Disclaimer: Borderlands and all of Pandora's residents are the intellectual property of Gearbox Software. No copyright infringement intended.
SPOILERS FOR THE SECOND GAME. In this continuity, Angel survives the events of Borderlands 2, which I guess makes this fic AU.
The Eridium Injector weighs seven hundred and twenty-six pounds.
Fuel cells. Carbon moderators. Cadmium control rods. Reinforced pressure vessels. Steam generator. Three different varieties of coolant. Valve assemblies. Hoses. Filters. Cartridges. Canisters. Pistons.
The Vault Hunters scattered across Pandora, and, gradually, wheelbarrows filled with junk began wobbling their way through the streets of Sanctuary, coming to a stop outside Crazy Earl's door. Earl grumbled obscenities and muttered complaints and scratched his head and pulled his ear, and then began jumbling together the contraption that would keep Angel alive.
"You gon' jam this sucka in a little girl's chest, be my guest," he barked, a damp, smouldering cigarette somehow clinging to his lips. "Least she'll die high, heh, heh. That, I guar-an-tee!"
The Eridium Injector weighs seven hundred and twenty-six pounds. A bulky, twisty, unwieldy confusion of flashing lights and moving parts and treacherously hot metal.
Brick needs no help.
"Alright, check this shit," he says, rubbing his hands and sauntering forward. His arms circle around the massive thing. "Get yo' ass in the air!"
The Eridium Injector leaves the ground, and then Brick lowers it onto the four-wheeled chassis that Scooter donated from his shop.
A lengthy tube extends from the Injector, and terminates in an induction port just between Angel's second and third ribs. And so it is that Angel comes to provide Sanctuary with one of its most vivid, most pitiful images: a little girl trudging disconsolately through the streets of the city, her gigantic respirator dragging behind her as she goes.
Of course, Angel's not nearly strong enough to move the Injector herself; not even an inch. Gaige vanished for a few hours inside her workshop, and when eventually the door opened, a droid with boosters for legs and enormous hydraulics in its arms emerged.
"We'll call him...Mr. Jones!" Gaige said, a wicked grin on her face. Then she saw Angel's confused-yet-achingly-grateful expression, and for some strange reason her heart shattered into a million pieces.
Gaige decided not to explain the joke.
Lilith wakes up in her bunk, and knows at once that there are three chunks of eridium in her personal lock-up.
Three chunks of eridium.
One for breakfast. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. NOW. NOW. NOW.
One for when she's halfway through the day.
One for when she climbs back into her bunk.
Three chunks of eridium. She'll be awake for nineteen hours, today.
Nineteen hours. Three chunks. That's nine hours, thirty minutes between each consumption.
Nine hours, thirty minutes for the buzz to wear off.
Nine hours, thirty minutes for that familiar craving to creep in.
Nine hours, thirty minutes, stretching on and on and on and on and on and on.
The world seems so much more dismal, so much more miserable, without eridium.
Life seems so much more of a drag.
Eridium is the splash of water on cracked, seared throats.
Eridium is the touch of ice on scorched tongues.
Eridium is the patter of rain on burning skin.
Nineteen hours. Three chunks. Nine hours, thirty minutes between each consumption.
One in the morning.
One in the afternoon.
One, just before bed.
The last is the most important. The last is the most crucial. Can't fall asleep when your skin is slick with sweat. Can't fall asleep when your heart is hammering away, thumpathumpathumpathump. Can't fall asleep when your stomach sends torrents of raging magma rushing up your windpipe every few seconds. When Lilith goes to bed without her fix, the acid keeps gushing up her throat, sloshing into her mouth. She gulps down water. She coughs and hacks. She hucks and spits, trying to drag up every little globule of phlegm she has in an attempt to engulf the stuff, but still it burns.
Three chunks of eridium. One for the morning, one for the afternoon, one for bed.
By noon, Lilith has already consumed the lot.
Maya had rather been hoping she'd get to see Moxxi without her make-up on.
The sheets are twisted and tossed. There are pillows underneath bellies, in between legs, under asses. Various articles of clothing are strewn about the floor, or hanging from assorted pieces of furniture.
Maya and Moxxi had not been gentle with each other, last night.
Maya yawns, and rubs her face. She pushes aside some strands of hair, picks the crusts from her eyes, and then turns and looks up into an immaculately-rendered kabuki clown face.
Maya stares at Moxxi in bewilderment a moment. "Did you wake up before me so that you could touch up your make-up?" she says, in a voice thick with mucus and grogginess.
She receives the slightest shrug in return. "A girl's gotta look the part."
Moxxi glides across the sheets. Her hand goes to Maya's hip, her arm goes around her neck, and then Moxxi presses her lips to Maya's mouth. Maya yields, and tongues mingle, and then...
And then Moxxi recoils away in theatrical horror.
"Oh, morning breath!" she says, waving away some imaginary toxic fumes. "Did they teach you nothing at that damn monastery? When you spend the night with someone, you're supposed to hide a stick of gum under the pillow."
Maya groans, and rolls her eyes. "Genius," she says.
Maya pushes herself into a sitting position, and looks around the room for a clock. Six-forty-five. Moxxi has a business empire to see to. Maya has chores to do.
Out of bed, and now Maya is on the floor, balancing on toes and palms upon the varnished wood. She begins firing off crisp, machine-like push-ups; one, two, three, four...
"Huh," Moxxi says, not quite able to keep the wry smile in check. "Showing off, are we?"
Eight, nine, ten, eleven. Maya doesn't miss a beat. "It's what they taught me in the monastery," she says. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.
Moxxi stands over Maya a moment, silently approving. Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven. Pandora has honed every muscle in Maya's body. Pandora has rendered Maya as sleek and lean as any of the creatures that prowl its lands. Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four.
Moxxi gathers up a bundle of shampoos, conditioners, gels and creams, and then heads into the shower. Next time, she promises herself, she'll ask Maya to begin with crunches.
The Eridium Injector weighs six hundred and fifty-three pounds. Each week, it grows lighter and lighter. Wheelbarrows of junk keep tottering their way towards the Black Market, and Crazy Earl keeps refining the design.
"The word is miniaturization!" Earl growls. "Making things smaller, doing the same thing. Heh heh heh. Miniaturization. Heh heh heh heh heh! The Grand Unifying Theory of Human Misfortune!"
The Vault Hunters stare at Earl in amazement. They've never seen him so talkative.
Earl rips out the Maystein containment silo, and replaces it with a six-chambered Egon refinement plant. Twenty pounds lighter. Earl yanks out fifteen metres of insulated Baxter Conduit, and replaces it with a point-to-point teleporter system. Fifteen pounds lighter.
Angel has a steady supply of eridium to keep herself sane. Maya, Gaige, Axton, Salvador, Zero and Brick all chip in. Eventually, it will be nice if Angel could recover enough strength to become a Vault Hunter herself, and collect her own eridium. Her muscles are atrophied. Her internal organs aren't in the best shape. Tannis seems to think that soon her liver and kidneys will need to be replaced. She'll probably need an artificial lung, also.
"Transhuman Massive RE-PRES-ENT!" Gaige screeches, throwing up a five. Angel gives a shy smile and smacks her hand, her insides bubbling with desperate, pathetic gratitude.
Mordecai doesn't drink so much these days. Bloodwing the Second is two months old, now.
Bloodwing II doesn't really seem to like Angel at all.
One day, a question comes to Lilith's mind.
She doesn't know where it came from, can't imagine how it got planted there, but nevertheless a question materializes suddenly in her thoughts. The blood in her veins sizzles and boils, and bile leaps to the top of her throat, and fires lick at the underside of her skin.
Would I ever steal from my friends?
The Vault Hunters are a military unit, which means that the Vault Hunters are a family. They share everything. Food, money, booze, weapons, ammo, a roof, sleeping quarters, showers, stories, victories, defeats, triumphs, disappointments.
Nevertheless, each Vault Hunter is an individual. They all have secrets. They each have a life, separate and distinct.
They each have a place in Sanctuary where they keep their stuff.
What would happen if, say...Gaige woke one morning and discovered that her locker had been broken open, the padlock melted away, and all of her eridium gone?
What would happen if Mordecai came down one day to find the doors of his storeroom blasted away, and his personal stash of eridium vanished?
What would happen if Angel – poor, poor Angel, she of the hunched shoulders and the stooped posture and the downcast eyes – paid a visit to that little container they gave her, only to find a great charred hole in the side, and all of her precious mana stolen away?
Everyone in Sanctuary loves how hilariously clueless Lilith can be about basic social customs.
They think it's charming, the way she blurts out painfully intimate details of her love lives.
They think it's hilarious, the way she is utterly incapable of tact and discretion.
Deep down, Lilith hates being an object of hilarity. Of course she does. She hates the fact that countless little jokes and anecdotes pass around Sanctuary, and that she is the object.
But what if Sanctuary knew that she was a thief?
What if Sanctuary knew that Lilith stole from her friends? What if they knew that Lilith, the oddball Siren, forced her way into her friends' belongings and stole their eridium? What if Sanctuary knew that Lilith was such a pathetic, weak-willed junkie that she had to betray the people that trusted her the most?
What whispers would pass around Sanctuary, then?
For no reason whatsoever, Maya decides that it's time for another reinvention.
The sun is at the highest point in the sky when Maya saunters into Slab Town. She sniffs about a bit, and then finds what she's looking for. A trio of women, scrawny, feral, with markings on their skin and grisly mementoes and trophies in their hair, are sat in the shade, murmuring and muttering to one another. These girls are storied brigands. These girls survived for years in the most formidable, most don't-fuck-with-us-able gang in Pandora.
Only a Vault Hunter would have the stones to approach them.
"I wanna look like a demon!" Maya tells them, with cheery confidence.
She waits patiently as they stare at her, and then at each other.
A chair is found, and the bandits go to work. They dye her hair; alternating streaks of black and red. They paint her face – black eye sockets, skull-white skin, teeth caked with blood. All manner of straps and chains are wrapped around her arms. One of the bandits winds barbed wire around her left biceps – Maya isn't sure how long before that gets old, but she'll give it a try. Her combat outfit is discarded in a corner, replaced by an assortment of rags that Maya hopes have a certain flea-market charm.
After fifteen minutes, a massive form looms in the mirror. Rumbling laughter.
"Mmhh, heh, heh, heh!" Brick says, a massive hand clamping on Maya's shoulder. "The Slabs tell me you wanna look scary. All good, all good." A fist smacks into a waiting palm. "Suckers oughta know when the pain's comin'!"
Maya grants him her best evil smile – damn, the blood around her mouth really adds to the effect. The bandits tie knick-knacks in her hair. A molar from the jaw of a Badass Goliath – Maya broke three metacarpals that day, punching it out. A sniper shell that she yanked out of a Pyre Thresher's skull – she was the one that put it there in the first place, of course.
Brick doesn't have it exactly right. Maya doesn't want to scare people. Maya isn't interested in intimidating her enemies. Maya has no interest in getting in touch with her wild side.
Maya just wants people to stare at her. Maya wants to walk through the streets of Sanctuary, and pretend not to notice as the citizenry do double takes.
The sun is vanishing over the Three Horns when Maya strolls through Sanctuary's main gate. "Well, hell," Private Jessop mutters to himself. "That ain't regulation."
Double-takes, just as predicted.
Badly-disguised stares, just as Maya expected.
"OOOOOOH! DAMN, GIRL!"
Oh, Gaige. So predicable.
"You let bandits dress you?"
Maya peers at herself in a tiny, grimy mirror on the wall. "There's a certain...I dunno...primitive appeal, isn't there?" she says. "Kind of a primal beauty to it, I think."
Gaige gazes at Maya a moment in horror, and then hurriedly shakes her head, as though trying to dislodge all sorts of unpleasant imagery from her mind. "I...I'm glad I caught you," she goes on, a bit shaken. "First thing tomorrow, you and I are going to Opportunity. There exist certain establishments there which you would never ever find without my expertise in matters fashionable and sartorial." Gaige extends her robotic arm, and distastefully grips a fold of Maya's shirt between finger and thumb. "These...things...have no business being worn by a Vault Hunter. Ew. What you need, Msssssssss. Maya, is lace, and, and fishnets, and leather, and I know where we can get the choicest, most tastefully expensive brands! Plus, Deathtrap looks so cute with a bunch of shopping bags, you have no idea!"
Outside the headquarters, they suddenly hear the sound of boosters burning and wheels trundling. Mister Jones is near.
"Hey, you!" Maya says, strolling out the door.
Angel turns, and her forehead creases in befuddlement. Maya strikes an obliging pose. "Wow, you've changed your look," Angel says, and Maya swears she can see the slightest hint of sadness pass across her face. You could dress Angel in any costume in the universe – she'd still look like a sick, gaunt girl. "You look really cool, Maya."
"Thanks," Maya says, and the blood around her mouth adds a peculiar warmth to her smile. "Here, I've got a present for you."
Maya fishes about in her rucksack, and two chunks of eridium are placed in Angel's palms. Something about Angel's smile makes Maya's heart melt.
Honestly, I don't even know if anyone actually uses the term 'Massive' any more.
I'll post the next chapter when possible. I've been REALLY awful with abandoning fics, lately, but I luvs me my Borderlands, and I'll do my best.