up a small ECHO recorder. Maya glanced hesitantly at her partner before pushing play. The recording was a bit hard to hear due to a large amount of static. It sounded as if someone had placed a microphone in his or her pocket and was using it to spy on someone. However, the voices heard were unmistakable.

"Look, it's just like your own little castle! You'll be like a princess! You'll have everything you want! Go on in."

Though the voice was younger, it was definitely Handsome Jack's voice. After all, Mordecai had mentioned this request was to find out more information on the Hyperion dictator.

"I don't wanna! Where's mommy?"

Maya's face took on a contemplative look. Her brow furrowed as she concentrated on the young voice coming out of the speakers. Axton stood nearby, looking similarly intrigued. Jack was speaking again.

"M…mommy's gone far away, pumpkin. Now get in the chamber*!" (*Chair in-game)

There was a sound of a small scuffle. The two Vault Hunters heard brief hints of the current Jack's insanity in the recording's voice. Over the struggle, the girl's voice sounded again.

"No! Let me go!"

The girl sounded completely terrified, but the madman didn't let up. Jack's voice sounded again, strained.

"Just get... there we go… into the damn chamber."

There was a slamming noise. Axton and Maya had gone completely silent and they could hear faint sounds of crying in the recording. Finally, the recording cut off. Axton and Maya stared at the recorder for a long while. The Siren looked furious. Finding his mouth very dry, the soldier swallowed hard before speaking up.

"Was that…"

Maya stormed off, heading towards the next marker. Axton gave a sad sigh before running off after her.

Salvador was sorely regretting following Zer0 and the two girls rather than going with Axton and Maya. The four travelers crouched behind a dilapidated building at the edge of Fyrestone. Explosion after explosion shook the tiny shack and it was a miracle that the thin metal hadn't buckled yet. Gaige was yelling over the noise.

"No one mentioned he had a giant robot guarding this place!"

Angel shouted back.

"This must be new! Saturn was still in design a week ago!"

Another barrage of explosions caused them to duck as part of the roof was finally blown off. The scrap metal whirled through the air like deadly boomerangs, one of which struck a nearby skag, killing the thing on impact.

"What do we do!"

Salvador shouted at the other three over the din. Zer0 stepped out of cover, firing rapidly with a corrosive Maliwan sniper rifle. He quickly ducked back as a stream of missiles tore apart the ground nearby. The assassin turned to the gunzerker and shrugged blankly. This only served to annoy the diminutive man. Growling in annoyance, he rummaged around in his pack, bringing out two rocket launchers. The other three eyed him carefully, scooting back as he hoisted the two massive weapons. Letting out a battle cry, he rounded the corner, firing the two weapons as fast as he could.

"¡VAMANOS, PUTA!"

The other three could only watch in awe as Salvador's own rain of rockets weaved crazily through the various drones Saturn was using, slamming into the monstrous hunk of metal.

Axton and Maya finally joined up with the group after running around the Arid Nexus – Badlands for the better part of the afternoon. The other four Vault Hunters had arrived dirty, disheveled, and generally unhappy. It seemed that after they got the data for the Warrior, Jack had blocked off all exits from the tall building with constructors. In such a tiny fighting space, the group getting the location barely managed to get away. Gaige gave a certain soldier a dry stare, enjoying watching him squirm.

"So, Axton… what do you have to say for yourself?"

The man smiled sheepishly.

"Uh… sorry. I meant to come help after we finished the requests… Oh come on… I even got you a nice assault rifle from the skags."

The young engineer did not look impressed and simply brushed aside the mention of her new weapon.

"While you were off with your girlfriend, we were fighting for our lives to get that stupid location…"

Axton looked highly uncomfortable.

"She's not… we're not…"

Salvador chose this point to pipe up as well.

"Bros before hoes, cabrón…"

The soldier protested at this.

"Hey! Not cool, man…"

Angel tried to redirect the conversation.

"Anyway, let's get moving. We should rest up while we can. From what Lilith said earlier, we still have a bit of time. We might be able to stop this if you time the attack right."

Zer0 and Gaige nodded in agreement. Axton looked relieved to have been let off the hook. The group made its way over to the Fast Travel station near the entrance to the Badlands. As they approached the system, there was a loud screech from their ECHO communicators, causing everyone to wince and grab their heads in pain. Finally, the same voice came through their speakers.

"Found me, have you? Congratulations. No seriously, well done."

There was a slow clapping. Then Jack spoke again, this time in a darker voice.

"All bets are off, murderers. No more chances. My Warrior is going to kill every last one of you. No more cheating. Those damn New-U stations? I'm destroying them. I implemented them on Pandora, I sure as hell can remove it."

Jack let out a mirthless laugh.

"I wanted you freaks to suffer. You needed to die, screaming, over and over until the end of time. But I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with one death. One glorious death at the hands of my Warrior."

There was a short pause before the man continued.

"I'm looking forward to it."

The line went dead. Seconds later, there was a loud crackling from the nearby Fast Travel station. The Vault Hunters rushed over to find the machine emitting smoke. Angel reached out and touched the warm metal. The Fast Travel menu appeared, but when she typed in a couple override commands, a soft female voice floated out from the overhead speaker.

"The trial version of the New-U Station for Pandora has expired. Your user experience will be used to help improve this system for future users. Thank you for helping us help you help us all."

Her eyes widened with worry as she turned to the gathered group.

"He deactivated all reconstruction processes on Pandora."

The Vault Hunters stood in silence. The war that had been barely manageable when they took full advantage of the New-U stations was now quickly becoming unwinnable.

They were mortal again.

A/N: I keep spelling travelers with two Ls… it's surprising that it seems to be built into my muscle memory. It's also incredibly annoying.

Anyway. Like I said, I'm gonna take next week's update off in order to study and prepare for ending my current lab rotation.

See you in two weeks.