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Land of Despair

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Rhys had been promoted to being a part of the head programmers' office within the last month. He had to do a lot of ass kissing just to get on Helios to begin with. He had seen a lot of people come and go trying to get a spot in Hyperion back on his home planet. Some of them had even been aspiring programmers like him, and good ones at that. But sometimes codes aren't worth much unless you get to the right people. And Hyperion? That way was the best way to go.

It had been his time to shine and he wasn't about to blow it when it came to the interview process. He had dressed up and put on his best game face--which consisted of a lot of false confidence and one award winning smile by the way. He had been internally panicking the whole time. His coding capabilities weren't his only skills but they were his best. He needed to not just be good but be great. Hyperion, they were the top dog in all the companies out there. Not even Atlas could compare to a Hyperion project! And Rhys wanted to...to be like that. Let the universe see him. Hyperion was the best shot he had to do that. 

After kissing enough ass, he could really shine, even more than he had during the interviews with Hyperion. The higher ups had liked what they saw from his recorded first projects on Helios. A fact he hadn't been aware of until after the recording had finished. Or...well, he assumed they had liked what they saw otherwise he would have been demoted or worst--dumped with a one way ticket to Pandora. Being skag food wasn't on his list of goals at Helios. Either way, those recordings got him his first promotion, which resulted in another and another until where he was now on Helios.

Rhys was actually happy where he was career wise at the company...for now. He was actually making a decent amount of money to get a better apartment and even pay for his friends' lunches on occasion. No more IOUs or rainchecks for this guy. No, that was the old Rhys. The new Rhys had plans. Ideas! Motive. And he wasn't going to let anyone get in his way of rising further on-

His lunch trey slammed into his chest as he ran right into Hugo Vasquez. He shut his eyes tight but the bigger man's fingers had already grabbed a hold of his shirt. Rhys, reluctant to do much of anything really, opened his eyes. Hugo stared back at him. This was it. This was the day he died because he couldn't even get out of his head to look around at his own surroundings. It was Helios for fucks sa-

"Do you even look where you're going-" Hugo looked him over briefly "Uhhh..."

"Rhys?" He offered his name like he was going to the slaughterhouse. 

"Rese!" Hugo screeched his name rather than saying it...and it wasn't even the correct pronunciation of it 

Rhys. It wasn't that hard to remember. It was just a reee and a ssss. He didn't think that was too difficult to get right. He had known Vasquez for a while. He had even been the unwilling target of most of Vasquez's taunts and literal shoulder punches of encouragement or whatever Hugo said they were for anyway. Rhys was just four letters...

"Yeah, look, I get it." Vasquez continued "Hot guy like me walks by and you get all 'oh wow' and bug eyed but you ruin another shirt and I'll have to go report you, got it?"

It was a shirt...

His shirt!

"Yes, sir. Sorry, Mr. Vasquez." Rhys muttered. 

Hugo let go of him without so much as a second glance. He watched as the Hyperion jackal had made it around the corner before he let out the breath he had held. He looked away, pulled the trey away from his chest and let what was left of his food fall onto the floor. He had actually wanted the jello today...

Out of the corner of his eye he could have sworn he saw a flash of something blue. But a hand grabbed his wrist and yanked him out of his train of thought. He felt dazed at first, vision smudged briefly before his eyes settled on Vaughn and Yvette. His friends seemed unaware of his current state of mind as Vaughn immediately went off about the new outpost on Pandora.

"-And I told them the figures for the construction and the time they'd need to put in on it. I got a 'good job, kid'" Vaughn had his chin in the air and hands on his hips.

"That...That's great, buddy..."

"Did Vasquez mess with you again?" Yvette asked, her eyebrows narrowed "That's the fifth time this week, Rhys."

"Yeah but I did bump into him so-"

"And look at your shirt! He's such a tool." Yvette sighed, tapped a few buttons on her tablet and suddenly a loaderbot was there.

Rhys' eyes widen for a second time as he stared up at the Hyperion robot. He swallowed hard and scratched the back of his head. Everything was fine. It was just a loaderbot. Nothing weird about that. Helios was covered in them and-holy shit it was tall. It was a bit more obvious with it right in front of him.

"Loaderbot, the shirt." Yvette held a hand out.

"Under. Stood."

The robot turned, loud stomps on the floor and handed a nearly folded shirt to her. With two more loud stomps it faces him again and stared. Its' red eye seemed to widen briefly before fading back to what it was before. He hoped it wasn't thinking of him as target practice. He had only seen them do that when on training missions and even then he was never on the actual training field. He was just good with codes...

"Thanks...?" Rhys gave a halfhearted salute to the loaderbot, not really knowing why.

"No. Problem." The loaderbot turned, with two loud stomps, before it continued with its' stomps and went back to...wherever it came from.

"You didn't have to do that, Yvette-"

"Unless you like looking like a jello mess and not the best programmer on Hyperion then by all means-" she held out the shirt for him. 

He reached out suddenly and took the shirt with a sigh. Rhys could move fast when he wanted to, well, when he was motivated to. He looked down at his still ruined shirt on him. He really did look like shit, huh? This shirt had come from the gift shop too. Even had the fun logo Hyperion made on it. At least he could wash it later, right? Red couldn't be that hard to get out.

"Thanks, Yvette..."

Vaughn nudged him and smiled for him. Rhys managed to give more of a twitch of his lips than a smile. But he placed the trey on top of a trashcan near by. His friends followed close behind as they exited the cafeteria. The left over food on the floor already cleaned up by janitorial services from what he could see when he glanced back. 

"You owe me lunch now, Rhys." Yvette announced. 

"You can always just go back and eat?" He rolled his eyes.

"I could." Yvette agreed.

"We absolutely could." Vaughn nodded.

"But then how would you pay for it?" She added.

"Good one, Yvette." Rhys muttered. 

The trio continued until they reached the freshly rented apartment by one businessman--which was him. Rhys. He still couldn't believe he had his own place. Sure he would miss Vaughn's late night breakfast dinners and having just...the company. But he couldn't very well keep going like that. Could he? Nah, and Vaughn even seemed okay with it.

They entered the apartment and the doors shut. With a brief couple more of back and forths about lunch, he switched shirts. The ruined one tossed in a typically forgotten laundry basket in the corner. He finished with the last button to his new shirt before he sat down at the kitchen counter. Yvette barely seemed interested in the apartment while Vaugh couldn't stop...staring at everything. 

"You okay, buddy?" Rhys asked.

Vaughn shook his head and looked back at him. Familar widen eyes stared back at Rhys, but those eyes weren't widen because of Vasquez or because of a rather larger than life loaderbot. Rhys just hoped it wasn't because of him. As for the accountant, he had to push glasses back up his nose before he could manage to even respond.

"Your apartment is...well, whoa, dude. It's huge!"

Damn it. It was because of him.

Rhys looked around the apartment briefly. He guessed it was bigger than their old place...uh, Vaughn's place now. It still wasn't anything compared to Tassiter's place, not that he had ever been graced enough to even step foot into that place. He had heard not even Hugo had been there. There were pictures but pictures weren't exactly equal to real life. Rhys would give anything to just get a moment to talk to the guy nonetheless be in his home. Most of Hyperion could say the same.

"Dude?"

"Oh...uh-yeah, sorry." Rhys looked back with another sigh "I got a lot on my mind..."

"Are you still thinking about Hugo Vasquez?" Yvette waved the name off and away to who knows where "You need to let him go, Rhys. He isn't worth it. Just let it go and move on. Hugo is a nobody."

Wasn't he a nobody before Helios?

"Just a handsome face with no personality." Yvette continued, with a smile "You're going to blow him out of the water when the higher ups see what you can really do." She winked at him after the pep talk.

For Yvette, it was comforting. For Rhys, it wasn't as much...

"Yeah...sure." Rhys nodded.

Yvette said to let it go. She had added after his reply to her pep talk that Vasquez would get what's been coming for him for years. Rhys hadn't been on Helios as long as her but he figured her judgement was credible on that part. Nothing on Hyperion was set in stone. Anyone could be airlocked or backstabbed--he would know.

The only concrete thing on Helios was that Hyperion would continue to grow, whether they continued work on Pandora or not. Their empire had grown fast and large throughout the universe. Hugo Vasq-lame was only a small portion of Hyperion's empire. Vasquez probably thought he was untouchable under Hyperion's thumb.

Rhys took the time and imagined what Vasquez would look like airlocked after his talk with Yvette and Vaughn. It wasn't like he'd do it himself. But it was a way of lowering stress and made him laugh, in a very non creepy way, to himself. Vasquez seemed like a guy who would be taken off guard by an airlock. That sort of guy that's far too confident and talks out of his ass all the time because it's probably sculpted like its' art. Not that he wanted to imagine what Vasquez's ass looked like.

He went back to work a little while after his friends had left. Rhys sat on his couch and imagined a few more scenarios of Hugo's doom before he shoved himself off and got back in action. He had reports due by the end of the day. Some run in with Vasquez wasn't excuse enough for those reports to be delayed either. So, with a groan, Rhys got to work. He managed to avoid Hugo for the rest of the day as well--a blessing all on its' own really. 

By the time the end of the work day came, he was the last one in the office. His fingers typing away and his eyelids hung low over his eyes. Yet he kept at it, even after he had been told to go home about an hour or two ago. He pulled his fingers from his work an hour later, only to rub his eyes and groan loudly into the empty room.

Maybe a few hours of rest were needed...

"Look at you, kiddo." 

Rhys immediately pulled his hands from his eyes and his eyelids lifted. His eyes were open wide again. He looked around the room but...it was just him and computers. He swallowed, a dry throat burned at the action. He hadn't realized the last time he had anything to drink was...maybe back at the apartment? Or had he been too busy entertaining Yvette and Vaughn? Maybe he was just too tired...people hear things when they're exhausted, right? 

"Workin' hard or hardly workin', sweetheart?"

There it was again. A lot clearer this time. That was...creepy as shit. The hairs on his arms stood up right away at the voice that came from...well, no where. Rhys' heart hammered in his chest. He looked around one more time yet no one stepped out from behind anything or popped their head into the office. It was just him and the computers...it was just...him. Rhys wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"It's nothin'..." he murmured to no one. 

Rhys looked back at the screen in front of him. He reached out, pressed a few more buttons before he stood up. His chair scooted back in after a moment. He had to use a hand on the desk to keep himself up as he yawned. His fingers scratched his head, which was soothing in the moment.

He shook the sleep from him and grabbed his jacket. It must be his imagination. After all, he didn't hear anything after he stood up. He just needed a few hours in bed and he would be right as rain--or whatever the saying was. It would be okay...right?

Chapter Text


Rhys didn't get much sleep after the event in the office the night before. He had tried to—despite the sudden fear of the dark that crept along his ankles and calves. He had even pulled the blankets over his head and buried his legs under the bed sheets. It hadn’t been that traumatizing, no one had been airlocked and no one had died. He just…you know…heard a voice talk that wasn't connected to a person or thing. He had told himself over and over it was due to lack of sleep. That was why he had tried so desperately to shut his eyes and slumber away or whatever. It hadn't worked at all but at least his back wouldn't hate him in the morning hours and throughout the work day. His heart on the other hand...

Yet, about five hours and three cups of coffee later, Rhys had to get up for the following work day. He slid on his skag boots one at a time, worn his zigzag socks to give himself some courage—which it didn’t really, only made him smile once. Fun socks were a good start to the day surely. He could get through the day with fun socks and pushing forward no matter what—

Hugo Vasquez was sat at his desk when he arrived in the office. At first, he considered catching breakfast and taking a late notice on today’s schedule. But a late notice wouldn’t look good on his already tardy on every other occasion record. He had said he wouldn’t ruin this chance to shine on Helios but…it’s not everyday your weapon manufacturing company has free try outs for the latest echo eye. His own was in need of an upgrade anyway, the records in them were probably five months old by now.

At least he could rely on the trusty and dandy computer that was…at…the…desk…Hugo Vasquez was at. Hugo Vasquez was at his desk. His desk had Hugo Vasquez at it—holy shit—keep it cool, Rhys. Be a cool and totally chill guy. Vasquez technically was higher ranked than him but…

“Uh—Hey—I mean hi, hello, sir.” Rhys approached the table definitely without a twitch of a smile, “Mr. Vasquez…sir…”

Nailed it.

“Hey, Rese!” Jackass.

Hugo immediately stood up at the desk, the chair rolled back a few feet from him. The man’s hands were bigger than Rhys, with fingers littered with rings of all sizes, as they grabbed a hold of Rhys’ shoulders the moment Rhys got too close. Rhys could have died right then and there, the very idea of Hugo Vasquez touching him was not on his radar…ever. But he didn’t push the man away, didn’t try to even yelp or screech in terror. Instead, he widened his eyes a fraction and swallowed the bile in his throat that used to be last night’s free donut raid. His lips pulled back more, forced an equally as creepy smile that Hugo gave back as well. The duo stood there in silence for at least a good minute or so before one of those same large hands slapped his back and an arm came around his shoulders.

Rese, I was thinkin’-”

“Rhys-“

“That’s what I said,” Hugo didn’t seem to bat an eye at the correction “You know, I was just thinkin’ about you and your mix matched eyes.”

Well…Hugo had been at his desk after all…

Wait. Hugo was thinking…? About him…?

“You have?” Rhys’ quirked an eyebrow.

Hugo Vasquez thinking about him didn’t exactly equal good or exciting. He didn’t want Hugo Vasquez to think of him at all if he could help it. He looked over his shoulder, an attempt to get anyone else’s attention at the interaction they were all witness too…and could help…maybe. Please, help, he thought. He didn’t see anyone look in his direction for even a second. Though someone near by did shrug and sigh, as if this was a bothersome to them and not Rhys. Maybe they found Hugo as aggravating as he did. Maybe they would say something—

“Mr. Tassiter saw your latest project, Rese,” Hugo pulled him, more like dragged him, towards the doorway of the office.

Once again, Rhys looked back over his shoulder at his desk. He had work he had to do, things that needed to be filed. He couldn’t very well let Hugo just step on his entire day’s schedule. Shit, he could get in trouble with his boss for this. What if he got demoted back to the lower levels? He had worked hard to get here and his projects were being approved more and more now—Damn it, Hugo!

Rhys stumbled over his own feet as they were out in the hallway, nearly would have fallen if Hugo didn’t have a grip on him. The man’s rings had started to bury themselves into his arm, pierced right through his sleeve in fact. He tried his best to wiggle out of Hugo’s grasp but the bigger man simply laughed and it tickled the inside of Rhys’ ears. The hairs on his arms shot back up like they had last night in the office. He looked down at Hugo’s hand on his arm, then up at Hugo, who still had that ridiculous frozen grin on his face.

“Just look at it, Rese,” Hugo gestured with his free hand to a poster on the wall.

In big letters the words THE PLACE TO ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS, and LIVE TO SEE THEM: HYPERION. This one must be new, it still had a shine to it. Below the words were Mr. Tassiter, hands on his hips and his head in the air. The guy looked like he could conquer the world despite his goatee of doom he had going on there. Rhys wrinkled his nose at the site, in all the footage and photos he had seen of the CEO of Hyperion…well, the guy looked…intimidating. On a poster like this though, Tassiter looked almost…not?

The CEO Of Hyperion wasn’t even wearing the Hyperion colors in the poster. If he was CEO, he would be rocking the hell out of Hyperion’s colors, he’d have logos made weekly and create a whole new wing to Helios for the marketing department for it. Marketing for a company like Hyperion wasn’t too hard with the weapons they made but, hell, at least have fashion taste too. Just like his skag boots, they may have taken six weeks for delivery but they were worth it.

If one is going to work at company like Hyperion, at least look good doing it.

“Sir, I really have to get back to work—” Rhys finally took his eyes off the poster to look back at…ugh…Hugo.

“—Which is why I was sent down here, with the rest of these poor, poor workers.” Hugo interrupted, as if he had been talking this whole time while Rhys had been criticizing his CEO’s propaganda poster.

“…Uhh…” Rhys assured himself internally that he was not lost in this conversation.

He was though.

He had no fucking clue what Hugo was even talking about most of the time.

“Mr. Tassiter!” Hugo let go, finally, and put his hands on his own hips—like Tassiter in the poster.

“The CEO?” Rhys glanced at the poster again.

“He wants you in his office asap, got it?”

Rhys immediately looked back at Hugo. His eyes could have popped out of his head for how wide they grew this time around. His throat was in a familiar sense of dry, just like before. He blinked a few times, mostly in hope that his was a horrible nightmare. Though he wasn’t sure which was worst, dreaming about Hugo or Mr. Tassiter wanting him personally to come to his actual office. Yet Rhys found himself smiling and gave a nod to Hugo during his internal struggle of dread and more dread, laced with panic of course.

“Yes, sir, I understand. I can go—”

“Ah, ah, you need an escort, Rese.”

Damn it.

“Oh, right. Yeah. Wouldn’t want the higher ups to get the wrong impression, right?” Bad time to make a joke.

But Hugo laughed, arm back around his shoulders though a bit tighter this time. Rhys’ nose brushed Hugo’s shoulder briefly from the sudden pull back. He turned his head away, to whatever was in front of them.  Hugo was actually quite during their walk toward the elevator and Rhys’ mind started to, as it often did, wander. The man didn’t really…smell bad. In fact, Hugo didn’t seem like a guy who drenched himself in cologne anyway. It smelled sort of nice, maybe it was from Hyperion’s gift sho-whoahohoho, what the fuck? When did he start caring what Hugo Vasquez smelled like? Gross. So gross.

The worst gross.

Rhys was the one who had to wiggle and press the elevator button to come. It felt like an unspoken power move for some reason, as Hugo didn’t even try to reach for it…just…stared at Rhys. He was sure this was a trick now. This was some sick joke or a trap or something closely related to both. Maybe Hugo told the higher ups some sort of lie and they just believed it. Maybe he had fucked up and didn’t realize it. His last project was a success, they had even put out a new line of loaderbots with new sorts of function for the fields on Pandora. It had taken out of a lot of bandits and he was good at stopping bandits.

Breathe.

He took a deep breath as the elevator doors opened. It left him as soon as they both stepped inside and the doors shut. They stood there, again, for another minute or so of silence. Hugo’s arm was still awkwardly around his shoulders though not as tight now. Rhys took another breath before he straightened his back in an attempt for Hugo to gain some sort of clue that he was uncomfortable. Though Hugo seemed to thrive whenever Rhys was uncomfortable in the first place…maybe that wasn’t such a good plan B anyway. However, in the end, Hugo seemed to get the idea and let go.

Rhys rubbed his arm, partially trying to get that Hugo touch off his clothing and the other because Hugo’s rings really had hurt pressing like that. He let his hand fall back to his side after a moment, a roll of his shoulders followed soon after. At least the weight on his back had faded in such a short amount of time, now if he could just get the weights off his chest he’d be in business of being somewhat confident.

“I don’t know why Mr. Tassiter wants to see you,” Hugo said, this time in the softest tones, a very un-Hugo move to be honest “But if you think I’m going to let you step over me, pipsqueak. You’re in the wrong business.”

“Wha—No, I wouldn’t…” Rhys cleared his throat “Listen. Hugo, may I call you that—Hugo?”

Vasquez didn't seem to care though, didn't even seem to be fully listening to anything Rhys had to say. Rhys glanced down and he saw how Hugo’s fingers curled into fists but the man didn’t lurch at him or even look at him. He would preferred it if Hugo had struck him. At least then he would be able to tell what Hugo was thinking at this moment. Hugo wasn't even making any smartass remarks about what he was wearing or the fact he was staring at him...and maybe kissing a tiny bit of ass. Just a bit. It seemed better to have Hugo back to regular Hugo rather than...whatever Hugo this was. Hugo continued with silence instead and that only had Rhys grow a bit desperate for a reaction from the guy. Any reaction now would suffice...

“Okay…Vasquez? How about Vasquez? In private, you know? I would totally keep calling you sir in front of others.” Rhys smiled, with too much teeth.

“You can keep playing the ignorant game, Rese,” There it was again “But I know you. We all know what you did to get that promotion. And it sure as hell wasn’t just by your codes.”

Okay, maybe not any reaction but a...less...upset one maybe would be okay.

Before Rhys could try and reply Hugo looked at him. It had been a slow turn of the head and drooped eyelids that Hugo seemed to be going with for a facial expression at the moment. Hugo actually looked…well, serious. It sort of unnerved Rhys more than Hugo’s usual stares and…general expressions. He swallowed again, throat still dry, and looked back at the shut elevator doors. The weight was on his back again and it was heavier this time. His heart started up with its’ familiar beat of anxiety within his ribs. His chest felt sort of tight at times, an in and out pattern.

“I don’t know why he wants me to come, okay?” Rhys muttered.

“Sure you don’t.” Hugo wasn’t buying what Rhys was selling.

Not that he was selling…really anything. He had no idea why Tassiter wanted him in his office. He hoped it was out of some sort of mistake if he was being honest with himself. As much as he wanted recognition it felt too…fast. He had a mental plan, it was all locked up tight since the day he had arrived on Helios. He would go from level to level in Hyperion, rise up through the ranks carefully and slowly. It would take time he realized but it would be worth it in the end. This change of pace was a bit jarring for him. He had no idea where to turn now or where to look. There wasn’t any sign of Yvette or Vaughn for him to grab onto and hope for assistance. There was just him and Hugo…

And Hugo was pissed at him.

He really was alone right now. Shit.

The elevator came to a sudden stop and the doors slid open. Rhys looked from the now open doors to Hugo and back again at the doors. Was he…should he--….maybe he should just wait. Hugo was pressing the button for another floor though, not even giving him a haunting second look for him to panic about further. That was his cue. Hugo would not be joining him with the rest of his adventure, after all Hugo did say he was just an escort. Tassiter wanted Rhys, not Hugo. Yikes.

Rhys quickly stepped out of the elevator doors and they shut behind him. He straightened his back for a second time as he looked down the hall. It wasn’t that long of a walk to Mr. Tassiter’s office but it certainly looked like one from this distance. He could see out of the corner of his eye two Hyperion guards that leaned against the walk. He could have sworn he heard one snicker under their breath. His heart felt like it had stopped at that. All he could hear were his steps as he moved forward, not at all stumbling over his feet this time.

“Hey, Rhys, finally getting airlocked?” An unknown guard spoke up.

“Haha.” He had heard of people saying haha out loud but he never actually had.

He should have just actually laughed.

“…did you just say haha?”

“Nope.” Rhys picked up his step.

As he approached the open doors to Tassiter’s office he forgot how to briefly walk, this time he did stumble…up the steps. He managed to collect himself before falling face down, his fingers gripped the steps with all the might he had in him at the moment. He needed to breathe, that was what Ivette always said. Vaughn would always pipe in with how breathing was cool and all the cool people breathed. He wasn’t sure if that was Vaughn’s way of trying to help or it was just Vaughn being…Vaughn. But Rhys took another breath, like he had been trying to do ever since he first saw Hugo today. He took a breath and another and another…until he was inside Tassiter’s office.

The Hyperion CEO was literally only a short distance from him now, thanks to his traitorous nimble legs and uneven steps. Rhys took a few steps further into the office and gained a better view of the CEO of Hyperion. Tassiter was bent over a screen that was only so far away from the desk the CEO was typically sat at, talking to someone Rhys didn’t know. He took a few steps closer towards the man, even cleared his throat to gain some indication if his presence was actually welcomed or not. Tassiter briefly looked up from the screen, eyed him over once and nodded at him.

“And you can remind him that I am not giving him this second chance out of the kindness of my heart.” Tassiter was pissed too. Great.

And it sounded like someone was about to get fired.

“Hyperion creates weapons—friendship or not,” Tassiter continued “I will go with the better programmer if he does not pull through.”

Someone was absolutely getting fired.

Before he could laugh quietly to himself, in a non-creepy and more that was sad to watch sort of way—Tassiter had eyes on him already. He blinked quickly a few times before he took a few more steps forward. His hands together in front of him, fingers knotted together now and he hoped he was not shaking in front of the CEO of his favorite company. That would be the worst thing right now…besides being airlocked…and seeing Hugo again…or anything that resulted in him being from mildly inconvenienced to being dead. He liked his body. He hoped it would remain unmaimed was the point.

“Sir, I want to say what an honor it is that you called me here toda—”

Tassiter had already moved away, back towards the office desk. Rhys remained where he was now, unsure if he was meant to follow at all. As for the Hyperion CEO, Tassiter was back at his own computer screen and had sat back down without much fuss. After another brief and awkward moment, one hand waved Rhys forward. The gesture in itself had also been done in a brief manner, impatient really. Rhys moved just as quickly, his own feet did not betray him this time. He stood on the steps instead, it was an easier way to get to the office doors faster if he wanted to humiliate himself further and try to flee this situation.

“Do you know why I called you here today, Rhys?”

Mr. Tassiter knew his name! Him! A programmer!

“Uh, no, sir. Mr. Vasquez said-“

“I called you here today because according to recent records you’ve been promoted within a month’s time to the head programmer’s office.” Tassiter kept his fingers moving on his keyboard, flashes of images that Rhys couldn’t quite tell apart of from each other skipped across the screen.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct—”

“I’ve seen others do it in less time.”

…well, fuck.

“However,” Tassiter looked at him for a second time “I was impressed with your latest project with the new loaderbots.”

“Oh, thank you, sir.” Rhys couldn’t help but grin “I really appreciate that. You know, not everyone admires codin-“

Tassiter looked away, back at the screen “Which is why I want you to work on my latest project.”

His what now--?

His…hi…Tassiter’s—oh jeez.

“Yes, sir, what project…is that again? You know I keep an eye on all your work and you do so much. I just want to make sure I know what you are referring to.” Rhys stammered “Exactly.”

He was doing okay, just had to keep breathing and he’d be okay. But as the words ‘my latest project’ kept repeating inside his head—he wasn’t sure if he would be okay today or even the next. Vaughn would blow his top over this and Ivette would give the universe’s longest pep talk. It would…he would have a part in an official top project for Hyperion-! Him! Rhys took another breath and his vision blurred a lot like it had the day before it returned to usual. His world seemed to tilt briefly yet Rhys did not fall over this time. He kept his composure, which wasn’t that great in the first place, and stared at Hyperion’s head.

“I’ve decided to call it…” Tassiter’s fingers stilled on the keyboard, and his eyebrows narrowed “Mmm. John.”

John.

John…

John?

Rhys narrowed his own eyebrows and looked around for a moment. Really? John? That didn’t seem…well, exciting. Usually Hyperion had iconic names behind their projects, even to the smallest ones. Even the outposts on Pandora had names more than…John. Maybe it stood for something cool? Like…Jo…Jo—Well, he was sure it was something cool. It had to be. It was a Hyperion top project, from the CEO himself! It had to be mind blowing one way or another.

“Yes, Rhys,” Tassiter said his name again “John. John is artificial intelligence recently created for Hyperion. He is meant to assist with security and coding.”

But…that was…Rhys’ job. Hell, it was dozens of people’s jobs. Tassiter did say assist. That meant no one would lose their job, right? Or be replaced? Loaderbots had been created years back but there were still Hyperion engineers and guards. Maybe this was a good thing.

It was always good to have back up in times of crisis. And Rhys did like having some pressure of his back, as long as it didn’t interfere with his work being noticed by the higher up of course. His work needed to be seen, he had…worked hard…on work—He worked hard. That was the point anyway, and he just found himself nodding along with whatever Tassiter had just said. Which Rhys had no clue what Tassiter had said in the last…oh, probably thirty to forty seconds of his daydreaming about himself again. He really needed to focus more.

“And that is what it stands for officially. However, you and the rest of the company will refer to him simply as John. He’s been programmed with a personality chip though it’s on low settings. We can’t very well have our property going rogue.”

Tassiter had stood up within those thirty to maybe forty seconds “Just look with what happened with Atlas.” The CEO gestured to nothing really, as if Rhys didn’t understand.

Everyone knew what happened with Atlas’ last project on Pandora...

“Yes, sir.” Rhys agreed “I understand. Just…John. Right. What, uh…” He glanced at the now blank screen on the desk “What am I expected to do with…John?”

“You will manage his programming. Update him when it’s needed. Assist him further with projects at Hyperion that deal with his expertise and yours.”

That sure sounded like a lot of extra work. But it was important! And for the CEO himself, this could easily get him promoted again. He could even be put in the head programmer’s chair. He could have his own department. He just need to do this job and do it until it was prefect. He had gone through enough backs at Hyperion to know how to save his own. This was a good step up and it would save his spot on Helios. There was no way he could be kicked off with this on his resume. He kept his grin on his face as long as he could humanly do so.

Oh, shit, Tassiter was still talking. Right. He focused his attention on the CEO again and kept nodding along as if he had been listening this entire time. He managed to catch the last few sentences to piece together the rest he had missed though. Within that time, Tassiter had patted Rhys on the shoulder, which only had Rhys internally swear to himself he would never wash that shoulder again in his entire life. Or…at least, until it was laundry day. He really did like this shirt…and shoes…and the whole outfit was amazing if he could say so.

“Make sure he is working efficiently and isn’t malfunctioning in any way. If you find any dramatic changes,” Tassiter walked down the steps until he was right beside Rhys “Report them to me personally. Right away. Understood?”

“Dramatic…changes, sir?”

“If he seems to be…drifting from his original makeup.” Tassiter shrugged, “If he seems not to have Hyperion’s best interests. You’re a programmer, Rhys,” Wow, this guy’s goatee really did make him look evil “You will be able to tell when there’s a glitch in the system.”

“Understood, sir. Uh, will I have…total control of John?” Rhys wondered what John even sounded like. Would John sound like the loaderbots—that would be sort of cool.

“John sounds like what?” A voice spoke up.

Rhys stumbled back, catching his foot on the last step. His arms out as if he was ready to fight though he couldn’t remember the last time he had been an actual fight. He looked around the room and, much like the night before, found only himself…and Tassiter. Tassiter was there. And Tassiter stared at him, drooped eyelids and hands behind his back—completely unbothered by the sudden intrusion of a voice…that came from literally…nowhere.

“Hello, John.” Tassiter sighed.

“Oh—” That was John? Was that the voice from the other night-?

“Hey, Big Man.” The voice…laughed “Workin’ hard or hardly workin’?”

“As you can see, Rhys, personality.” Tassiter tapped his wrist and put his arms behind his back once more “Dial it back, John. This is your new programmer. He will be assisting you in future work at Hyperion. Is that understood?”

“This guy-? Seems sort of…scrawny.”

“Hey-I’m not—” Rhys tried to pipe in, his frown replaced his grin.

“What happened to Vasquez?” The voice did not sound impressed by Rhys in the slightest.

Vasquez…

“Mr. Vasquez is not a suitable replacement, John.” Tassiter frowned, “We discussed this.”  Tassiter frowned and he frowned while he stared at Rhys.

Rhys hoped the look was not directed at him any sort way, shape or form—whatever else there was left after even that and before that.

“Yeah, yeah,” The voice hummed…could AI do that? “Alright, sure. I’ll take the little guy off your hands, Mr. T.”

“That is Mr. Tassiter to you, John.”

“I am so sorry, Mr. Tassiter, sir.” The voice said it so softly, almost as if it were an actual apology but…something about the way it was said…

His wrist interrupted his thoughts when his watch beeped a few times at him, it had been three quick beeps actually. Rhys looked down at the watch around his wrist, the screen lit up with the words JOHN on it. Had Tassiter…programmed him in there without even touching the watch? He looked back up at the CEO, but the man had gone back to his desk and was already back at work. Tassiter waved Rhys off with one hand and only once—the only goodbye he would be getting it seemed. Nothing less, nothing more. He stepped off the last step to Tassiter’s desk and rubbed his wrist where the watch was clipped around. Was John...still there? John hadn’t said much after the sort of apology to Tassiter.

And now Rhys was in charge…sort of in charge of this…AI. Maybe John would be like a cool assistant? Rhys and John. John and Rhys. It sounded like a detective movie. Except they weren’t detectives and…this was Hyperion. And Rhys was working for a weapon manufacturer. Other than that, they were totally like detectives. Rhys and John, yeah. It was gonna be great…or a complete dumpster fire

Remember your programming.” It was the last thing Tassiter said before Rhys left the office.

And to be honest, Rhys wasn’t sure who exactly Tassiter was referring to.

Chapter Text


It had been about a week of time with John that had Rhys questioning his purpose on Helios. Most AI he had met weren't as talkative. Sure, they'd answer questions or make remarks but nothing like this. John would talk about anything that came to mind...well, to his programming. Cause...AI...and all that jazz of being an AI.

It had been really interesting and cool at first. Rhys hadn't had this close of a relationship with AI on Helios before. He'd seen plenty of it but never this close up and so...loud. John was so damn loud. Though Yvette had said he was as well once or twice so maybe he shouldn't throw stones. Then again Yvette was always talking about how he needed to focus more on his surroundings. He could include John in those surroundings now.

He figured he could always ask Vaughn what he thought about John. Vaughn had a pretty good eye for their surroundings, didn't get lost in his head as much and run his lunch trey into Hugo Vasquez all the time. Vaughn could tell if he was just letting his programming hype get the best of him when it came to this latest project.

However, it wasn't like Tassiter hadn't warned him about John's tendencies already. Sometimes John would make remarks about another worker's method of doing something and that seemed sort of...expected. John had been made to assist with security, right? The guy was probably trying to make sure everyone was doing what they needed to. Which included Rhys...unfortunately.

"I mean, did you see the way he looked at you?" John asked.

"Huh?" Rhys hadn't been paying too much attention to be honest. John had been going on for hours, switching subjects as fast as Hyperion departments switched heads on Helios.

"Wallethead!" John exclaimed, "He was sizing up the goods. The assets, Rhys."

"I-Look. It's been a long day, okay-"

"Hugo Vasquez is a weasel. Wouldn't put it past him to squeak when he fuc-"

"John!" Rhys sighed heavily and took a moment to rub his eyes, "Dial it down, okay?" Tassiter had told John that a week ago.

It had been another long day at work, most days on Helios were lately. Rhys was the last one in the office again but this time he had John the AI to keep him company. He still had reports to process and edit after he had already turned in two stacks previous. It was like someone was looking to get him into a burnout phase or something. He hadn't even scratched the surface with these latest ones for Pandora either. There was so much information and coding to look over and over. He had done his best not to complain. People who complained on Helios either got demoted or worse.

"Hugo Vasquez could care less about my assets." Rhys decided to give at least a somewhat reply to John's previous statements.

"Not from where I was lookin', pal." John threw the ball back into Rhys' court and it wasn't wanted...like...at all.

Rhys soon regretted bringing Hugo back into focus and for even thinking of the topic itself. John so desperately wanted to talk about Hugo for whatever reason. He didn't care why really. He just wanted it to end. His reports still needed a strong conclusion to them, something to wrap it all up in a neat bow of tragedy from the past and progress for the future. Wait-John implied that he-had John been analyzing his ass?! That...asshole.

"Hey, don't be looking then!" Rhys huffed, "At Hugo or my...assets."

"I would if I could," John was quick to reply "It isn't like I got much choice. Being an AI...thing and all."

"Don't you have security things to be analyzing? Remember those things, John?" Rhys asked.

There was a groan from John immediately after his comeback. John had been pushing too much. It wasn't his fault he got upset. As for the groan, which he wasn't sure was possible for AI to begin with. At least not with any of the AI he had seen on Helios, which again, was from a distance before he had been given Project John. A groan though...shit, had he annoyed an AI? Could he even do that?

Rhys chose not to inquire more about that. He kept his fingers busy and, on occasion, would rub the sleep from his eyes. It was an unfortunate routine he had gotten used to. The office was bigger than his last though, which helped him when he needed to stretch or relax some when he could. Not that he did much of that even before John, in fact, he did even less than the less he was doing before John.

"I bet he doesn't even floss."

"His teeth seem clean to me." Damn it. Rhys hadn't meant to reply.

"When do you see his teeth enough to notice, peaches?"

"I dunno." Rhys shrugged, "He smiles a lot."

It was the truth. He wasn't at all interested in Hugo Vasquez but the guy did smile a lot. Most of the time it was in a douchebag sort of way, with a holier than thou thrown in for Rhys if Hugo was feeling really aggressive that day. Hugo had never actually...hit him or anything but overly curious touches and lingered stares with creepy as hell smiles weren't exactly welcomed in Rhys' book either. It still had him avoid Hugo at all costs in the end.

"Smiles like a real creep if you ask me," John wasn't letting it go "If he gets too handsy lemme know, 'kay? 'Cause you're my, uh, lil' programmer or whatever."

John...cared? That was new. He didn't know what he had done to warrant that behavior at all. He should really look at John's coding again. Tassiter had said John had a...personality. He had heard of a lot of the loaderbots saying things that...well, no robotic.

It was easier to distance the self from them though. Loaderbots didn't have a face attached to them. Not that John had a face...it was just a voice. That should have made it even easier for Rhys to distance himself from John. He needed to look at John as exactly what John was--an AI. He was a programmer. This was a job...

"Are you having any difficulties with your tasks?" Rhys changed the subject, for the fifteenth time.

"Tasks? Ain't hard correcting these idiots' work when its' childsplay, sweetheart." The voice sounded like it was right in his ear.

Fuck...

Rhys tried his best to refocus on his work. The screen before him flooded with photographs and reports on the latest outpost on Pandora. There had been an...incident. Something to do with a loaderbot and a few local residents. Not that Tassiter had been too concerned about the lost of lives but he did care when it came to Hyperion's public image. Rhys imagined that if Hugo had been CEO, Vasquez would go out of his way to be on screen and on the radio.

Tassiter had made a single speech and sent baskets of condolences to the families of those lost. He doubted the families appreciated or gave a damn about those baskets. Though if it had been his family, he could see the gift basket being sold on the basis it was from Helios. It wasn't like the event kept him from his work anyway. People dying on Pandora. It wasn't exactly a rarity.

He wondered if he'd care even less if it had been bandits that died. He should probably care, the company's image effected him the more he rose through the levels. He couldn't work for a company that was filled with holes. Hyperion could not be an Atlas repeat.

"Y'know what I was thinkin'?" A small box appeared in a corner of the computer screen, the name JOHN over it "Why don't you just go oversee the rebuilding process on Pandora?"

Rhys had been eyeing the box from the corner of his eye but at John's suggestion he had immediately gave it his full attention. His fingers paused in their typing, now frozen as they hovered over the keys. He blinked a few times and cleared his throat to remind himself he was awake this time. It didn't help.

"Like...on...Pandora?" Rhys glanced over his shoulder briefly to see if anyone outside the office had heard.

No one seemed to be there at all. Everyone had wandered off already? Even janitorial staff? He looked away from the office's main doors, back to the screen. His vision had started to blur some things together. It was a sign of his overexposure to the computers so late in the night, which was an often occurence lately. Dang it.

"No, on Eden-6." John leaked sarcasm "Yes on Pandora!"

Oh, right. They were talking. John was talking more but still. Pandora...John wanted him to go to Pandora. No, no, no, that wasn't-That was for...not him sort of people. People like him stayed in the secure walls of Helios and ate lunch with his friends and didn't let an AI creep on him. That's what people like Rhys did.

"Isn't that...for like other people?" Rhys was just a programmer.

"You don't think you're as good as those sorry losers, Rhys?"

Losers. Rhys had heard that word thrown around a lot when it was him and Vaughn. Yvette had given them some rep but not much in the end. They weren't on Vasquez level. Though there were a lot more of his levels than Hugo's...levels. Which only encouraged Rhys to keep at his hard work. There weren't a lot of open seats on higher levels. You either had to make a seat open up or prove yourself dramatically. Pandora didn't really fit into that idea with Rhys. How would Pandora get him to rise up in Hyperion?

"You're scared, huh? Pandoran bandits can be real ugly, I gotcha."

"Bandits aren't why I'm not going. I'm not..." Rhys sighed, rubbed his wrist briefly before he went back to work "There are plenty of programmers better than me. Mr. Tassiter even said so, remember?"

Which was why he had to keep at it...plenty of people and not a lot of open seats...

"But none of those other guys, these other programmers or whatever, they don't got what you have, Rhys," John continued, "Why else would Mr. Tassiter give me to you?"

"No, I just-it's just different." Rhys swallowed the fear that had started to crawl back up.

All John had to do was keep saying the name Pandora, just mention it at all really, for the fear and panic to start up all over again. He couldn't very well go there, nonethless ask for clearance for a visit. It was just like he thought before, people like him didn't step foot on the planets. Besides, the only training fields Rhys had seen were on Helios. He had never stepped foot on Pandora, not ever. He couldn't imagine even breathing in the air there. Why would he go there when he was just fine on Helios? This wasn't a good idea, that much was obvious but maybe if he humored John it would ease the AI some.

"Yeah, sure. Me on Pandora." With caution now, Rhys went back to his work again.

The box in the corner of the computer screen remained. Could John see everything he was doing? He couldn't remember Tassiter having John put into his system. The watch sure but...did that connection mean...everything? Maybe it was just his things. He was taking care of the AI after all. Something personally created by Mr. Tassister himself. Hugo Vasquez didn't have that luxury.

But still, he should have been better prepared when he accepted this. Of course John would be in all of his electronics. He needed to be able to access John whenever and wherever it was needed. It wasn't clear how much permission John had in those electronics though, not yet anyway. Rhys planned on finding out one way or another.

"So," John interrupted Rhys' thoughts "Fatalities on Pandora, huh? Yikes."

"Uh, yeah." Rhys kept on with his work "A loaderbot malfunctioned."

"Now that's a real shame." John sighed, well, he would have if he were human probably. Probably.

"The people on Pandora need someone to rely on. Here's to hopin' it's us, huh?" John seemed...like he actually cared.

"That's always been our message," It was Rhys' turn to interrupt "We manufacture our products to help people like the people on Pandora. To help protect them and show them how to protect themselves."

"From the bandits." There must have been a glitch because John's voice just dropped an octave or two.

"Yeah, sometimes." Rhys shrugged.

There was a far too long silence that came after. The word bandit circled in Rhys' brain, over and over. Much like how the name of Pandora had. The loop made his stomach feel heavier, something sunk low in it and would not budge. Pandora was known for its' bandits and the hellish, often nightmarish, creatures that roamed it. Even if Rhys had clearance to go to the planet, if he wasn't who he was, he still figured it was easier to remain on Helios and observe instead of having first hand exposure.

Even Tassiter had said that was a programmer's job. For people like him? It was expected to adjust coding when needed or when appropriate but only observe from a distance and never interact with the planets they worked on. It was safer on Helios ten times over than a single night on Pandora. Rhys had heard enough stories from Hugo about the place, half of them probably exaggerated for effect, to be turned off by the planet completely. The name itself was a troublemaker.

And here was John, an AI, suggesting it.

It must be apart of the programming he kept telling himself in the silence. The need to make sure things were running smoothly would be better with first hand exposure from an AI's perspective probably. Rhys smiled to himself, that must be it. He was just getting ahead of himself. That was one of his biggest flaws, getting lost in his thoughts until he was full blown...this. It would be fine, he just needed to relax and humor John like he had thought about before. A personality chip was the least of Rhys' problems on Helios anyway.

"Speak of devil." John chirped.

"Huh-"

He could feel the eyes dig into his shoulderblades. It made his flesh itch all over. When two footsteps were made towards him, Rhys immediately swung around in his chair, his hands still in the air with fingers bent. Before him stood a pencil of a man, with a bright suit and smile that could deceive an angel or the devil. Rhys didn't know which was worse.

"Hello, Rhys." Jeffrey Blake greeted him.

"Oh-" Rhys got to his feet, a hand on the back of his chair "Mr. Blake-I didn't...hi. Hello."

"Busy night we're having." Blake looked to the screen on Rhys' desk.

"Huh-Oh. Yes. Mr. Tassiter wanted me to fill out additional paperwork that's all." Rhys' laugh broke off too soon, it ended up sounding like how a voice did cracking.

"Yes." Blake nodded.

For once, John was silent. The small box on the screen had vanished by the time Rhys looked back over his shoulder. He could still feel Blake's eyes, and to be honest, it was almost as creepy as Hugo's stares. He pushed his chair in carefully before he managed to look at Blake again. He kept his own smile even, not too big that it was as creepy and not so small that it could be taken as insult.

It wasn't as if Rhys had been practicing smiling in front of a mirror or anything like that. That'd just be sad...and desperate...and he was neither of those. He had decades to look forward to be that, right now he was in his prime and ready to take opportunity wherever it...took...wherever it was--whatever, it was his prime. He could figure it out later. Right now though, Jeffrey Blake was stood right in front of him. Like some sort of ghost of the future.

"We are all so proud of your latest advancement, Rhys." Blake praised him.

That was...unexpected.

Rhys couldn't help but let his smile grow at the comment. His back straightened and he found himself in a similar posture as Blake. He hadn't meant to mimic the older man but, hell, the comment had made his heart jump. He wasn't used to compliments that weren't from Vaughn or Yvette. Hugo's compliments were usually sarcasm and no one else really...cared enough to give him one. Even Tassiter's comments on his work had been clipped and short.

Helios could be vicious. Hyperion didn't rise out of being kind all the time. Sure, the company took care of people on the planets they worked on and protected them from Bandits. But Rhys had seen enough people still stiff as a doorknob tossed out into space. Still, they were the heroes here and sometimes heroes have to make less than pleasant decisions.

"You are? I mean, you and...?" Rhys was still confused by the compliment though.

Blake didn't even work in Rhys' department. Recently Blake had been promoted and was in charge of two vastly different departments: mercenary relations and tourism. He had heard of the death of the former head of tourism, Mr. Dimsdale. It had been a tragic end for Dimsdale, to die without even finishing his drink. Rhys heard the champagne was a rare sort from Elpis. At least Mr. Blake was there to continue Dimsdale's work at Helios.

"You're a programmer, Rhys." Blake reached out with one hand and clasped Rhys' shoulder "You're the reason Helios functions as it does. Efficiency is important for Hyperion."

Well...that was true.

Coding was the reason a lot of projects could continue on Helios. Not every project was testing chemicals and putting together blueprints for an outpost. It was the reason loaderbots could be loaderbots and AI was making huge leaps on the ship. Yeah, he was the reason! Oh...and all the other programmers too. They helped out a lot. But he did get to the head programmer's office. Tassiter said he'd seen people do it in less time though. No, focus-he needed to hear Blake-

"And you must remember that whether we are aware of it or not, Hyperion is a family. Not everyone will get along," Blake was still speaking.

Had he missed something Blake had said during his zoning out?

"But we must stand united, Rhys."

United.

He definitely heard that.

"Yes, of course, Mr. Blake." Rhys nodded, his smile smaller again but still warm.

"Good." The hand pulled back and patted Rhys' cheek only once.

"Do you need any help, sir?" Rhys didn't want to seem too eager "Or was that all...?"

"I just wanted to make sure you were aware of how valuable you are." Blake replied "Good night and best dreams, Rhys."

"You too, sir." Rhys actually gave him a pistol finger "Thanks." He was absolutely horrified. He just pistol fingered Jeffrey Blake.

But Blake kept his smile, as he had the entire time, and turned away from Rhys. The older man left the office without further comment. Rhys nearly collapsed then and there. That exchange hadn't been at all odd or confusing. He hadn't even heard the guy walk into the office to begin with. It could have been because of all of John's talking. Oh shit-John-was anyone else aware of John? He never did ask Tassiter if the AI was a secret project or not. He should have probably done that a week ago or even before accepting the job. But it had been so exciting and new...he had never seen something like John during his whole time on Helios, not until now of course.

Rhys turned after a few more moments, back to his desk. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His fingers hurt as they reached out and pressed a few buttons on the screen and only a dozen keys after that. The screen blinked and turned off. The reports would be arriving at Tassiter's inbox in a matter of seconds. He hoped the CEO approved them and didn't require any further revisions. He would like at least an hour to see his friends, maybe even kick up his feet on his couch back at the apartment. That sounded nice and non-threatening.

"So," John began again "Jimmy sounded sneaky."

"Wha-" He had almost, even if it was only a few seconds, forgot about John.

"Jimmy. Just crawling around Helios late at night like a skag.." John kept going "That's shifty, Rhys. I should know. I work for security."

"You work for Tassiter." John sort of...had to though. It wasn't like John was a person after all.

"Ehhhh. I guess." John didn't agree apparently.

That should have been a red flag. But Rhys was too busy thinking about John's form to look deeper into the comment's meaning. It was a funny idea though. Rhys could imagine the AI waving his comment about Tassiter off. If John actually had hands or a body anyway. It was a nice image though, as brief as it was. Though the face...Rhys couldn't imagine what John's face would look like if he had one. It'd probably have a cocksure grin and eyebrows as thick as his arm. He chuckled under his breath, hoped that John didn't hear and ask further about it.

"I'm gonna head home, okay?" Rhys grabbed his jacket off the chair, "So, uh...you keep doing what you're doing, buddy."

"Well, it isn't like I can sleep or anything, kiddo."

Kiddo.

The nickname made his heart jump again. He smiled just a bit more as he slid on his jacket and buttoned it. His fingers didn't hurt as much at the movement. He was grateful for it. He had been at his desk for hours each day. His whole body had screamed for rest. Even small moments like this felt like a reward in their own way. Not all the moments but most of them anyway. The ones without fear and panic usually were the best ones out of the bunch.

He managed to get out to the hall and down the steps before John piped in again. Fortunately this one wasn't as loud as the previous comments, soft enough that Rhys could pass it off as him if someone had walked by. It was a bit...un-John really. John's personality always seemed to be loud and obnoxious up to this point. Maybe because it was after hours that John was speaking softer, going for that soft obnoxious instead. Rhys didn't want either.

"You've been workin' hard, Rhysie." John was back in his ear again.

John had started giving him...names. Not really pet names but terms of what he assumed were affection or meant to be. Whoever had made John's personality chip had made sure to get whatever they could in there, huh? Could also just be apart of what he had forced himself to assume was a glitch in the system. Nicknames could...be fun though. Rhysie was new too. Another nickname for the books.

He should start a tally system, mark down each time John said it. It was sort of...cute. Tassiter said to look for any glitches in the system but so far nothing seemed to stand out too much. Sure, John could be rude and give him an earache but so did the CL4P-TP line. Didn't make them any less cute, same could go for John. Rhys wondered if Lawrence De Quidt had any help making John. The guy did start the artificial intelligence scene on Helios.

"Everyone works hard on Helios," Just in case anyone was listening "It's fine. I like my work."

"Yeahyeah," John's words clipped together "But what's the saying? Too much work is freakin' dull as hell. You gotta loosen up if you wanna make progress, baby."

Rhys came to a sudden stop. His fingers curled into his palms for a moment before they uncurled. He swallowed again, which didn't help his racing heart. Maybe he misheard that time. John could have had a small miniglitch. Thousands of words had been programmed into the project after all. John was just using what Tassiter gave him, what Hyperion hammered into his core. That must have been it...otherwise...

"John, what did you call me?"

"I said Rhys."

He swallowed for a third time before he pressed forward. His steps weren't as careful this time. He was rushing to get to his apartment now. He had to look at John's code in the morning and make adjustments. Tassiter had given him the permissions to do that. All he had to do was change a few things and take out what wasn't needed. A good patch job should even things out by tomorrow's evening, maybe even before if he could be quick about it.

The walk to his apartment took longer than he would have liked. There aren't too many people in eyesight, which he's glad for. Even though work never really stopped on Helios, everyone eventually caught a few hours or even minutes of rest. Sometimes it ended well, sometimes it ended horribly. Hopefully for Rhys this rest would end happily and without any disturbances to wreck it.

Maybe his back would reward him for it too. His body could do wonders at full function. At half rest he was good but not his best. That was one of the things Hugo Vasquez lacked--faking it till he made it. Hugo had too much of an ego to do any real work on Helios. Hugo was good at backstabbing, that much was true but after that...what did he really have to show for it?

Whoa...that was really dark. Even for his usual train of thought for Hugo. Rhys didn't count all the times he had imagined Hugo airlocked within the last week or so. That was a norm on Helios...at least he figured it was. Hell, even Henderson had airlocked people and that guy was fucking weird. He had heard a few stories about the guy and kittens or something like that. Just...the guy was weird, okay? He hadn't had much conversation with the guy but he had enough to know weird when he saw it. He was weird himself but not Henderson weird.

Wait. What was he thinking about again? He shook his head, whether an attempt to get the sleep off his eyes or the thoughts out of his mind--Rhys wasn't sure. He rubbed his eyes as he finally reached his apartment door and went inside. The door slid shut with a click behind him and a second click let him know it had locked. His steps were heavier as he moved his way towards his bedroom. His shoes somehow slid off without much effort, despite his sluggish movements. The boots were left on the floor beside his shirt, which he removed soon after.

John still hadn't said much after  their last exchange of words. He hadn't called the AI out for lying, didn't want to arouse suspicion. But his silence could have been a reply all on its' own he assumed. An AI lying was not a good thing, Rhys knew that. He was good, no, he was great with coding. Like he thought before, just patch up the glitches and a little bit of rewiring should be fine.

As he entered his bedroom, he unbuckled his pants. The belt clattered to the floor and soon after his pants met it there as well. He stepped out of the pants, a stretch of his legs to wake them up a bit. At least enough to get to his bed anyway. Rhys glanced at the clock on the bedstand and three am flashed back at him. Shit...had he really stayed in the office that late? Why the fuck was Blake wandering around at three am anyway...

"You're really going to go to sleep, kiddo?"

There was that nickname again. Rhys had to run his fingers through his hair a few times. Once would have been alright but five times starts creating questions. Had John noticed his discomfort? He hoped to whatever was out in the stars in space that John would just mind his own business to be honest. He didn't need an AI creeping around in his head. It had only been a week with John.

"The silent treatment, huh? I can respect that." John answered his question with a question.

"Good night, John..." He whispered.

John did not reply.

Well, at least he had that. Silence. It could be a reward just as much as it could be a punishment or uncomfortable and awkward exchange between two or more individuals. In this case, Rhys accepted it and rolled with it. He didn't retaliate with a comeback or a smart remark. And John would just have to settle for that...until morning. He'd need to remember that. Patch up...patch up job. Yeah, it'd be easy.

Rhys pulled back the covers to his bed, sitting down with a yawn. The bed groaned at the new found weight. It had been taken from the apartment he shared with Vaughn and wasn't really Helios material. It was old and cringed at anything being on it really. With his new promotion though, he had put in an order a few weeks ago. The new bed would be here soon and then it would be Rhys self comfort time again. At least he had Helios pillows. Those were comfy as fuck.

He pulled the covers back over himself, let the comfort of a freshly washed blanket sooth the pain of a hellish bed and long workday best he could. At least laundry was done as well. He was a great adult. He had things together. Vaughn and Yvette would be proud. With that last thought, his eyelids started to droop and droop until they were almost completely shut.

"You get a good night's rest, kiddo," John muttered into the darkness of the room "I got big plans for you and I."

 

Chapter Text


It was always dark in space. That was the whole idea he supposed. People could venture out and get lost in, for years and sometimes longer. Helios had taken shape out in space for similar reasons. One must have been money, the others being protection for the weak and...well, there was a reason companies like Dahl weren't considered competition anymore. At least, he hadn't heard anyone talk about them in a while.

It was always about Atlas. The rival company could have been considered an equal to Hyperion. It sure did sound fancier than Hyperion, not that Rhys was regretful of his choice of placement for work or anything like that. Helios was...home in its' own way. But Atlas...damn. Atlas knew how to make a garden look like paradise. All the nature reserves he had seen Hyperion create weren't exactly a bed of roses. But, in the end, they were weapon manufacturers. Hyperion wasn't here to plant flowers but it did have seeds spread throughout the universe.

Not that Hugo would understand that or anything. No, a guy like Hugo liked to drag his fellow coworkers into his office and interrogate them like they were the enemy. Rhys wondered if Hugo was like this in all interactions he had, with and without Rhys. Did Hugo flirt like this? Aggressive and cornered? Probably. Whatever poor sap fell for Hugo Vasquez was in for a wakeup call. That was for sure, like 100% for sure.

Speaking of Hugo and Hugo's huge amount of ignorance, that was exactly what was happening at the moment. Rhys was sat in front of Hugo's desk and was still half asleep. He had gathered up some breakfast twenty minutes before he had been called for a meeting in Hugo's office. The word meeting being the poorest choice of word for what Hugo did. This was like a nightmare he had, which he had more than once actually. He rubbed his eyes, blinked and watched as Hugo.

The bigger man had waved a hand in the air before he cupped his own chin, stroking a nonexistent beard, like some sort of evil wizard. Rhys squinted at the action, mostly to get out of his still half asleep position of being. This didn't seem to bother Hugo much, as the way Hugo kept talking on and on was proof enough.

"Rese, Rese, Rese," Hugo couldn't get enough of his name apparently "Rese. What am I gonna do with you?"

Hopefully nothing. But he couldn't say that. Not with Tassiter one button away from making this meeting a conference call. Rhys didn't need any reason for Tassiter to take special interest in him at the moment. Not when he had just been given an important project, maybe the most important part of Hyperion at this point.

Rhys made brief glances at nothing before he could muster up some sort of courage to even shrug. He had managed to talk with...at Hugo in the elevator days before. He wasn't sure what it was. Maybe it was the fact he had been called up to Hugo's office, Hugo's new office, and there wasn't a way for him to leave without raising suspicion. He had literally zero back up plans for this situation.

"Mr. Tassiter said-" Rhys tried to explain.

"I know what he said, Rese." Hugo had been sat upon the desk but now he stood up, pulling away from it to step closer to Rhys.

"How...How much did he tell you?" Rhys wondered if John could hear all this.

"Enough to know you're apparently significant enough to continue your life on Helios."

Oh shit...

Rhys swallowed his panic before he opened his mouth this time, "I don't think you should talk to me like that, Hugo."

It was like a switch had flipped. The words trailed out of his mouth and into both their ears happily. The bitter taste on Rhys' tongue remained when the words did not. He swallowed harder, it felt like claws tore at the muscles inside. His throat burned each time he tried to swallow the invisible lump there.

Even his breakfast threatened to reenter the world for a moment before it fell back down his throat. He watched the way Hugo's eyes zeroed in on him, the way Hugo's lips twitched and lines wrinkled at his forehead. That had been a very, very arrogant thing to say while in close quarters with Hugo 'Head of the Hate Rhys Club' Vasquez. He could have let it go. He had done that hundreds of times before...but...damn it.

Hugo was blowing this whole Tassister thing out of proportion. Hugo had enough sway on projects as it was. What was wrong with a single project not being for Hugo? That wasn't even in Hugo's field of interest?

Hugo took a step closer then another until he was right in front of Rhys. It wasn't that hard to close the gap between them. It wasn't that big of an office compared to Tassiter's. This had been Henderson's old office but the guy got promoted--how? Rhys had no idea. But just like he thought before, there was always someone waiting to fill in an open seat on Helios. Hugo must have snatched it up before it was even fresh on the market.

"Excuse me?" Hugo gripped the arm rests on Rhys' chair and leaned in close.

Their noses almost touched. He could feel the warmth of Hugo's breath on his skin. It tickled and he wanted to pull back but he didn't. He wasn't about to let Hugo win here, not this time. Hugo had been an asshole from the get go. He didn't budge a muscle despite how close Hugo had gotten to him.

Rhys lowered his eyes while Hugo did not, "It's just...we'll be working together more now, right? Mr. Tassiter will be paying attention to us."

He still hoped that wasn't completely true. Tassiter's goatee had unnerved him enough already. He also didn't want anything taking John away from him. This project had improved with the adjustments he had made earlier. John had been still been...John, just with a few alterations and what not to his system in the end. It would, hopefully, make vast improvements within time.

"You think he doesn't talk down to his workers too?" Hugo asked.

"So, you are talking down to me then."

"Wha-Rese, what game are you pulling?" Hugo had all the questions lined up as answers.

"No game. I'm just trying to figure out why I'm a threat to you."

"You? A threat? To me?" Hugo pulled back and laughed far too loudly.

The bigger man put his hands on his hips as if he were a superhero. Hugo Vasquez was far from a hero. At least from any heroes Rhys had seen up until now. Yet Rhys watched him as carefully as he might anyone on Helios, even Yvette when she was on target mode. Everyone on Helios has motive and not all motivations are good.

"You wouldn't have dragged me to your office for one on one otherwise." Rhys replied, "You're after something." Or someone.

He had no idea what Hugo's motives could be. Hugo was handsome, could even be charming when he didn't push it. As much as Rhys hated the guy...there wasn't denying the truth. He had tried repeatedly to find any fault he could in Hugo. Some even rang in true but not all did. And that sort of terrified Rhys.

"Come on, Rese. We're both adults here." Hugo scoffed.

Rhys nodded despite no reason to. He didn't have to acknowledge Hugo any further. Tassiter was on his side...at last he believed Tassiter was. It was him that recieved Project John after all. He remembered John had asked about Hugo. The way the Hyperion CEO had responded still made Rhys' gut flop around. Hugo was not a suitable replacement. The two had talked about it. Why had Hugo even been brought up? Had John seen something in Hu--

"Are you listening to me, Rese?"

His vision came back together. He blinked and looked at Hugo. He didn't know how long he had been daydreaming again. From the way Hugo's stare attached itself to him, it had to be at least a minute or more. Lost time wasn't good on Helios, especially lost time that couldn't be accounted for. He felt his stomach flop again. His breakfast reminded him of what he had to currently lose in front of Hugo.

"Huh-Oh, yeah." Rhys ran his fingers through his hair and straightened his back "You were saying we're both adults."

"You and me gotta come to some sort of, uh, agreement." Hugo waved his hand in the air again, this time for unneeded emphasis.

"An agreement? For...what?" Rhys didn't like the sound of that.

"Tassiter clearly likes you. Hell, most do lately. I can't see why," Hugo sighed "You're really making a name for yourself on Helios. Same as me."

"And that's a problem." It isn't a question. It's just plain fact.

So, that was it, huh? Hugo was...envious? Jealous? Rhys couldn't have more of the pie because Hugo wanted it first. Well, he couldn't blame the guy there. Lots of people had backstabbed each other on Helios. Despite what Blake said, even family could do that.

Hugo eyed him over for what could only be bated breath. It was like Hugo was waiting for or on something...but Rhys didn't know what. The stare burned through Rhys' clothes and scorched his flesh far too easily. It was at least another minute or two before he let his arms fall back to his sides, fingers did not curl into palms, into fists. They both stared at each other for what seemed forever this time. It was Rhys that took the first move, as he stood up from his chair. Hugo made no move to step away or closer in retaliation.

"You can go now." Hugo murmured.

Rhys stepped away from the chair, his steps felt heavier now. But he moved towards the door, his back to the promoted man. Next time they met, he swore things would be different. Next time, it'd be Rhys that challenged Hugo. And Hugo would be the one who was afraid. He didn't know how or when...but it was coming.

After the not so comfortable meeting with Vasquez, he had gone to the Hub of Heroism. He could go shopping, to lighten his mood. He had wanted to go back to work but Yvette had echoed in to remind him without rest he wouldn't be his best. He doubted Tassister would have agreed on the matter. So, instead of going back to the office, he was in a CL4P-TP shop.

It didn't even stand out to be honest. An immobile CL4P-TP was outside of it with a welcome sign. He was pretty sure it was just a husk, no sign of life was given when he had walked by it. That had actually been a bit creepy. A hallowed out robot was far worse to him than one with a...rather distinct pitch and over the top personality. He wasn't sure if that that sentiment could be extended to John.

When he stepped into the shop, it was almost as quiet inside as it had been with the empty CL4P-TP outside of it. He looked around the rather small shop at the designs presented on the wall. There were all sorts of CL4P-TPs. The list kept fluttering, new types of CL4P-TPs every two minutes. He assumed it was to keep the customer interested. Any shop would want to do that, keep someone engaged long enough and that could mean making a sale or even more.

"Saaaaalutations, Mr. Rhys!" A bright blue CL4P-TP rolled out from behind a desk, it saluted him and he was 100% sure if it had a face...it'd be smiling.

Rhys glanced around the shop. It was just him and...well...this CL4P-TP. He had seen dozens of customers earlier in the week. There could have been a sale he guessed. As annoying as CL4P-TPs could be, as obnoxious as they could be--well, sometimes they looked...sort of...cute.

He wouldn't even know what to do with one if he got it. He'd probably end up regretting his choice by the end of the week if he did get one. But, he didn't dismiss the little robot, he let himself smile and wave. Hopefully no one saw that. He didn't need to be the guy who waved at a CL4P-TP and liked it. Not that he liked the robot...it was just--...what was he thinking about again?

"You doin' okay, buddy? You look a little pale!" The CL4P-TP rolled over to stand in front of him.

"Oh-Right." Rhys stammered, "No, no...No, I'm fine. How are...you?"

"I'm so glad you asked!" The CL4P-TP replied, "I am faaaantastic! Hyperion is just swell!"

Its' tiny robot arms shot up in a Y formation "But enough about me! Do you require assistance?"

"Oh! Right." Rhys couldn't help himself and he gave another finger gun at the tiny robot.

"Right back 'atcha, pal!" The robot rolled back over and behind the desk again. Its' metal hands started to slam down on what he assumed were buttons.

Those poor defenseless buttons.

"We just got a new shipment in thanks to Hyperion's generosity to all CL4P-TPs." It said, rather loudly, "The latest models are now on the screen! Take a look! You will not, I repeat will not, regret it."

Rhys looked up at the wall again, the screen fluttered and just like the robot had said--all the new models were lined up on a digital list for him to see. Their duties and capabilities listed beside them as well as some of names of their creators. The CL4P-TP line up had taken on several programmers and engineers recently. Those workers must have been livid to be put on the CL4P-TP line of all places.

Rhys eyed the first few CL4P-TP designs quicker than he probably should have. None of them seemed interesting, nothing stood out. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he leaned back on the heels of his boots. His echoeye scanned the rest of the list, profiles of the creators of each. It took a lot to make even the smallest of robots on Helios, if they had put every person who helped on the board it'd be flooded by now. He recognized a few names here and there, faces he'd seen in passing or had to drop off files to. Again, nothing too interesting for the most part.

One CL4P-TP though...well, the little guy looked sort of...sad. The profile was short and the word PROTOTYPE was in listed beside its' name. It looked like it was Hyperion yellow, which was pretty cool. He didn't recognize the names of the creators. They could have been nobodies, it was a prototype after all. The robot didn't really have any huge capabilities compared to some CL4P-TPs he had seen in the past. Nothing to really have a shine to it. It didn't even have a change to its' name, it was just...CL4P-TP.

"Unh-uh." Disapproval immediately smeared across part of his face from his ear.

Rhys jolted, as if he had been taken off balance. But he had been standing still. He looked around, echo eye still on. Flashes of history on the paint of the walls and recent reflooring flooded his view. He blinked and the echoeye shut off its' search. The shop returned to what it had before. The blue CL4P-TP behind the desk was busy and back to work. It hadn't spoke since it brought up the list on the wall. So...

"You are not getting a CL4P-TP." Oh...right...John-

Rhys' eyebrows narrowed for a moment, "Hey, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" John asked.

The blue CL4P-TP looked up, well, turned towards him "Hear what, Mr. Rhys?"

"Uh...nothin'. Sorry." He forced a smile, too much teeth this time.

The blue CL4P-TP stared at him in complete silence for a good minute before it went back to work, more defenseless buttons being hammered upon. He turned back towards the screen on the wall, his feet were stubborn and his back locked from it. The tension was back. The CL4P-TP hadn't heard John. It could have been the robot was so busy with work that it hadn't heard. But that'd be way too easy. John sounded too close to his ear too, like before...

"John, did you go into my comm?" Rhys whispered, hoping he was wrong.

He shouldn't be so upset by this. This should be normal. There would be times where it would be appropriate for just the two of them to speak. It could be to let others continue their work even. But in a CL4P-TP shop where they were relatively alone? That didn't sit well with Rhys. He had thought he made enough adjustments on John. Maybe he had missed something or...

"What's the problemo, Rhys?" John asked, "You want me blabbering to you for all of Helios to hear? I mean, I can come off comm if you really want it buuuut..." It felt like there was an unstated but suggestive end to that sentence. 

Another switch flipped in Rhys' head. What was he thinking? Of course it wasn't that big of a deal. He let out a long held breath and shut his eyes briefly. He opened them a moment later to look back at the board. It was perfectly reasonable for John to access his comm.

John was an AI, built for security and for helping with codes. It wasn't too far fetched for John to have access to his comm. He'd just need to put up some walls so not everything could be scooped up by the AI. This was his field, his specialty, he could do that. Same went for his computer and whatever else...

He had spent weeks of panicking and the solution had been right in front of him. He had simply ever thought it. John was just doing what he had been made to do. Rhys was almost...relieved..His heart slowed inside his chest to its' regular pace. He laughed softly to himself and ran his fingers through his hair, tugged out the tangles. His throat, for once in the last few weeks, was wet and sore free.

"You okay, Rhys?" John asked.

"Yeah, yeah. Hey, uh," Rhys let himself smile again "Sorry for being weird. You can stay on comm."

"Great!" John exclaimed, "Had me worried there. You're my programmer. Gotta keep ya happy, right?"

He sort of felt bad now, guilty even. Here he had been trying to change and correct John and it wasn't John's fault at all. An AI couldn't help having a few glitches here and there. Even with John's system, the AI could only correct his own coding to an extent. That's where Rhys came in, to help John along. He should have gone easier on the guy, not judge every little thing the AI did. He'd need to work on not judging so fast with John.

He could do that, right? It might be hard, difficult at first, sure. But that's his job. He's supposed to figure out what's wrong in the wiring or whatever. He felt a lot better though. This breakthrough had been what he needed. He would, from this point on, give John the benefit of doubt.

"I was thinking about getting a CL4P-TP? You know, just for some general stuff. Maybe help out with the workload so I can help you more?"

"Awww, Rhysie, that's awfully nice of ya." John answered, "You don't gotta do that. I mean, you can if you want. But what about a loaderbot? Those are freakin' sweet."

Rhys laughed again, a bit louder by accident "Oh, come on, John. It's sort of cute? Look, it's even Hyperion yellow. And you know that's the best yellow."

"Ehhhhh. Alright, if you really, really, really, reeeeeeally think it'll help...fuck it. Go for it." John was being really encouraging now.

Rhys bought the CL4P-TP soon after. The blue robot at the desk had been more than delighted about it, even gave Rhys another salute and a receipt for his purchase. The CL4P-TP would need a few more weeks of preparation but it would be delivered right to Rhys' door. He even got free shipping since it was his first purchase at the CL4P-TP store and a card for a free sandwich for every tenth check up he brought his CL4P-TP in for.

"Now that's just sad." John must have seen the card about the free sandwich.

"No, it's sort of...nice." Rhys shook his head, "I like sandwiches."

"Me too!" The blue CL4P-TP shouted.

Rhys' eyes widened, he forgot the robot couldn't hear John "Yes. Riiiight? Sandwiches." He nodded, turned and immediately left the store with what was left of his dignity.

But hey! A purchase! He had this whole self care thing down pat. He had gone out and done something just for Rhys. There wasn't a Hugo to ruin it or a Blake to...stand there and creepily, silently judge his purchases. This would turn out great, or at least somewhat decently, he was sure of it! How could anything go terribly wrong with a CL4P-TP?

Things were looking up for Rhys. He had himself his own little pal on the way. It would be a step up, even if it was just a CL4P-TP. Hugo couldn't say he had a CL4P-TP, or a fancy AI on his shoulder. Rhys had things Hugo didn't. And that in its' own right was satisfying, if only for the time being. He could send Hugo a card around the holidays, him and his pal CL4P-TP. But...maybe it wasn't the best idea to antagonize Hugo just yet. These things take time.

He had kept up with this current train of thought all the way to Yvette's front door. His friend had let him in after a friendly back and forth where she pretended she had no idea who he was. Ahh, the trials of friendship. He admired her drive and hoped she did in return vice versa. He slapped his receipt down on her and her roommates' kitchen counter with more pride than he should have had.

"Look at that." Rhys tapped the receipt with one finger, while he stuck chin in the air.

"And...what is it?" She shrugged, opening cabinet doors.

"Well, I'm so glad you asked, Yvette." He flipped his nonexistent long hair before he held up the receipt "That, my friend, is one receipt for a fully operational CL4P-TP."

And Yvette laughed at him.

She pulled out two glasses and bottle of soda. Both items looked recently imported from Eden-5. She sat the items on the counter, still laughing and even wiped a tear from her eye. After a few more moments of laughter she finally calmed, by that time his pride was wounded and his grin was gone.

"It's not that funny..." Rhys muttered.

"It's absolutely funny." She snatched the receipt from him "Why in hell would you buy one of those things?"

"They...serve a purpose. It could help me with work." He started to think of all the malfunctions the CL4P-TP was known for and go through it one by one.

It only had his conscience start to slap him over then head. No, it wasn't going down like this. He wasn't about to let the world make him regret a sort of impulse purchase. This was a good idea. Who knows? Maybe the CL4P-TP could...help with...John? As he let the thought drag on, it only made him less sure about it.

"A claptrap?" She raised her eyebrows at the idea, "Rhys, there's a reason people get shoved into the CL4P-TP line. And it's not because of their award winning work effort either." The receipt was tossed back onto the kitchen counter.

"And when did you get so important that you dismiss one of Hyperion's first projects?"

"Rhys, this is a business." She poured a drink for them both.

"Yeah, and-?"

"In business, things have to change. Sometimes a lot to progress. Hyperion's the same. Maybe a claptrap was exciting back in the day but look at where we are now?"

Was she really going to make him feel bad about his purchase?

"And I doubt a claptrap will help you...if at all. I'm sorry, Rhys, but I think it's a waste of space."

Yes. Yes, she was.

He grabbed the fallen receipt and shoved it back into his pocket. His arms folded as he watched her hand him a glass. He drooped his eyes, looked elsewhere, anywhere but at her. And this was definitely not him pouting over a purchase he had second thoughts on before it was even made. That was definitely not it, not in the slightest. Okay, maybe just a bit...a tiny bit.

Damn it. This was supposed to be a comfort purchase. He didn't want his own friends shitting all over it. He knew Yvette meant well, or, at least, hoped she did. It just wasn't how he wanted things to go down. After another moment of pouting? he finally unfolded his arms and took the offered glass. The first taste of the soda made him smack his lips and wrinkle his nose as he scrunched up his face. What in the hell--

The taste bit at the tip of his tongue before it spread to the rest of his tastebuds. He had thought he had worse with the imported drinks from Elpis but this? This took the cake, and not the good kind of cake. But the sort of cake that lies to you and slaps you during it. The worst cake. If he hadn't been close to heaving earlier, he definitely was now. Shit, that was gross.

"It gets better a few sips in, trust me." She took a gulp of her own and made a familar face.

Look at them. A couple of pals, making faces over an unknown soda from probably Eden-5, or 6 if Yvette was feeling fancy. They finished their drinks in what should have been considered record time. Two empty glasses on the counter as a reminder of their struggle via soda. He swallowed the remainder of the drink before he wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

"Gross." Yvette took the empty glasses and put them in the sink.

"It's an old shirt." Rhys shrugged.

"Still."

"Annnd it's laundry day. Win for Rhys." He gave a thumbs up.

Yvette rolled her eyes at the gesture, "So, anything else you wanna throw at me today?"

"Oh, uh..." Maybe he shouldn't.

There was a creepy crawling feeling in the back of his head now. His fingers traced invisible circles on the counter instead. He still wasn't sure if Tassiter meant for anyone else to know. Hugo had made enough comments for him to gather the man had some sort of idea about John or what John was anyway. But no matter how many times he looked at the current projects in the Hub, there was no sign of John on any of them.

Yvette's hand brushed his on the counter, "Rhys?" Her voice was softer.

"Oh-" Rhys looked up and their eyes met.

"Is something wrong, Rhys?"

Rhys could just tell her now. It'd be so easy. It wasn't like he hadn't been wanting to. John was one of a kind. John was...well, the AI was amazing, even with all the maybe glitches and even with the personality. The feeling in the back of his head started to scratch at his skull. He smiled at Yvette anyway, despite the uneasiness.

"No, nothin'." He shrugged. 

 

Chapter Text


It's early in the morning when Rhys has to go to work, far earlier than his typical day on Helios. His watch tells him it's four am to be exact. He has to meet with Tassiter and it only feels him with the familiar dread. Several questions flood his mind, if he had done something or said the wrong thing and it had crawled its' way into the CEO's office. John had been making leaps in improvement since the day in the CL4P-TP shop.

He had arrived as fast as his legs could go. His feet disagreed with him about three to five times but he regained his balance each time. For it being a ship in space, the training ground sites on Helios shifted from season to season depending on the day's projects. Today seemed to be  a winter sort of day. He was glad he wore his jacket though his body still felt betrayed, goosebumps scattered on his flesh with a vengeance.

Yet the second thing he saw, the snow being the first, was Jeffrey Blake. There was no sign of Tassiter anywhere. Blake stood not too far from Rhys, engaged in conversation with two Hyperion Engineers. The armor the engineers wore stood out to Rhys next. Sure, he knew that Hyperion had to always be prepared and protected just in case. But this seemed...off. He couldn't put his finger on it but he was sure he wasn't about to like whatever was coming.

The engineers were ready to go with guns in their hands and two nods to Blake before they turned and left. He watched the duo depart until they were completely out of view. Loaderbots stomped on by but Rhys didn't even give them a look, nonetheless a second glance. This must be one of the older training ground sites. There had been construction at all the others but this one seemed...complete. He couldn't recall ever being here before. Maybe it was just the construction that threw him off...

Blake finally turned and acknowledged Rhys' presence. The pencil shaped man smiled, lips pulled back to ears and a hand was thrown out. Rhys flinched at the gesture, his own mouth shut and lips pulled down. He had to literally shake his head and force his stiffened arm out to shake Blake's hand. If Blake noticed, the older man did not remark upon it.

"Good morning, Rhys. I trust you slept well? A well-rested employee is an efficient employee."

"Oh-Uh...Yeah. Yeah, that's me. Well rested." Rhys nodded, "And uh, good morning to you too, Mr. Blake?"

"I am so glad you're able to join us for today's events." The smile never faded from Blake's face.

Creepy.

"Is...Mr. Tassiter running late?" Before Rhys could consider how that would sound, the words flooded out.

"Mr. Tassiter is preoccupied today. I will be his replacement for the time being." Blake turned back towards the training site.

Rhys looked from Blake back to the open fields of snow. Helios was certainly large but the fields made it seem...bigger. There were more loaderbots and engineers that roamed the fields. He wasn't aware there was even a test today. There had been several a few months ago and none since. Whatever was ready for today had to be mind-blowing.

"If I may, sir," Rhys took another step until he stood beside Blake "What's on the schedule for today?"

"A recent production has been made for the future." Blake explained, "A series of improved...artificial intelligence."

Rhys immediately tore his eyes off the site to look at Blake again. John must have heard that too. Had John been aware? Sure, Helios already had AI. He had assumed John was the first...improvement. Maybe John still was and Tassiter had replacements or more to be made. He should have already known that. Of course, there'd be more, in case things went south with Project John. For some reason, the implication pricked his heart. His pride bled for a few moments before he swallowed it back down. He had thought Tassiter entrusted him with something special and here was a fresh production line to shame his arrogance.

"Oh," Blake didn't look at him "Did you think you were the only one, Rhys?"

His lips pulled down again. He narrowed his eyebrows as he pushed himself to look back at the site. His arms folded tight against his chest until it hurt to breathe. John was supposed to be one of a kind. This...all of this...proved otherwise. He tried to lift his head, to watch whatever it was they wanted to rub his nose in for the day.

There wasn't anything that stood out to him. It looked like a routine patrol. He tried to see past it, to find the clue but nothing came. His frown deepened but a hand clasped his shoulder. His eyebrows raised as he looked to his shoulder. His eyes carefully traveled up to Blake's ear. Blake still hadn't looked at him yet the touch had been unprompted.

"Sir-?"

"We are calling this one," Blake began "Firehawk."

"Calling th-" He looked back out at the site only to see flames shoot up from the ground.

Oh...shit...

The flames seemed to burn brighter than any he had seen. In a flash they vanished before they shot up again. Three engineers were knocked off their feet and two loaderbots were thrown twenty feet. Another flash and Rhys could feel his hair flutter with the sudden breeze that came through. He widened his eyes as Blake's fingers dug into his shoulder. An engineer fired off a few rounds only to be slammed against the ground. The engineer did not move again.

Red splashed across the blankets of snow with another flash. He couldn't see any engineers being tossed this time but that was a sign in itself he assumed. When he couldn't see must have been ten times worse. His eyes darted over the field, several attempts to use his echoeye. Yet all he could find were facts about how the snow was made and everything else was blocked from his system. He blinked quickly a few times as his vision temporarily came together as one, it blurred the red with the white that covered the training site by now. It was truly a complete fucking mess. Yet Blake seemed...

The sirens blared, like how they would if Helios was being attacked. Yet none of the scientists around them moved. Blake didn't even flinch. Rhys could feel a pain take shape inside, it clawed at his ribs and flesh. He was pretty sure vomiting in front of anyone would be humiliating, only worse if it was because of a training exercise.

"Holy shit..." Rhys murmured.

"Indeed." Blake nodded.

Another flash and the sirens faded from earshot. Eventually, Blake stepped away from Rhys and walked until he met the railing. He reached out to his side, an overeager intern handed him a megaphone. Rhys hadn't seen one of those since his first arrival on Helios. Blake could have used the loudspeaker But this was...a bit more fun he supposed.

"Excellent work, everyone. Hyperion thanks you." Blake's voice spread through the megaphone, "Firehawk. You were brilliant. Well done."

There was a cry, it sounded a lot like a bird. Another flash occurred, a single one this time, and then nothing more. Those on the field seemed to be helping pick each other up, as far as he could tell there weren't any casualties. Maybe. At this distance it was still difficult to really tell. Blake stepped back to stand beside Rhys, megaphone tucked under an arm.

"What did you think of the exercise, Rhys?"

"What...I don't really understand its' purpose, sir?" He braced himself for whatever would be the response.

“As Mr. Tassiter has surely explained to you,” Blake began to walk and all Rhys could do was follow “There have been vast improvements with AI on Helios in recent months.”

Blake hadn’t said it but all Rhys could think of was John. Blake must have known or had an inkling at least. The penciled shaped man always seemed to carry a smile upon him at all times and in this moment…it was alarming to say the least. Rhys kept his eyes averted this time, looked to any place that wasn’t on his companion. He could see engineers, ones that had been on deck instead of on the site, that rushed on by him with stretchers. He didn’t want to know how badly those flashes hurt, nonetheless feel them himself. He shook his head, an attempt to shake the concern away, and find something new to look at.

Unfortunately, that was difficult to do in his current situation. He only saw Loaderbots that stomped on by, talking to themselves about the Firehawk. There were a variety of scientists all together murmuring and muttering like they were a flock of geese near by as well. He tried to see their nametags from where he and Blake walked but it proved useless. The faces though…some seemed ancient to be honest. All seemed far from any department that Rhys had ever been at or even stepped near. Those must have been Tassiter’s head scientists.

“Do forgive me, Rhys, I must speak with someone. I will return though.” Blake patted Rhys’ shoulder before the older man wandered off into the shadows.

Okay…that wasn’t at all suspicious either…

But two hands slapped down on Rhys’ shoulders from behind. He immediately went into fight mode, no flight today for Rhys. He shot up his arms in a Y formation, why—he had no idea. He had read somewhere that making one's self seem bigger to predators could scare them off. Though Y formation didn't seem like a good choice of defense no matter how he did it. It just made him look...long...

His boots scuffed the floor with how fast he whipped around, still in Y formation, which was mostly out of gut reaction now, and his mouth was opened wide. He didn’t know how he thought he could do anything in this pose to begin with. He could just…shout at the attacker or scare the shit out of them—there was that too. Vaughn did say he would be great at haunted houses.

“WHY—” Rhys cried out.

But it…it was just a scientist. He was pretty sure it was a scientist. Anyway, it was a single scientist, with glasses and the…well, the guy certainly was going out of his way to try and win the best intense stare on Helios that was sure. Rhys slowly lowered his arms and kept them locked against his sides. The scientist kept his eyes on Rhys the whole time, never once getting distracted. Though the scientist did eventually lower his hands off of Rhys’ shoulders—which was a blessing in its’ own. Rhys…was grateful and terrified at the same time. What a combo…what a horrible, horrible combo.

His mouth shut briefly before it opened again for him to speak, still dry from lack of having any juice with his breakfast. His eyes traveled over the silent shoulder toucher, to try and place the name with the face. But a lot like it had been with the other scientists he saw, it was difficult. His eyes moved slow at first until there was a hint of a name tag on the scientist’s coat. He zeroed his focus in on it, it was better than meeting the guy’s gaze anyway. The name was half way hidden but…aka…akyama? Yama…that was the best he could really tell—

Hello, Rhys.” The scientist...professor...guy drooped his eyelids and narrowed his eyebrows.

Ah, shit. The guy knew his name.
He was the worst at conversation—

“Oh,” Rhys pointed a finger at him, a finger gun to be frank “Hey…you.”

Nailed it.

“Nakayama.” The scientist’s lips pulled back into a tight grin, all teeth “But that’s alright. We haven’t met. Until now. In this very moment. Right here.”

“Right.” Rhys nodded, still wide eyed.

“You really haven’t heard of me?” Nakayama pushed what looked like broken glasses back up an obviously broken nose.

“Well…you did say we’re just meeting sooooooooo….no?” Rhys tucked his chin to his chest as he let his shoulders rise, hands stuck out. The perfect shrug.

As soon as the last word left his lips, Rhys felt something pinch inside his mind. He blinked quickly a few times, as if trying to get something out of his eyes. The scientist’s expression didn’t falter, not once. As for Rhys, he was having a difficult time paying attention…again. He rubbed his echoeye and then his other….non echo eye. It took a few more blinks before the pain from the pinch faded into nothing. He had no idea what that was…what on Helios…

“Nakayama? Holy shit, Rhysie,” John laughed in Rhys' ear, “That’s the guy that made me!”

If Rhys widened his eyes anymore, they just might pop out of his head. He forced his shoulders to drop, as much as it hurt him to do so. His hands shoved into his coat pockets, which appreciated the sudden warmth in the cold. His coat was Hyperion made and warm in the makeshift winter that was the testing site. His spine, on the other hand, still rejected any sort of warmth and embraced the cold. To be cold and hot at the same time was not the ideal for anyone.

As for this…Nakayama, the possibly older man, seemed quite content in a simple lab coat and glasses. Weren’t these Hyperion smart…guys ever cold? It was at least below zero, if even that. He assumed they had done this because of Pandora. He heard the parts of the planet that suffered constant snow were the worst of the bunch, the desert coming in with a close second. Another reason for him to never ever step foot on Pandoran soil. Never. Ever.

“It should have been me who had Jack.” Nakayama huffed.

“Jack-?” Who the hell was Jack?

“Oh, boy, that guy’s a real loose cannon, Rhys,” John explained in his ear “Be careful with what you say around him. Got’s a real sweet spot for ol’ John here if ya know what I mean.”

“Oh—I’m sorry?” Rhys still didn’t know if Nakayama was referring to John or not.

Do ya know what I mean, Rhysie?” John piped in, right into his ear—again.

“Shh.” Rhys turned his head to look at—well, air…since John wasn’t…physically there.

“Don’t you shhh me, Programmer!”

Nakayama shoved a finger into Rhys’ face, “I am leagues better than you. I created him. I made him. He’s what he is today because of me. The only person who knows him is me! Tassiter only gave him to you because I got sick!”

"Listen...I'm sorry you got sick and all-" Rhys sighed something heavy. 

"No you're not!" Nakayama folded his arms, huffed and looked away.

Was this guy really pouting now?

"I have no idea what happened. But I don't know a Jack." Rhys shrugged, "You got the wrong guy. I'm just a programmer."

"Wow." John chirped in his ear, "Stone cold, Rhys. Lied right to his face. Nice. Proud of you, kiddo."

Nakayama looked back at Rhys, his eyelids drooped heavy. The scientist sneered, his fingers curled into his palms to form fists. But before much else could be said Blake appeared at Rhys' side. The man who Rhys once compared to a pencil now seemed like a shadow, no smiles to be given or received. With one look from Blake, Nakayama folded. The scientist let his sneer wash from his face and eyes go to his feet before he walked away at a cautious pace. It was dangerous to turn your back on someone at Helios...

"I'm sorry about that, Rhys." Blake grasped Rhys' shoulders, fingers squeezed once.

"Oh, it was nothing. The guy seems harmless. Just a bit upset I guess." Rhys offered a smile of his own.

Blake did not smile back.

"I didn't even catch his name." Rhys glanced back to where Nakayama, the maybe scientist, had stood.

"I'm glad you could attend today's first exercise." Blake ignored Rhys' comment, "That was all that was required of you today. Mr. Tassiter wishes me to inform you that you are to have the rest of the day off."

A day off? But...

"Did I say something wrong-" Rhys' eyes widened again.

"No," Blake's smile finally returned "You've been the model employee for Hyperion, Rhys. Such actions do come with rewards every now and again."

"Oh...um, alright. Thanks." Reward. This was a reward. He did a good.

"You can go." Blake turned on his heel, "Now."

Rhys stood there for a brief moment. His fingers pulled at the zipper to his coat, it helped keep his hands busy. A breeze swept snow across his cheeks from the training site. He reached a hand up, his fingers brushed his cheeks. Snow was...sort of nice. He smiled to himself before he too turned on his heel and left the training site. It immediately grew too hot once back inside but he unzipped his coat and kept it on anyway.

A few people glanced at him and his coat as they walked by to the elevator. But he didn't mind this time. It was a nice coat, Hyperion made and not at all cheap in stores. And it was all his. No one could take this from him...unless they stole it...or burned it he guessed. His smile shifted back into a frown. His fingers ran over the pockets of his nice coat.

He really liked this coat...

He looked up as soon as he got right in front of the elevator. It was one of the nicer ones, big enough to hold at least three loaderbots and a CEO probably. It also had deluxe air conditioning and a nice set of carpet to put one's feet on. He reached out, pushed the button and waited. His eyes wandered as he rocked back some on his heels.

His echoeye turned and locked on a variety of items. It did pass the time on occasion. He also learned fun facts sometimes...and sometimes things he would have preferred to never know. Which could be how the Hyperion Vending Machines were made to what shampoo Hugo Vasquez used. He sighed at the reminder of the latter. He really didn't need to know that.

As his eye locked on different items, it crept upon the wall. There was a large board, a lot like at the CL4P-TP shop, with names of projects. He assumed these were the AI since Firehawk was listed as number one. He quickly glanced over each of the names, not taking too much time to look too deep into them. Some of their required authorization from levels higher than his and he didn't feel like trying to break through those.

Maybe Firehawk was the best out of--A name caught his attention. Bloodwing. Now that sounded fucking cool. Blooooodwiiiiing. It sounded like something that could fly. That'd be useful when fighting bandits. Hyperion fighting bandits...not...not him. But he could certainly help! By watching training exercises from the safety of Helios. Man, whatever Bloodwing was it'd be cool.

Below that was Skipper, still cool but not as mindblowing as Bloodwing to be honest. Skipper was...it sounded sort of cute. Maybe it was like a cute tiny new robot that was being prototyped. He was sure it'd be exciting to see both either way. He'd have to probably get up earlier a lot more...but he was also going to bed pretty late. He'd have to look over his schedule again. Maybe John had some ideas.

"So, Nakayama," John started again, "Real clingy, huh?"

"I guess." Rhys shrugged and looked away, just as the elevator doors slid open.

Luckily no one was inside the elevator. He really didn't want to have to stand side by side with fellow Hyperion employees as John went on about this Nakayama guy. He hadn't even known about the man. John never mentioned him and Tassiter sure as hell didn't either. Tassiter had called John his project. It would be plausible that Tassiter thought up the idea of an AI and just needed someone to make it reality. But why Nakayama? The scientist sure wasn't a programmer. Did Nakayama work on all of the new AI that were coming out?

Rhys stepped into the elevator and turned to face the doors. He reached, pressed the button for the Hub. The doors began to slide shut close once more just as John was ready to keep chatting him up. His shoulders dropped and he started a slow countdown as the elevator started to move lower, floor by floor.

"The guy would just talk and talk. Never shut up. Not like you, Rhys," John said "Not that I, uh, don't like it when your mouth is open too."

Rhys chose to absorb that comment and then disregard it soon after it was said.

"Why was Nakayama so...interested in me? I mean, yeah, I guess it must be hard to lose a project like this but I didn't ask for it..." Rhys muttered.

"Yeah, sure. I mean, I am one of a kind." John sounded so sure of himself.

"Well, actually-" Rhys thought back to the earlier training exercise.

He didn't want to make John feel inferior though. John may have been an AI but he was still a....well, John was something important. Rhys couldn't pinpoint a reason just yet but he'd figure it out eventually. When he did, it'd be great too. He could even rub it in to those scientists back at the training site.

"Who wouldn't want Jack?" John interrupted.

"Wait." That was right. Nakayama had called John 'Jack'.

"He called you Jack--was that your original title?" Rhys asked.

"Oh, uh, sort of a nickname I guess. Sort of sounds...right, doesn't it? Just rolls off the tongue. Jaaaack."

"Do...you want to be called that instead?" Rhys offered.

"Jack is alright. But you can call me whatever ya want, kiddo."

"Jack it is then. I'll try and not mix it up." Rhys nodded.

He wanted to pat his own back. He was such a good programmer, taking care of his AI-...Tassiter...Tassiter's AI.

"Great! You and I really get each other, don't we, Rhys? You understand my code. And you don't even try to change me." Rhys could feel a rush of air brush against his arm as Jack spoke. It must have been the elevator's air conditioning kicking in...

Jack's comments were a bit of a disappointment. One of a kind did seen to go hand in hand for the AI. But after the training exercise and the rest of the board he saw...that wasn't true.

"Ummm, Jack, listen-"

"That's what I like about you, Rhys. You just go with whatever comes at you. Just look how you handled Nakayama." Jack ignored Rhys' clear discomfort, "You straight up lie to the guy and you don't even bat an eye! Man, that was great to watch."

"Does Nakayama always act like that with anyone involved with you?"

"Dunno." Joh--Jack replied, "Maybe he's horny on main."

Rhys slapped a hand over his face, groaned and let his hand fall down a moment later. He had heard of people doing that but hadn't actually experienced a facepalm. He'd certainly felt doing it more than once, sometimes more than he'd like to admit. It seemed almost comical to him. He wasn't some fictional character in a book though. He was Rhys, the Company Man. Okay, yeah...that sort of sounded pretty lame.

"What did you think of Firehawk?" Rhys tried to change the subject...sort of.

The AI didn't seem to have a voice as far as Rhys had seen back at the site. It seemed like a security AI but...maybe just a damage dealer and not like Jack, who could do damage control as well. Maybe the two did have things in common though.

"What about it?" Jack hummed. He must be analyzing a frequency or something.

"It was cool? Did you see how fast it took down all those Hyperion engineers?" He shrugged.

Rhys eyed numbers on the wall, it kept getting closer to the Hub. It was a relief really. Less time to remember those flashes from before...and the sirens...

"Oh, yeah." Jack replied, "Bet it could wipe out towns of bandits." Oh, Rhys hadn't thought of that-"You know, bet it could really, uh, change things if it were in the right hands."

"Whoever gets Firehawk will probably be important." Rhys agreed, "I mean, Tassiter saw something in me, right?" He smiled.

"Yeah, well, Tassiter has his nose in a lot of shit on Helios."

"Uh..." Well, that was sort of...fucked.

"I-I'm, listen, I'm sorry, Rhys," John's tone immediately changed, it was softer in Rhys' ear "That was uncalled for."

Fuck yeah it was. He already had people bringing him down, didn't need an AI doing it too. At least Hugo wasn't an AI. Hugo couldn't be ignored if he were an AI. God, that was a nightmare. A neverending Hugo Vasquez haunting him day to day...yikes.

"You're a great programmer. I just don't want you sellin' yourself short over one little AI exercise, 'kay?" John continued, "Just cause some hot AI with flames comes around doesn't change what we got goin' on."

"Yeah, I...Yeah, you're right. I don't know. I'm tired I guess. It's early." Rhys felt the jolt of the elevator as it landed on the Hub.

"Hey, you're doing great things with me and that should be noticed is all I'm sayin'." Jack said as the elevator doors slid open, "You're my guy, Rhys."

 

Chapter Text


The night had come and gone just as it had many times before on Helios. The demonstration of the Firehawk had been more than alarming to himself, most likely to everyone who was there besides Blake. Mr. Blake had taken what seemed like satisfaction in the presentation, in the fact that people bled on the training grounds. It was Hyperion though, blood was sort of a part of the whole…thing. But those had been employees…those weren’t bandits. He should be disgusted. He was…He wasright?

On a logical level, it had been a good set up. It demonstrated how strong Hyperion was becoming, not that it wasn’t strong already. He wanted to be strong. If he could create something just as well, then it would prove to the universe he deserved his place on the space station. Yet, as he often did, he let the doubt creep in. He could see others doing better, rising faster and being noticed more. He had been given John…no, Jack. He had been given Jack, and at the time…he had thought that meant something.

That it really was a change in how he would be seen on the station. But after the humiliation he suffered internally at the training site, Rhys wasn’t so sure about his position. He had felt secure in his career weeks, maybe it had been longer, ago. He had felt right. Even with all the stress, and all the dread, and all the panic, he had felt like he was making progress. And then Firehawk happened and it dashed away, not all at once, but gradually. It had followed him, at his heels, dragged itself all the way to the elevator and lingered in his ears to listen to him and Jack until they reached the Hub.

And now all he could think about were the AI. How many more had there been? How many more were there? He had seen a list on a wall, but those were just the top ten…maybe only the latest batch. There could be dozens, hundreds more. He had tried to ask around, as quietly as he could, to get any word of any further AI training or production but it had fallen on deaf ears. He didn’t hear so much a peep from anyone, though that had been all in one evening. He could ask Vaughn to look into the paperwork, see if there were any large suspicious donations made to the department lately.

As his thoughts scattered and gathered in a cycle, Rhys wiped his mouth with his palm. The sticky salvia smeared across the lines upon his palm before he wiped it on his knee. The drool left a stain that would eventually fade with time, there wasn’t any need to grab for a quick tissue or napkin. So, he looked away from his hands and his knee to something else—anything else. Jack hadn’t spoken much today, which was a rarity to be honest. Jack typically had anything and everything to say. Maybe the training exercise had disturbed Jack as well?

A tiny part of Rhys had been excited, yes, there was no denying that. But with excitement often comes alarms. He had wanted to see all the AI that were listed on the wall but when he had thought deeper into it after the elevator ride…the idea that someone else had those, had programmed then, and not him—that had rocked the boat onto its’ side inside his mind.

As he had previously thought, as he had been thinking since that night before sleep took him, it just meant there was someone better than him. Someone who could easily take his place. He had started to let himself believe he was the best or, at least, becoming the best—it had been arrogant. All this realization was hitting Rhys hard and fast when he woke up from a long rest of emptiness.

He should have never underestimated the other programmers, or the engineers—or anyone really, even Hugo. Even when he had been in Tassiter’s office, he had heard the CEO mention that there had been others who had advanced in lesser time. That had been the first sign, the first thing he should have grabbed onto and realized. But, no, Jack had been so…big and new and shiny and he just wanted to consume it all.

Rhys would have to be smarter.

He would have to focus. He could do that. It just required…actually doing it. Yvette would probably be happy to help. Vaughn would just be happy to be a part of something. He could start bringing out his sketches again, ask Jack about them. Jack would have some indication where to go with them. After all, the AI had been built for security. Jack would know where there needed to be improvements.

He doubted the other programmers had taken the time to consult their AI like this. What programmer would ask an AI how to backstab other programmers? They’d all be too busy showing off and trying to take care of Helios. Rhys wanted to take care of Helios as well…but if he could take care of himself as well…well, hell. That’d be great.

“Hey, Jack?” Rhys leaned back in his chair, the wheels slid back some at the action.

“Uhhhhh, yeah, Kiddo?” Jack answered after a moment, “You got something?”

“When Nakayama made you…”

“Oh, yeah, that guy. What about ‘im?”

“When Nakayama made you, did he ever ask you about other programmers or other…AI?” Rhys reached out then, picked up a few folders on the desk.

The stack on the top had labels on them. HYPERION - SECURITY PERSONEL ONLY. PRE-PRODUCTION. He had gathered enough courage and spite to maybe sneak a few folders out of the head of the department’s office. He had told himself he was just borrowing them. They had been hidden under a dozen boxes and several other sheets and files. It wasn’t like anyone would be looking for them in this mess. And if they did, well, they must have gotten lost. Lots of things on Helios gets lost all the time. If the people he had tried to get information out of had just answered him, there would have been no need for any of this. It wasn’t his fault.

“AI? Uhhhhhhhhhh,” Jack was avoiding the question, “Dunno.”

“What do you mean ‘dunno’?” Rhys’ eyebrows furrowed, his eyes looked out into the open air as if he half expected the AI to be there.

“Dunno.”

Rhys groaned and shut his eyes. His knuckles ran over the eyelids, an attempt to get as much stress and exhaustion out of his system. It didn’t help much but enough to focus in on his folders. He reached and picked a random few, shuffled through and none of the names caught his eye at first. It was a few routine reports on Loaderbots and projects on Pandora. However, when the name Hugo Vasquez on a folder's label popped up? sure as hell perked up. His ears even twitched as he read the name. Typically, this would not be his reaction towards Hugo in the slightest.

But possible dirt on the guy? Always a win for Rhys.

He opened up the folder, still unsure why Helios didn’t just digitalize everything and be done with the whole folder system. It did feel nice he supposed. To have the actual data and information in one’s hands. His thumb ran over Hugo’s name on the first paper inside the folder--maybe a cover letter? His eyes traveled lower. There was a stamp, not too large, it could be missed if you weren’t paying attention. But the letters JB was printed in green. He tilted his head and squinted at the initials.

The only person he knew as JB was…well…

Jeffrey Blake.

It’s the next morning that Rhys gathered his folders from the night before, stacked them together and slid them under a panel on his bedroom floor. The code to get in, correct or not, would trigger a trojan virus into any nosy person’s communicator straight away and lock the doors—even if the person didn’t have a communicator, they’d be trapped until Rhys arrived. And that was only if Rhys felt like letting them out in the first place.

The only way to shut the virus down would be located safely on his person at all times. In his Echo Eye, the one place where he could see almost anything he desired—well, with the right codes—and with that freedom meant the ability to collect data. If anyone came knocking, he’d just explain it was an apartment security system. That was believable…right?

“Hey, Jack,” after the folders were hidden, he decided on making breakfast, a great way to start the day, “During lunch I was thinking of going to see Nakayama.”

After the suggestion, a brush ran over the back of his ear. His shoulders lurched forward and he made the softest of noises. He let go of the spoon in the empty bowl on the counter, it clattered inside the bowl and remained there. He reached back, his fingers touched where the sensation had occurred. There was nothing there, no bug or even dust—nothing. It had…tickled. His hand lowered, to his side instead of going back to the bowl and spoon.

“Jack?” He tried again.

His ribs felt heavier and pressed against his flesh from the inside. He rubbed his side, knuckles ran over the ache that was building there. It felt tender to the touch. His lips pulled and brows buried deep between his eyes. That was new…had he overworked himself? Maybe he slept wrong.

“Huh?” Jack sprung to life, “Oh, that freakshow?” The AI dragged the words out.

The heaviness lightened, though not completely lifted, at Jack’s reply. He let his brows raise some, eyes back on his bowl for a moment before he reached into his cabinet. He settled for Hyperion O’s for his cereal of the day. The box opened and it poured into the somewhat empty bowl, his spoon now buried beneath all the o’s. He turned on his heel, headed towards the fridge before he explained himself further.

“Yeah,” Rhys nodded, “I was thinking maybe he’d have some suggestions. He was the guy who designed you, right?”

“…yeah.” Jack’s reply, for once, was short and sweet. Very un-Jack.

“Maybe he could help improve some of your coding, hm? I thought maybe even create a hologram.” It wasn’t like it was the first time he had thought about it.

Actually, seeing Jack though? That was a bit terrifying. He never had a face to place Jack before. It was just a voice who talked to him, a code…numbers…words. It wasn’t like Vaughn or Yvette. It would still mean Jack was an AI and only that but...somehow it felt almost wrong. Why was he smiling then? He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and swallowed hard, the burn was more than noticeable for Rhys.

He blinked quickly a few times before he ran his fingers through his hair. An attempt to calm himself, to somehow steady and regain composure before AI Jack figured out what was happening. He didn't need his own AI trying to fix the issue. And it wasn't. Was not an issue. Not at all...

Right?

He should have never opened his mouth.

"That would be freakin' sweet, Rhys! A whole visual of what Jack's got packin' is just what Helios needs right now." Jack replied.

He shut his eyes for a moment too long, a deep breath that was shaky at best leaving him as he reopened his eyes. He nodded, let his lips tug upward some. He took another breath, this time not as deep and, by mere luck and grace of the universe, it was steady as it could be.

The moment seemed to lap into an awkward silence after Jack's reply. Rhys decided he should try to go back to work, he did have a job at Helios. He expected to do his tasks and be able to perform. Otherwise, what purpose did he have on Helios? Why would Hyperion keep him around if he couldn't keep up? He had seen a dozen, over a dozen, airlocks that only emphasized the need to keep moving forward. He'd finish his breakfast and move on.

"Rhys?"

He lifted his head, expecting someone to be there beside him. But, after a moment of confusion, he realized it was Jack. He never did continue to the conversation. He looked back at his hands, which were cupped around the bowl of cereal. He didn't even realize his nails were scratching furiously at it, chipping away some of the paint. It had been brought from his home planet, a little gift from someone.

It was one of the things he had that had the taste of home--a reminder of his past. A reminder that was a part of the motivation to keep moving forward if he wanted to get anywhere on Hyperion. If he had stayed on his home planet, he'd be nothing. He would have never been noticed and he would have never met...

"Yeah," Rhys stood up from the counter, picking up his bowl "Sorry, tired. Didn't really get any sleep."

"Rough night, huh?" Jack kept up the small talk, "That's a real shame, Rhys. You really need to rest, you know?"

"Yeah..."

The bowl was placed in the sink, some of the cereal remained in the the bowl, damp with the milk that was left behind. He let his spoon clatter as he dropped it. For a good few seconds, he stood there, staring until his feet remembered how to move. All the while, there was just this weird sensation spreading through his back. It was like someone running their hand up and down it almost, a tickle right in the center of his back. But when Rhys looked over his shoulder, there was no one but the air to stare back at him. He blinked and turned back, heading to get ready for the day's work. He would have his coffee and things would get better. This was just...anxiety.

That had to be it. He was overthinking. He did that. Yvette said that. He needed to organize his thoughts and everything would be okay. He didn't need to pick a part something that was nothing in the end. Something of nothing is nothing and that was what mattered. Because this was nothing...it had to be nothing. He didn't need any more cracks in the surface on Helios, he had enough of those in possession already.

Lunch doesn't come fast enough. He didn't really want to go chit chat with Nakayama. This was specifically for his AI. The guy had Rhys on his death radar for who knows how long. The attachment Nakayama had with Jack too was on the level of creepy that Rhys wasn't that familiar with--and he knew Hugo and Blake, which were two different versions of creepy to be honest...Hugo being more of a creep and creepy and Blake was just...creepy.

Nakayama though? A whole new shade of creepy. 

He barely took two steps towards the office of Nakayama when the door slid open. The scientist was in his face within a matter of seconds, brows furrowed and a wrinkled nose. Rhys did what anyone would do and immediately cried out: "Oh god!"

"What do you want?" 

"O-Oh..." Rhys lowered the right leg he didn't realized he raised, probably was preparing to kick the guy away from him "Hey...you."

"I have a name." Nakayama headed back into his office, and Rhys reluctantly followed.

He looked around as the door slid shut behind him. There were...cells in here. Like cages. Were people left in here? He tore his eyes away from the cage--...cells. He swallowed hard. If he just didn't think about it then it'd be fine. It wasn't like he hadn't seen Hyperion experiment on people anyway...

This was Hyperion.

"I had a few questions actually?" Rhys watched as Nakayama went to a keyboard, typing furiously away. Those poor keys.

"About what?" Nakayama didn't look at him, "About how Jack was mine and YOU-" a deep breath, "You stole him?"

"Listen," Hadn't they gone through this already? "I was told I had to..." He had to be careful with his words "I was told I had to take care of him. Tassiter's orders."

The typing on the keyboard came to a standstill after that. "...Tassiter told you to take him?" Nakayama hissed.

The scientist didn't turn even then to look at Rhys but the air in the room had shifted completely. He couldn't feel the knife in his back as much. That was...actually a relief. And Jack hadn't said anything yet. That was another plus. He didn't want Jack's feelings towards Nakayama to get in the way. Feelings...no, that--he was sure he had thought about it before. Had he already designed the chip for the AI to feel?

He couldn't...recall...he-

"Rhys!" 

Rhys blinked. The scientist is staring at him and back in his face. He could smell Nakayama's breakfast. Had he...blacked out? No, it couldn't have been that long. Maybe he spaced out. He lost time again. It wasn't...right. He should ask Vaughn about it. Vaughn would know what to do. He blinked some more.

"Rhys?" He repeated.

"You said you saw other AI." Did he say that? Shit.

And here he was worried about Jack's mouth.

"I did. Holograms really I guess." He nodded, "I was wondering if maybe you'd want to...make Jack into one?" Good one, Rhys.

"A hologram!" Rhys' ears were starting to hurt.

"Or at least...something like that?" He took a step back...and another. This was probably a bad plan...

He could have tried to code it himself. It was his job-

A soft gasp left the scientist though. "A hologram." Nakayama's lips tugged upward, all teeth. 

Yup.

The worst plan.

"Yes! Hologram Jack!" The scientist jumped at his keyboard again, back to typing and waved off Rhys with another hand "I will contact you. Let me work. B-But if...if Jack says hello to me..." he whispered the last part, "Tell him I miss him and I love him, okay?"

"...sure." he agreed, just as quietly. 

Rhys immediately turned heel and ducked out of the office. The door slid shut behind him and a deep, long held breath, left Rhys. That must have been one of the worst social experiences in his entire life. And he had to talk with Hugo! Hugo! He would have to send Hugo a fruit basket after that exchange with Nakayama. 

"Hey, pumpkin," a voice slithered into his ear "You must be starving."

"Jack?" The AI had been absent during lunch and the walk to Nakayama's office.

"Mm?"

"No," Rhys started to walk away from the office "I had lunch. Remember?" He did have lunch...yeah, yes. He had jello.

He kept repeating it in his head. He wondered if Jack could hear it...

"Not really food I was talkin' about but sure." What was that?

Rhys chose to ignore that comment. "Nakayama agreed to the hologram idea. How about that? That's...fun, huh?"

"Oh yeah? Nakayama really gonna join in on Team Jack." Jack laughed, "Maybe we'll be the show next time on the training grounds."

Rhys decided to laugh that off, "Sure, Jack. We'll shock the hell out of them. Yup." He agreed with Jack.

"Nice." Jack replied.

It's easier to think that the AI must just be excited. To not just be a voice? Sounds like a step up to be honest. Rhys wasn't sure what he would do if he was only a voice. And he had a great voice too. His face wasn't that bad either. Vaughn said he was cute after all.

Rhys was happy for Jack. For himself too, just a bit. A face to put with the voice. It'd be easier to finally have something to look at when they talk. They wouldn't be exactly training grounds potential. But who knows? With all these upgrades and progress? Rhys could at least get that promotion. Hell, maybe Jack would end up being the face of Hyperion. Nakayama would probably make Jack look hot or something--hot AIs could be cool. It's always good for a company to have a handsome face.