Chapter 6 – A Forgettable Day
"I know this sounds like some sort of... trap but, heh... you'll just have to trust me."
Zer0 strode down towards the underground garage as Salvador spun the Echo-recorder around on a thick finger. The pair of them walked ahead as Gaige and Axton strolled behind, chatting about shotguns and bomb makers and unpredictable weather patterns. Salvador gave a subtle nod back at the pair and began miming an inane talking motion. Zer0 shrugged his thin shoulders and continued on.
"We should be cautious; the words of a dead bandit, unfulfilled vengeance." Breathed the assassin, and Salvador threw the recorder into the snow nearby and snorted loudly.
"If bandit was smart, he would not have ran away into little yapping girl's mine!" The gunzerker gave a bellowing laugh as he recalled how the bandit began to flee, trying to run and fire behind him only to collide with one of Tina's giant mines. An Echo-recorder landed smouldering in the snow several feet away, followed by several pieces of person. Tiny Tina herself was on the Echo soon afterwards, yelling at the "silly sucka" who wasted her bomb.
"So I managed to strengthen my arm to the point where I don't even feel the weight of the shotgun now! And all I had to do was replace the primary strut with some poly-kryten I rescued from Sanctuary's foundations, and ..." Axton held his hands up, silencing the mechromancer for a moment. When the girl talked tech, she talked fast.
"What do you mean foundations? You're not sabotaging anything now, are ya?"
"Please! I don't do anything that childish... not anymore, anyway." The commando arched his brow and opened his mouth when Zer0 called a warning. Both he and Salvador had dived away into the snow and Axton yelled a curse before pushing Gaige down and throwing his arm across her shoulders.
All at once, she felt the cold ground meet her front, Axton's arm covering her back and a loud explosion ringing her ears. The whole ordeal was disorientating and she lay stretched out in the snow for a few seconds longer, feeling her vest begin to freeze and someone saying something next to her. Salvador was hoisting Axton up and yelling something – the commando was holding his own ear and shouting back before reaching down and pulling her up. The ringing was beginning to fade, just as a hoard of bandits began swarming towards the wreckage of the booby-trapped chest. Zer0 was already back on both legs and picking them off, one by one. Maya was yelling on the Echo from the other side of the tundra, asking what had happened. Axton's turret deployed from nowhere and the area became a blood bath.
Gaige gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the world around her: the faint snow was managing to get into the joint of her prosthetic, and her arm was beginning to move stiffly because of it. In the distance she could hear another mine explode randomly. Worst of all, every explosion was accompanied by Tiny Tina hopping on the Echo-net and making a comment. Or howling. Or trying to rap. It went on.
When they first met the bomb maker, there was a maddening appeal to the girl that might have been infectious. And none of them could hold her deranged ways against her – any child living on Pandora, much less one alone in a cave near a bandit refinery, would be certifiably nuts. But not long afterwards the girl was on the Echo-net every few minutes, demanding they find something she had lost in the tundra. Or asking "army dude" how many bombs he had seen in his career. Or Zer0 if she could wear his helmet (which she did by saying the word "please" several dozen times in one breath, voice going up and down) until the assassin switched his recorder off. For Gaige, the thirteen-year old took one look at her metal arm and made a noise directly from a hard R-rated film, before doing a frustrated dance because "Mushy Snugglebutt is the jealous type".
Any other day, Tiny Tina might not be so bad. But right then and there, the Vault Hunters just wished she'd stop rapping. When Maya finished aiming the stuffed toy missiles and radioed for them to be set off, Salvador leaned towards Axton and muttered a clear "Thank fuck." Gaige tried not to show the dry chuckle she felt inside. As Tina began chanting a short count down, interrupted halfway with the actual detonation, the nearby train bridge groaned and collapsed as it was struck by both rockets. There was a pregnant pause as the Vault Hunters watched train cars shoot into oblivion and scrape the ground before the entire freight came to a halt.
"Okay – that's enough now." Maya said when everything was still and quiet again.
Wilhelm was a monster, more than all of the Vault Hunters put together. A thuggish Hyperion engineer, who's entire lower body was supported on a pair of robotic loader legs. From the waist up was all that was left of the man, whoever he once was. He controlled his heavy lifter arms like one would an exo-suit, lifting entire train cars up from the frozen tundra and hurling them at the team. Most of his face was replaced with a grafted lens – more than Gaige's cybernetic arm, or Salvador's steroid abuse or even Maya's siren powers, Wilhelm was a terrifying experiment made real.
"Get to cover! Lay down suppressive fire on those repairers!" Axton pressed himself against one of the sunken carriages, throwing his hand around as he issued instructions. His beloved Dahl turret was deployed on a nearby rock, peppering the battlefield with constant fire. As the commando reloaded his assault rifle, the carriage he was leaning against was lifted upwards. He spared a quick look before throwing himself out of harm's way as the entire car came crashing back down, crumpling and breaking.
Salvador wasn't as lucky, and as the gunzerker roared and blasted the cyborg with a pair of shotguns, Wilhelm whipped half of the broken car around and slapped the stunted man away into the cliff face. Salvador coughed a spray of blood and collapsed as one of the loader arms reared back. Only the timely arrival of Deathtrap spared the fallen Fault Hunter, blocking the swing and attacking with a harsh slash of digistruct claws. Wilhelm was pushed back with repeated blows before finally catching the hovering android. Deathtrap was brought down onto the remains of another train car and shattered into digital static.
"Bring it down, already!" roared Axton, sliding into the snow next to Salvador and attempting to revive him. Behind them, Wilhelm brought a stomping hydraulic leg down onto Zer0, only to move through the assassin. A holographic decoy flickered and winked out of existence as the genuine hunter appeared clinging onto the cyborg's back. A static blade erupted through his chest before Zer0 gracefully somersaulted off. Maya and Gaige burned through over half of their ammunition as they worked to finish the job.
When the snow settled and all was quiet, Axton and Zer0 threw Salvador's arms over their shoulders and began carrying him towards the sparking Fast Travel station. The gunzerker had blood trailing down from his mouth and was mumbling gibberish. Gaige looked over the scavenged power core and jogged after them. They were no closer to reclaiming the Vault Key, had no idea of where to strike next, and one of their own was severely injured. The day was steadily going from bad to worse.
Zed threw a container of fluid onto a gurney, washing off most of the blood but satisfied that it would be enough. The legs of the table strained under Salvador's bulk but the medic ignored it, instead focusing on filling a hypodermic from a nearby bottle. While he didn't have a medical license, he was still the best there was when it came to treatment.
As the gunzerker's vitals steadily became more stabilized, an explosion outside rocked the entire clinic. Another followed it and a nearby table was knocked over – tools scattering over the filthy floor.
"What in the hell is going on out there?!" he hollered out, and an armoured Raider dashed inside.
"Sanctuary's shield is down!" he explained, running in and grabbing the acting doctor's arm. "Dr. Zed, we have to get you and the rest of the civilians underground, now!" Zed tore his arm back and pulled an injection out of Salvador's shoulder.
"Listen to me, son. If we don't get this fella to safety first, you, me and the rest of the rabble around here are skagmeat. So you drop yer' toy gun already and you grab the other end of this table." Zed clamped his hands at the head of the gurney and glared. The Raider began to stutter and protest, and the table was pushed forward into his gut. Finally he slung his rifle across his shoulder and grabbed the other end, following orders as Zed pushed Salvador outside and towards the nearest armoured bunker.
Across town, Maya hopped down from the ledge of their Headquarters. Sanctuary's long-dormant engine was stretched upwards and Lilith was leaning against it, panting heavily.
"Gimme that eridium already, killer!" Maya's armful of eridium passed from one siren to the other – one set of blue tattoo's dimming as the other's glowed a vibrant, alien pulse. And Maya knew nothing but light and the sensation that she was everywhere and nowhere at once.
Sanctuary was gone. Sanctuary, Salvador, Roland, everybody had vanished in a giant phase walking shift as Lilith picked up the entire city and drew it inside her own dimension. The four remaining Vault Hunters sat panting in the snow of Three Horns, trying to get their bearings. The Angel was pleading over their Echo's to head towards an underground tunnel called simply "The Fridge."
Zer0 was the first to recover, brushing flakes of dust and frost from his suit and grabbing Maya by the arm. The siren seemed to snap out of a trance and looked around, up at the assassin, and back across to where Sanctuary had lifted free of its berth. She reached over and shook Axton, who nodded and stood up without a word. Gaige stayed sitting in the snow, and Axton had to lift her up before her legs did the rest.
With nothing else for them to do, the team spawned a technical and kept moving.
None of them could tell if the Fridge was a suitable name or not. It was essentially yet another of Dahl's half-completed mining operations inside a frozen mountain within Three Horn's borderlands. It was deep, with echoing animal shrieks bouncing off the walls from the cave structures. The bandits that had made it their home was even more rampant than others that the Vault Hunters had encountered. The rusty bulkhead doors completed the scene.
"Axton, was Pandora a crap shack before Dahl came to strip-mine the planet, or after?" Maya's lips pulled back into a deep frown as she saw the embossed logo on another ruined gangway. The commando merely shrugged in response.
"Dunno, hon. Dahl's got two major subdivisions – mining and military. I never touched a pick axe in my life."
"And you got kicked out of the other one for not knowing enough about it, either." The siren responded. Axton paused for a moment before finally agreeing.
"Dahl – if we can't fuck it, we'll kill it." Gaige supplied – her first words since entering the frozen cavern. Axton merely chuckled and threw her a smirk.
"Someone knows the score – chalk another up for our engineer." But Gaige was too focused on pushing her legs forward and ignoring the numb ache in her shoulder. As much as she loved her Deathtrap, it wasn't the first time she wondered if hacking off her entire arm was such a clever thing to do.
Afternoon turned Pandora's sky to a peaceful shade of peach, not that the team paid a lot of attention to it. They were perched above a Hyperion facility and observing an entire staff of loaders at work beneath them. In the distance, the newly-reappeared Sanctuary floated peacefully on the horizon.
"You'll need a lunar beacon to summon an un-calibrated Fast Travel network." The Guardian Angel insisted that she was still helping them. For the better part, they simply didn't challenge her. They were without a plan, unable to link back up with the Crimson Raiders, and quite simply too tired to care. It was surprisingly Maya who had lost her temper first – gathering as many stalkers with her phase lock before crushing them with a yell. As it turned out, their shrieks and cry's carried just as well in the highlands as it did in the depths of the Fridge. Maya continued to yell after turning them to pulp, before cursing the day altogether.
To see Sanctuary wink back into existence was a pleasant surprise, but the Vault Hunters were hungry, worn out and frustrated too much to care about it. So the commando, the siren, the assassin and the mechromancer had lapsed back into familiar thoughts and patterns. As loaders shuffled around the facility, occasionally repelling a thresher attack, Maya ran a hand through her cropped hair and huffed.
"So, what's our plan?"
"Kick ass, steal beacon, get home, have dessert." Axton replied.
"Sometimes the best plans, are not complicated ones, but straightforward instead." Zer0 replied mystically. Gaige mere adjusted her goggles and flexed her thawing prosthetic, nodding. The old battery from Axton's turret hummed in her bicep and Deathtrap groaned in existence before swooping down at an engineer.
Together, the Vault Hunters took to yet another battlefield that day.
"There – the beacon will have an uninterrupted signal to the lunar base from beside the grinder!" An icon winked on Zer0's screen and he placed the liberated beacon. A graceful acrobatic leap placed him on top of a nearby container, and with sniper rifle out he surveyed the town of Overlook.
"Clear." He breathed. Axton shook his head and kicked over a nearby mailbox, deploying his shining turret. The new laser sight began sweeping back and forth along the rear of the town.
"They'll know just where to find us while that thing's blinking. Find some cover!"
Nightfall had descended on Pandora and a chill breeze was blowing through the cliff-top settlement. For a tense moment, they were alone with the beacon and the whistling wind. Until the whistle grew and exploded as a loader crashed in front of them, and the Vault Hunters were once again playing defence. Maya snagged another newly arrived robot in her phase lock and flung it out into the valley below. Sick with the skulls-shivers or not, Zer0 wondered idly why none of Overlooks residents reacted to the growing chaos in the middle of town.
Gaige was a frenetic madman. Deathtrap's circuits were still recharging, but she had steadily caused more and more destruction since the refinery that she could hardly shoot straight. The word "anarchy" kept echoing in her mind like a mantra. She felt like she had gorged on caffeine and sugar and had solved the mystery of the atom. As a heavy loader crashed to earth behind her, the mechromancer whirled and fired her shotgun at point blank range. The unit exploded and she crowed with excitement. "Anarchy!"
"It's on its way! Just hold on a little longer!" pleaded Angel, before the Echo-net exploded with static and a furious Jack barked orders.
"Send in everything you have – I want those bastards dead now!" Gone was all of his swagger and confidence. They were dealing with a desperate man, and the loaders gave way to the heavy constructor units. Axton cursed furiously as his turret was cut down and returned to its storage deck unit. The commando lifted his assault rifle up and squeezed the trigger. The gun jumped in his grip until his hands felt numb, and he kept on firing. Behind him, Zer0's thin back pressed to his, and Axton heard the sharp noise of a sniper rifle bolt ring beside him.
"We're getting boxed in here!" It was Maya, who had been pushed against their flank. The siren looked pale and her tattoos were almost burning from stretching her powers. Gaige appeared on the other side – eyes wide, teeth gritted and shotgun thumping in her hands. All avenues out of town were blocked.
"Jack can kiss my ass." The team spared Zer0 a surprised look, but the assassin continued to reload his sniper rifle, unconcerned. With one comment, the day officially seemed like a write off. The Vault Hunters stood with their backs to each other, weapons raised at the incoming tide of Hyperion units. A single war loader broke ahead of the wave, planting its feet in front of Maya and running subroutines. And then a Fast Travel network slammed into it from on high – and the siren distantly thought that someone was indeed watching over them.
"Ride's here – time to go home!" The firing commenced once more as she flicked through the selections. She disappeared in a shimmer of digital static, and Zer0 pulled at Axton's shoulder before following. Gaige's anarchy high was still coursing through her and she kept shooting, until finally Axton wrapped an arm around her waist and physically dragged her through the station.
The constructors and loaders left in Overlook soon burst apart as Jack roared in frustration, detonating them from his office.
Salvador was resting propped up in one of Moxxi's booths, arm in a sling and chewing on another interesting meal while slurping from a glass.
"So, then what happened?" he asked around a mouthful, and Maya shook her head and continued telling the day's events. Her hair was matted and beside her, Zer0's suit was sporting a bit of wear and tear, but they were beginning to relax back into familiar surroundings. At the bar, Axton and Gaige were leaning with their elbows on the bench. Only the commando's boots rested on the ground. Moxxi gave the two tired, filthy Vault Hunters a disarming smile and asked what they wanted.
"Anything spicy and a beer to wash it down with," grunted the commando.
"Spicier and stronger," mimicked the mechromancer, and was surprised to see Moxxi chuckle but say she'll get right on it. She deflated again a moment later when her "stronger" drink was the same fizzy fluid she was usually served. As Moxxi left the bar, the pair lifted their glasses at the same time and took a long, slow drink. Both glasses were sat back down on the bench in unison.
"You okay?" Axton asked quietly, and Gaige murmured an affirmative.
"Today was just... really..."
"You can say it – it sucked with teeth." Explosions, ambushes, Salvador's injuries, Sanctuary tearing free from the ground, disappearing and re-appearing, Angel's betrayal and the depth of Jack's manipulations. It had been a long day, pure and simple. Distantly, she thought she was able to make a snide comment back at the phrase "sucked with teeth" but she was too tired to bother. Instead, she propped her chin up with her hand and nodded.
"Hey, c'mere." Axton leaned over and put his arm across Gaige's shoulder, and she hesitated a moment before wrapping hers around his chest in an awkward hug.
"We're in a war here, aren't we?" she asked. He hummed and nodded – Vault Hunting, fame and riches didn't seem as much fun as it had when she had woken up that morning.
"Yeah, we are. Tip of the spear and all." Axton said finally, before stopping and pushing her back onto her stool. "But today, Jack threw everything he had at us." Gaige lifted her head and frowned but listened. "He sent his best bad guy after us and we took him down. Hell," his mouth quirked into a wry grin. "If he was less machine and more man, Sal' would've wanted us to bring him back in a doggie bag." Gaige couldn't hold her laugh at that one.
"Think about it – he tried to destroy Sanctuary and we moved it." Axton continued, beginning to extend his fingers with each triumph. "We raided a Hyperion facility and robbed them blind. And you heard him in Overlook – he threw everything he had at us." Axton spread his hands around Moxxi's place. "And here we are, home safe and sound." The mechromancer looked around and chuckled – she never thought she'd be so happy to see the Moxxi's neon pink signs. She looked back up and nodded.
"Yeah, you're right... today still sucked hard though." Axton merely grinned, exhaustion showing on his face all the same.
"Yeah, it did. But hey – it'll make a damn good story when all's said and done." Gaige nodded and went back to sipping her soda. She felt like she could sleep for days on end. And then she wanted to do some serious upgrading to her Deathtrap – she still remembered how Wilhelm had defeated her robot easily, and that had to change. If Handsome Jack wanted a war, he was going to have one.