"So you're the vault hunters, huh?" asked one of the rescued scientists outside of the Raiders HQ. "You lot don't look that impressive, I'd say."
The vault hunters were meeting with their quarries in the streets of Sanctuary. There were a few rubbernecker Raiders and townsfolk trying to get a glimpse of the new sensation so that they can gossip about it later to their friends. The vault hunters were preparing to escort the women to Opportunity for their arranged pick up by Hyperion. The hunters also thought it might be a good way to get a hold of President Blake. No officials would speak to them until the researchers were returned.
"Dr. Parker, please!" said an exasperated glasses-wearing colleague of hers, still in a lab coat. "I apologize for my associate. She's a botanist; she's really not used to talking to people."
"We have one of those", said Zer0. "She's an archaeologist. Strangest woman you'll meet."
"Yes", the fem-scientist said pushing her glasses up from the bridge of her nose, "I'm sure. I'm Dr. Tabitha Mooney. I'm a geologist. And you are?"
She offered a clean, manicured hand to Zer0. Salvador shook his head, not believing her luck. She was so lucky to be sheltered by Hyperion. She looked like a damn model. On Pandora. It baffled the hell out of him that she hadn't been raped and mutilated several times over yet.
"My name's just Zer0", he said taking her hand in an agreeable gesture. "Where many have a name; I'm … just a number."
Dr. Mooney paused for a second with her hand in Zer0's grasp and noticed he his hand had three fingers. This intrigued her as she caressed her left cheek thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry", she said, "I don't mean to come off as rude but do you only speak in haiku?"
Axton reached in and forcibly removed their hands from each other before Zer0 could render his either snarky and/or threatening retort.
"Okay", Lilith said, who was also present in front of the Raiders HQ, "you guys know your mission: escort the girls to Opportunity and get Blake to get the hell off this planet. I suggest you leave now. Oh, god…"
"What?" asked Gaige, looking back where Lilith had turned her eyes away from, only to see Tiny Tina leave Zed's of all places, hobbling on crutches and a pink, bunny-decaled cast over her broken right leg. This was due to her fall from the buzzard during an attack on the Hyperion outpost. Tina was humming some crude song full of obscenities not even Salvador would repeat without wincing.
"Shhh", Gaige whispered to the others. "Maybe if we act as boring as possible, she'll lose interest and go away. Like a fun-seeking missile or something."
Tina looked around and spotted Gaige, who was standing up as stiff as a board in the crowd, trying to look like a boring adult, which she knew Tina hated. It didn't work. Tina liked Gaige enough that didn't care how boring she was. She got excited and began waving one of her crutches in the air.
"Hey, sissy!" she shouted, only to be completely ignored. "Sissy! Sisssssssy!"
"WHAT?!" shouted Gaige in annoyance when she couldn't take it anymore. She realized right then and there that she gave up too easily sometimes.
Tina then hobbled over to them, almost slipping in a puddle along the way.
"Suppity Sup Sup Sup, Vault Hunters?" Tina greeted and reached out to them, holding out a black marker. "Will you sign my cast, big sissy?"
"If I do it, will you leave me alone?" asked Gaige.
"Ummm", Tina said, thinking "… suuuure?"
"Forever", asked Gaige.
"Forevra?" asked Tina, "like…like … a lifetime?"
"Yes, moron", said Gaige after moaning and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Forever generally means a lifetime."
"I can't do that!" exclaimed Tina.
Gaige sighed and compromised with, "Then just the rest of the day?"
"Fine", said Tina as she lifted her cast-covered right leg towards Gaige and awkwardly reached out with the black marker in one hand while holding the crutch. "Now sign my cast, big sis." She wiggled her multi-colored painted toes in Gaige's direction. Gaige found her very demanding for an injured girl.
Gaige snatched the marker from a giddy Tina and kneeled down to sign her name on Tina's cast.
"Thankee-sai!" said Tina when she was done. "Anybody else want to sign? Even those weirdos in the coats! You can sign too!"
Dr. Mooney got a confused look on her face and pointed to herself in question.
Maya took the marker next and kneeled down to sign the cast. After signing it in big, loopy cursive letters, she held it out for Zer0.
"Your turn, I guess", she offered.
Tina's eyes suddenly went big and her fury shined through.
"Nevraaaaaaaaaaa!" she shouted as she used a crutch to knock the marker out of Maya's hand and send it flying through the air where it landed helplessly on top of the roof of the Raiders HQ. Maya yelled out in pain and held her hand. Without her support, Tina then proceeded to fall ungracefully on her back with her casted leg pointing straight up in the air. Almost everybody who saw it stood with their mouths parted open in awkward shock, except for Gaige. Gaige cackled like an evil witch at Tina's misery.
"Ouchieees!" Tina groaned.
Salvador and Axton reached down and helped her to her foot and crutches.
"He is a very bad man!" said Tina to the others about Zer0, with him being to blame for her broken leg. "I'm watching you! If you evra do what you did again, I'm gonna to kick you in the balls so hard, you'll wish you were born a woman!"
Tina turned and began to angrily crutch to the Fast Travel Station. Before she entered the Station center, she turned back toward the group.
"Oh, big sis!" she shouted, just as excitable. "I'm having a tea party tomorrow! Remember to come, please!"
Gaige half-heartedly waved back, sending Tina off back to the Tundra Express.
"I don't act like that", Gaige assured herself. She then turned to the others and asked them the question. "I don't act like that, do I?"
"Wellll…" said Axton, wavering his hand a little bit to suggest "kind of" as an answer.
"What was that about, anyway?" asked Maya.
Gaige shifted her focus to Zer0.
"Well", she said as she pointed at him, "this traitor right here totally boned me, Deathtrap and Claptrap; he knocked me out cold and I guess he made Tina break her leg or whatever."
Gaige saw the horrified look on the faces of her comrades and the scientists.
"Well, he didn't bone us literally!" she said, blushing. "Look, he knows what he did!"
"Yes, I played hero", Zer0 said. "Something you forgot to do. You acted rashly."
"Hah!" exclaimed Dr. Mooney. "I knew it! He does only talk in haiku. Why is that?"
"What you guys did was really messed up", Lilith said to Gaige, ignoring Dr. Mooney. "You endangered a lot of lives and for what? Another shot at Hyperion? You nearly got these women raped by bandits. I really can't believe you, Salvador or Brick."
"How's Mordy taking that, by the way?" asked Axton.
"I wish I could say he's sleeping off a hangover after getting thrown out of Moxxi's last night", Lilith answered with a sigh, "but I'm pretty sure he's digging into his personal stash of liquor now. So, no, he's not taking it well."
"Ouch", Axton replied.
"So", Maya said, "we escort these girls to Opportunity and get a nice payday?"
"Yep", Lilith said. "Exactly that. I know; it sounds simple."
"Here's the thing", Maya brought up. "We were checking up on Overlook…"
"Without telling me", Lilith said suddenly. It amused Maya how quickly she jumped on that.
"Yes", Maya continued. "We were checking up on Overlook and it turns out the townspeople are still sick with skull-shivers. The last shipment of medicine isn't working anymore. The skull-shivers reacted horribly to the rain or something and now the stuttering is worse than ever. If Hyperion leaves without helping them, they will die."
"Excuse me?" another one of the scientists piped up.
"Wow", Lilith said, ignoring her. "That's horrible. I'm going to get on the Echo and talk to Blake about that."
"Another thing", Maya brought up. "We went to Fyrestone to see if we could get in contact with Blake but we ran into a little trouble…"
"Excuse me?" the scientist yelled loudly.
"WHAT?!" shouted Maya and Lilith to her at the same time.
"I hate to break up your murderous war council", she said, "but we're missing somebody."
"Oh come on, Sandy", Dr. Mooney moaned. "She doesn't want to leave!"
"The name's Dr. Albrecht, thank you very much", said the annoying scientist, introducing herself. "And how do you know she doesn't want to leave? She never said so; why don't you give her a chance to decide? Our friend, Dr. Shanna De Lumen, used to work at the Exploitation Preserve. She was with us when those filthy bandits came in and slaughtered everybody. She was the Head Veterinarian in charge of keeping the beasts alive. She's there every day now, doing God knows what. All I'm saying is we shouldn't just leave her."
"Dude, forget her!" said another one of the scientists.
"Yeah!" said another. "That chick never showers and she's annoying! Let her stay with her beasts!"
Dr. Albrecht, who was in front of the other girls, crossed her arms in a show of defiance. The girls behind took offense to her deciding something like that for them and began grumbling and complaining about it. One of them shoved Dr. Albrecht in the back, causing her to stumble forward. She turned on them and leapt in the air for her.
"No pushing, you witch!" Dr. Albrecht shouted. Some of the other girls caught her in mid-air. As she struggled against them, the scientist who pushed her reached up and began pulling her hair.
"Ladies, ladies!" yelled out an annoyed Lilith to the fighting scientists. "That's enough!"
They didn't stop.
"So", Gaige said, casually, "to the Exploitation Preserve to grab that vet chick?"
"Yeah", said Lilith. "Be careful. Oh, and we'll talk about your little Overlook trip later."
"Can't wait", said Axton sarcastically.
The Vault Hunters turned on their heels and walked towards the Fast Travel Station as Lilith sprouted flaming Siren wings in an attempt to scare the scientists into behaving.
"Aaaaand go!" said Dr. Lumen to Vlad and Katya, two stalkers she had named and led to a hole in the Exploitation Preserve east borderwall that led to the Highlands-Outwash. Unfortunately, whenever she led them to the hole, they would just stare at her quizzically. She tried stepping slowly out of the wall to get them to follow.
"Now come", she said. "Come. Come."
They didn't come. She grew frustrated. Why didn't any of the animals want to leave? The only food they had was each other and she was sure they would become restless with the great but overall limited space the Preserve provided, so why didn't they want to leave? It baffled her; simply baffled her. She scratched her scalp and pulled some more skag gunk from her ragged, red braids. She had let Anya, one of the larger skags play with her hair. Anya liked to slosh her braided hair around in her mouth; it seemed to calm her. She never chewed on it, thank god. Giving her a single braid of her hair didn't work either. She tried to leave a severed braid for him but Anya still sought her out, tackled her and went back to sucking on her hair.
Suddenly, she noticed Vlad and Katya sniff the air behind her and snarl. Katya turned and crawled away to get in some kind of ambush position, while Vlad went into camouflage.
"What's wrong?" she asked as she turned around. "Oh."
She locked eyes with the approaching Vault Hunters.
"Woman!" Salvador said, taking out two assault rifles. "Get down! Stalkers!"
"No!" she shouted, spreading her arms wide. "Stop it, you idiots!"
Vlad appeared on a hill nearby and snarled again.
"You should really get out of here!" said Gaige, aiming her caustic repeater at Vlad but talking to Shanna. "We don't want to hurt you!"
Shanna ran over to the hill and stood between Vlad, Katya and the Vault Hunters. She threw out her arms and puffed out her chest.
"Lady", Maya yelled. "Get down! The stalkers…"
"Are my friends!" she yelled defiantly with a thick accent. "You're just bandits with guns! So, if you're going to kill them, you're going to have to put a bullet through me first!"
Her vehemence gave the vault hunters pause and made them hesitate. Dr. Shanna Lumen absolutely hated Handsome Jack while he was alive but she still worked for Hyperion after all. In her eyes, the vault hunters were just as bad if not worse than Jack's regime and the bandits. She had seen and heard of them killing innumerable Hyperion workers and worse yet, her beloved animals.
"What are you waiting for, murderers?" she asked. "You already killed their mothers, fathers, elders, mates and children. Why not off them too? Just remember that you will also have to kill an unarmed woman as well. Give it to me, bandits."
"My aim is steady", Zer0 said, raising his electric sniper rifle, "My fingers are swift yet just. Leave the beasts to me."
"I'm starting to see how full of himself Zer0 really is", remarked Gaige.
"You're one to talk", shot Salvador.
"Everybody calm the hell down!" shouted Maya. She then looked at the defiant vet. "You're Dr. Shanna De Lumen, right?"
"And what of it, killer?" asked Dr. De Lumen.
Dr. Shanna De Lumen: Because skags, stalkers, varkids, crystalisks, threshers, sand worms, bullymongs, crab worms, spiderants, rakks, rakk hives, and scythids are people too. (pause) Wait a second…
"My people rescued you and your friends from the slabs!" said Maya.
Shanna scoffed and turned her head up at this.
"Yes, the slabs", she said, with a scoff. "Your friends, right?" Katya snapped her jaws at the Vault Hunters in response to this.
"Well", Maya said, "sort of, but I'll admit they were wrong! Hyperion wants to pick you guys up in Opportunity and we'll take you there. You just have to come with us."
"And I'm supposed to believe you?" said Shanna. "That you won't betray me to the slabs? You might as well kill me now."
"She's so willing to die", said Salvador. "We should just do it and tell them her stalkers turned on her."
"Look, lady", said a frustrated Axton, running a hand down his face, "I thought it was a little fun destroying loaders, constructors and all but frankly, I'm a little tired of dealing with you Hyperion types. We're all a little tired of this war. All I want is to find another vault and get my major payday. Now get down here or I'm going to shoot both of those stalkers in the head and drag you to Opportunity myself!"
"You want to stay here?" asked Maya, ignoring Axton. "On Pandora? You won't even take a chance on us? Hyperion is finished here. What else is left for you here?"
Shanna looked over at Katya and Vlad before looking out over the ruined overpass and Exploitation facilities. She briefly remembered the horrors committed there by Hyperion, undoing all of her work.
"What else is left for you here?" Shanna asked Maya.
"Two days ago", Maya told her after a brief pause, "I wouldn't have had an answer for you. I came to this planet expecting to find some kind of destiny for myself, to discover something about my origins. I'll admit that I was a little disappointed to find out there is none of that here. Instead, I found a purpose in taking down that bastard, Jack. After that, I discovered a thrill and a true purpose I never thought I would ever feel: the vault. I've seen it; Along with the map of more vaults. Seeing even a couple more of them would take a lifetime and I know I won't live to see all of them, but I don't care. Because I would do anything and go through anybody to have that feeling again!"
She looked around at the others who shared the same gleam in their eyes, just thinking of the other vaults.
"I would die to see even one more vault", she said, "and even if I didn't make it, doing everything I could do to get there with my friends would have made it all worth it."
"So, just please tell us", Zero said, waving at her companions. "Do you feel the same for them? We'll gladly leave you."
"¿What'll it be, senora?" Salvador added. "We don't have all day."
Shanna looked at her companions once more.
"I choose to stay", Shanna said. "Even with Jack dead, I couldn't stand another second with those Hyperion oppressors-"
"Down with the empire!" shouted Gaige suddenly, causing the others to turn and stare her down.
"Oops", she said, covering her mouth. "I didn't mean to be so loud."
Shanna said, pointing down at them.
"You have a lot to atone for too", Shanna said. "Do you even know how many innocent creatures you murdered in the name of your looting? Do you really think you're better than Jack or the bandits? You're worse! Do you hear me, you're worse…."
She continued this monologue but the vault hunters chose to turn inwards amongst themselves and ignore her.
"God", said Gaige. "Talk about a god complex. Look at her sitting on her little mound, throwing down life lessons and judgements on the oh-so-lowly and violent. Pfff. Like those stalkers are so innocent."
"So", Salvador said. "we go with the death by Stalker story?"
"Definitely", agreed Axton.
The five of them began to make their way out of the hole in the wall, intent on using the excuse that Dr. Lumen was eaten by stalkers.
"Oh", Shanna said, "so you can shoot a pen full of defenseless animals but you can't stand to have your morals questioned? Can't stand up to a debate without pulling a gun? Is that it? Well, you're cowards; all of you! Do you hear me? Cowards!"
They all kept walking except for Salvador, who stopped in his tracks.
"Hey, just remembered something!" he said, turning on his heels. "You're from Hyperion like Mr. Blake. Who is Helios? And…Adam…Blitzfield?"
Shanna stopped suddenly and the sudden silence caused the others to stop and turn.
"Did you just say…Helios?" she asked. "How did you hear that name?"
She jumped down from the hill. Salvador approached her until she stood over him, peering down with blank, emerald green eyes. It was this close that Salvador first noticed her unique odor.
"A ship attacked us an hour ago in Fyrestone", Salvador said. "Someone called us over Echo calling himself 'Adam Blitzfield, Contract Commander of Helios'. The ship destroyed everything. It was leaving craters."
Shanna stumbled back suddenly as if he had hit her in the face. Her eyes were wide.
"Wait", she said. "They're here…with him?"
Before he could answer, she turned and ran right back up the hill. She kneeled down between the stalkers and placed her head between them and pulled their heads towards hers with her arms to form a big hug.
"I want you two to survive, you hear me", she told them, with tears forming in her eyes. "I know it's hard out there but I don't want you cooped up in this pen one more second. I want you to go out, form a new clan, have lots of babies, and grow old. If you see any human, especially in an orange ship or orange armor, I don't want you to fight; run. You run, glide away, and camouflage and don't look back. Now, promise me you'll live. Promise that you'll stay strong for mommy. Vlad, stop eating runner tires; balance your diet."
Shanna hugged their necks tighter and Vlad gave a soft hacking cough in response while Katya gave a sharp exhale of breath. She then released them and reached back behind her neck to take off her locket.
"Something to remember me by, my sweets", she said, putting the locket down on the ground for them. She then scampered back down the hill as the two stalkers both lunged for the locket at the same time. They struggled for a second before each of them grabbed one end of it. They then snapped it in two and swallowed their respective halves. When she reached the hole, she turned and blew them a kiss before departing with Salvador and the other vault hunters.
"Doc", asked Axton as they began walking the Highlands-Outwash plains, "this Helios outfit has you spooked, don't they? Care to tell us about them?"
"Well", Shanna said. "Where do I start?"
"I'm sorry", shouted Gaige, "but I just have to say something…this chick really stinks!"
The others told her almost simultaneously to shut up as they wanted to know more about this Helios threat. To most humans, the odor Shanna was giving off was unbearable though.
As the vault hunters walked away with their veterinarian, a certain watcher was stalking them from inside the Preserve. A certain large loner of a female skag who happens to like to suck on a certain somebody's hair sniffed the air for her unique odor and pawed the ground in giddyness. Anya was of course eternally loyal to this woman and to think that these meatbags could take her away from her was infuriating to her. They wouldn't do it. Not on her next meal. She grunted her annoyance and moved to follow them.