Chapter 1: Finger-gunned
A fast lunge behind a large potted plant and Rhys avoids the bullet to his brain by a hair. The Hall of Heroism brims with noise and movement, but more and more people lay on the floor, dead. He takes a deep breath and pops up from behind his not-so-good cover in one smooth move, gun at the ready and there! BAM! The badass lady with two guns takes a bullet just when she turns to face him. She drops like a ton of bricks and Rhys doesn’t waste any time feeling superior (or very lucky), just steps hurriedly over her, runs in the direction of one of the exits from the Hall of Heroism and plasters his back to the wall, waiting for somebody to come through the opening.
The noise of the fray around him is dying and he is probably one of the last people still standing. He can hear somebody’s footsteps just a few meters from him – wait, two pairs of footsteps – oh, well, at least he will go down blazing… 3… 2… 1…
“BAM!” he shouts loudly, jumping from behind cover to face the unfortunate newcomer who just got finger gunned to the face.
…Handsome Jack’s face.
It takes only a second for the absolute silence to fall over the Hall; Hyperion workers having the sixth sense for when shit is going down, honed with years of practice.
“I’m going to die”, Rhys thinks desperately, his still outstretched finger gun hand shaking.
But then, the unthinkable happens; after a second of stillness, where the powerful CEO’s stare burns a hole in Rhys’ soul and the world stops on a freeze frame, Handsome Jack lets himself be carried by the motion of the imagined strike, his head snapping back dramatically and the rest of his body following, producing a heavy thud when he hits the floor, hands spread.
For one paranoid moment Rhys’ brain tells him that he killed the man, but no, not really, it’s a game. A game that he won, AGAINST HANDSOME JACK, who lays sprawled on the floor while his companion – one of the guards, nice job there buddy – stares in shock.
“H-handsome J-Jack, sir!” the cybernetic man splutters, hands flailing, standing unsteadily over his hero.
The older man cracks open one eye and smirks at him, before jumping skilfully to his feet and stepping right into Rhys’ space to strangle him, or fire him, or just give him a dose of humiliation…
“Nicely done, cupcake!”
Huh? Rhys blinks at the man before him, who doesn’t seem to be angry, just endlessly amused if the grin is anything to go by.
“Oh, this is going to be soo gooood,” Jack croons with delight.
Scratch that. Giddy. Giddy was the best word to describe his boss at the moment. But why?
Then he sees the man reaching for his gun. His hero takes two steps back and casually points his favourite weapon – a custom-made fire-breathing beauty that is one of his trademarks - squarely between Rhys’ eyes.
Yeeah, you idiot, revenge murder would be one of the things to make Handsome Jack giddy.
“Nothing to say, hmm? I thought it was my brain splattered over the wall, not yours, kiddo”.
Soon, Rhys thinks grimly, and with a shaky breath decides that if it’s the last thing he does, he will at the very least try to make Handsome Jack smile.
“At least it matches my tie,” Rhys jokes faintly, gesturing between his customary red tie and Handsome Jack’s red fire weapon… or maybe the blood that will soon connect the two. That indeed gets him a smile, well, more like a snicker, but Rhys decides it’s enough and prepares – again – to die.
“Good! Cuz you will be wearing it, pumpkin.” The infuriating man winks at him and twirls the legendary weapon so that the hilt points in the younger man’s direction.
“You… sir! Are you… giving me the Flame of Fame?”
“Pfff no, well yes, but I will want it back later. For now it’s a symbol; people eat shit like that up, kiddo, the PR department will love it! Whaaat I’m giving you is my company. You will be the CEO for the next 24 hours. Sounds good, cupcake?” the crazy man before him announces and adds with a smile of a cat who got the cream: “And what you will give ME is some freakin’ VACATION TIME”.
Rhys just stands there looking at Handsome Jack’s retreating back. After much stammering and making a fool of himself, Rhys finally understood that the proposition was not a joke (“but maybe you are, kiddo, get a grip”) and his idol really just put him in a position of power. Did Rhys say “put him”? What he meant was: “threw him into it and left him with no clue what to do”. When Rhys tries to follow the Hyperion ruler he nearly gets a hand to the face, when the man stops him with an outstretched arm, and pointing at Rhys, then at himself, says:
“Nu-huh! You stay, me go. You work, me freee~ ” – the mocking tone is a bigger deterrent than any shouted order could be.
So, here he is, alone among the sea of staring, flabbergasted workers, looking at the source of knowledge necessary for his new task walk away, whistling cheerily.
He would probably stand there, frozen and still mentally rebooting, with Flame of Fame in his hand, if not for the guard, poking him carefully.
“Hey man, you may want to get somewhere more private. And safer. Half of those people look like they want to lick your boots and the other half looks like they want to grind you to dust. I dunno which half is more scary, but we should relocate ASAP”.
“And you will keep me safe? No offence buddy, but you kinda let Handsome Jack get ‘shot’. I would prefer not to have this kind of experience”.
The blonde man grins roguishly.
“Yeah, I can see how this looks. But the whole ‘guard’ thing kinda doesn’t apply to the big bad boss”. He starts moving, subtly ushering Rhys in the same direction. “In fact, it’s stated in our contracts we should not interfere in the boss’ solo fights. Or, really, any fights he doesn’t ask us to fight with him or for him. There was this guy, Jimmy... offed a guy Jack was looking forward to killing, in front of him. So stupid. Let’s just say that the big man’s bloodlust was satiated that day anyway”.
Rhys blanches a little. He always had too good of an imagination.
“I don’t think I will be throwing myself at any enemies any time soon, so feel free to switch the “on” mode on the whole guard thing”.
“Sure thing, boss!” the blond guy cheekily salutes him with his gun, that he already had at the ready.
Huh, maybe he won’t be a bad bodyguard after all.
The coffee in Vaughn’s hand is blindingly hot and he yelps as some of it splashes on his hand, when the loud noise from the corridor monitors startles him badly. He misses the few firsts words of the new message from Handsome Jack, busy waving his hand in pain, but then some of the words penetrate his brain.
“…new CEO! Well, at least for the next 24 hours. Or less, if he screws up spectacularly. And let’s face it…” the powerful man scrunches his face, reading something on his Echo. “...oh boy, this Danger Noodle Nerd has a lot of potential to screw up!”.
On the screen a standard employee photo headshot appears next to the Handsome Jack’s masked face. The coffee falls from Vaughn’s hand.
“So, everybody; have fun! I know I will. And you kiddo…” - the Hyperion god leans closer to the camera, mood switching from playful to serious in a second, gaze cold like a freezing lake. “You better prove me wrong”.
The live feed cuts off and the stares of people around him are as blank as the screen. But Vaughn knows who the fucking Danger Noodle is. He stares resentfully at his fancy coffee, now decorating the floor in artistic splashes. Once, once he and Yvette ditched this idiot and didn’t go with him for lunch at the Hub of Hyperion. ONCE. And of course this happens.
Whatever this is.
He straightens his clothes and adjusts his glasses; not in a gesture of nervousness, but confidence. He turns around the corner just in time to find Yvette. They nod at each other.
Saving Rhys from trouble?
They are frickin’ PRO at this.
Yvette sips her mint-with-chocolate-sprinkles frappe with a satisfied smile. It always gets her in a good mood to be wooed by free food and fancy beverages. Their little table at the Hall of Heroes is getting crowded with various offerings she and Vaughn got from the people who wanted a headstart on sucking up to the new boss’ friends. It was a good choice to wait for Rhys’ summons here. They tried to reach him via his Echo, but when that failed and they realised it won’t be possible to just waltz into the top office, the decision was made to wait. They choose this place to be both close to the executive elevator and to be visible; a tactic that proved fruitful. Just after half an hour they already had a few new promising offers of alliances, or support, and a couple of negotiations for favours. Vaughn added those to their group’s ever-growing, highly encrypted database, consisting of all the debts to be paid and favours to be cashed out. Their loss/gain balance never looked better.
The Echo on the table shrills with an incoming call. Vaughn grabs it, his excitement visible plainly as a day, before he schools his expression a little, answering:
“So, finally remembered us, eh bro?” he teases.
“Yeah, I just had, uh, a lot on my mind, hahaha. Sooo, can you guys, like, help me?” Rhys practically whines. Oh boy, is Vaughn happy he wisely didn’t put this conversation on speaker. ”The elevator should work for you two now”.
“Sure, President Rhys, we will be there in a minute,” the accountant’s voice raises a little to catch the attention of the nearby people. The sooner they confirm their connections, the better.
Also, it was fun to hear Rhys splutter, when he was called by his new title.
Here they are; their little ragtag group in Hyperion’s top office, totally owning it.
The plan was to get to work straight away, but somehow, after the greetings, they just ended up staring at the space outside the office’s enormous viewport.
“I know we worked to get you to the top, but I never thought going this high was a possibility,” Yvette admits softly.
“And the view from this high up is pretty nice, isn’t it?” Vaughn asks equally reverently.
“High,” Rhys giggles. “Yep. I think I’m that”. Rhys ruins the moment, feeling pretty drunk at the thought of all that power and possibilities at his fingertips.
Yvette eyeballs him sceptically.
“Exactly how much coffee did you drink?”
“None,” Rhys shrugs. “I’m high on life”.
“Good for you buddy,” Vaughn snorts. “Ok, now, we have things to discuss”. The short man whips out his trusted ECHO. “The first question is: who can we trust? The second is: from where can we get the coffee from?”.
There are many questions, and each of those breeds only more things to think about. It’s obvious they need more people than the three of them, the guard, August (Rhys decided to keep him and had him already running some errands) and Handsome Jack’s scarily competent secretary, Meg.
Thanks to their database they already have some ideas about which people they can use; the politics of Hyperion revolves not only around cutting down you enemies, but also around helping people you want to see with better standing. Their team takes an interest not only in their own departments, but other workgroups as well, with Yvette working the floor with day-to-day interpersonal relations, Vaughn on information collection duty and Rhys, acting as their leader, the one to offer and negotiate the more important deals. With the help of Rhys’ new access level 9.5 (probably created just for him) and his friends assigned 9.0’s, they are able to gain more information about Hyperion's workers then ever, resulting in a few promising people getting crossed out from the list and a few unexpected ones getting added to it. In the end, after an hour of hot debating in front of the offices huge holographic system, they short-list 12 people to work as their support team. Their skills and fields range from experimental science, to PR, combat, engineering, management, HR, medical, security and others, with some of jack-of-all-trades people mixed in. They even snatch one of the interns; a girl from resources who was given next to impossible tasks from her boss and has proven to be quick-thinking, resilient and resourceful, with which she impressed Yvette. The completed list goes to the secretary, who has to invite all of those people for a priority meeting and arrange necessary space and equipment for them.
Rhys sags into his super-comfy chair, wanting to catch a second of respite after all of that thinking, but Vaughn leans across the desk, shoving his coffee cup at him.
“We have one more thing to talk about, before the team gets here. Our enemies.”
They look at each other soberly and say in unison, with varying levels of hate, revulsion and dislike.
Yvette purses her lips and taps her manicured fingers against them thoughtfully.
“I might have an idea how to deal with him”.
The problem is, on top of getting to know his new position and planning what to do with it, Rhys also has Handsome Jack’s schedule to think about. He feels dread creeping down his spine when he thinks about the innocuous letters next to 6 pm, indicating a meeting with Torgue. Torgue! Talk about an explosive situation. Oh, Rhys is sure that Jack could deal with the notoriously unstable company with his pinky, but he himself felt very small compared to the giant of a man that lead the rival manufacturer. Fortunately, they still have hours before the (probably literal) ground zero. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean Rhys can take a breather; everybody on the team is insanely busy.
Messages were sent out to the department heads, calling for a short and conclusive report from every department. Handsome Jack’s secretary, Meg, is to make sure that everybody understands that the new CEO isn’t joking about having only ten minutes to listen to each department and that they should be ready at a moment's notice. Rhys will give them some start time and summon them between all the other tasks they had to tackle. It will most likely go well into the night.
Yvette is busy with current affairs, fielding request for assistance for such things as an rakk escaped from the enclosure (currently hiding in the ventilation systems), one of the Pandora teams requesting a new doctor (the previous one was eaten by a psycho), an angry Eden IV contractor who didn’t get the weapons on time (somebody stole the crates in question first hour into Rhys’ reign) and discussing Rhys’s image with the PR representative, all between bursts of being scarily efficient.
Meg looks like she is in love with her.
It falls on Vaughn to think about their future; to propose agendas and schemes they could enact in their one day of glory, that would benefit their team in the coming months and years. In theory they had the power to make themselves department heads, or to transfer millions wherever they pleased, but the reality was simple: nothing that may result in Handsome Jack going after their heads later was worth doing. So they had to get creative with moves that either wouldn’t catch the big bad’s attention or that would be seen as done for the betterment of the company, or at least didn’t affect it in a negative way. Or were funny. They were pretty sure Handsome Jack will forgive many things if they made him laugh and since Jack’s humor was a little… skewed… they could get away with any murder, if they staged it in a comical way.
So far Rhys used his clearance level to download the newest, shiniest software for his eye and arm. He couldn’t afford to have them out of commission at the moment, but after this whole ballgame was over he was gonna upgrade the hell out of his prosthetics. There were some nice side-benefits to being an Overlord!
Like the access to all that super classified data; which is what Rhys is currently sifting through, occasionally pushing relevant info to his team’s Echo’s, or their shared database. His prosthetics, that give him an edge in the data-mining field, are supremely useful at the moment, letting him get to data faster and dig deeper. There are a few places he bounces off – restricted to level 10 clearance – and he isn’t stupid enough to pry into those, but otherwise Hyperion is his oyster. The constant flow of data nearly lulls him into a state of relaxation. That’s why he jumps when he suddenly feels a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on boss, it’s time for you to look pretty!” August smirks at him.
Ooof course everything that is pleasant has to end. Rhys dismisses all the projections with a wave of a hand and stands up nervously. The PR department was waiting to get their hands on him for a while now. Preparing the equipment, clothes, and, if Yvette was to be believed, deciding what shade of lipstick they should use on their new victim, took time. They also had to make sure everything was secure, which is why Rhys sent August to get the safety measures ready.
When they walk out of their office Rhys is greeted by an armed squad of Hyperion goons, procured by August to shield him from any assassination attempts. He nods at them and says to be sure:
“Just for the record; if anyone attacks me I DO want you to protect me, not leave me to fight them by myself”.
“Don’t worry, sir, we got them new contracts for today. You won’t have to pull a Handsome Jack if anyone starts shooting at you,” August explains, winking at his security (or maybe black ops? They kinda looked like black ops) buddies.
The walk to the PR’s photo studio takes longer than he expects. Or maybe it feels that way because their little group (Rhys, Yvette, the PR specialist from the support team and the security squad), has to stop or slow down frequently, courtesy of throngs of gawking people.
When they are passing through one of more open spaces Rhys can see Vasquez leaning against one of the walls. Their stares cross and Rhys can more see than hear how his rival’s mouth shapes words “little whore” at him. Rhys bristles and has half a mind to stalk up to the man and deal with him once and for all, but the cocoon of bodyguards pushes him further along. He sends one more contempt-filled stare towards the man only to see a few more people around the brunet sending him glares at well. He promises himself to deal with them later.
After that they don’t encounter any trouble, not really, apart from a few curses, cowardly shouted from behind the backs of the spectators (Rhys marks the times and places with his eye. Somebody will take a look at available footage later, and yes; he is salty like that). But there’s a tense moment when a young man practically runs at Rhys and is stopped with a gun in his face, shocked into stillness. With trembling hands the kid pushes an old-fashioned notebook and pen towards Rhys, stammering:
“P-president R-Rhys! I just wanted an a-autograph?”
“President Rhys is busy.” August moves to escort the young man to the side, but Rhys stops him with a hand. Somebody wants his autograph!!! It hits him then that he reached the top, the place almost everyone in Hyperion dreamed about. To this young fella, he is probably a hero. Just like Jack is to Rhys.
“Stand down,” he commands the security squad and takes two steps to stand near the lanky redhead. He takes the offered affects gingerly.
“What’s your name, kiddo?”
“And what do you do, Stephen?” he smiles at the kid.
“I’m an intern! In Engineering! But…” he hesitates for a moment, but continues in a rush a second later: “But I’m thinking about switching to the Coding Department! I have some expertise with programming and you and Handsome Jack both come from there, so I was thinking…”
Rhys raises a brow at the eager redhead, trying not to blush at someone putting him and Handsome Jack in the same category and wanting to emulate him.
“Ah, but Handsome Jack is a bit of an engineer himself. He may not hold an official title in this discipline, but he works closely with R&D and engineering and has his personal touch in many projects. So, I’m sure you can do great things while sticking to what you are passionate about. If it’s engineering – keep at it and give Handsome Jack a run for his money when he comes up with a new pet project. We need driven people like you in every department!”
The kids eyes shine like stars and look like they may start leaking tears at any moment, when the youth gets his notebook back with Rhys’ signature and Dream big, Stephen! scrawled on one page.
“Thank you, thank you so much, sir!” He bounces away with an overjoyed expression.
When they finally move further, Yvette gives Rhys a friendly elbow to the side.
“Making people a little starstruck, eh?” she teases. Rhys hides his face in his hands, but then he remembers that they are probably watched and just blushes furiously.
“Shut up,” he grumbles, but is not-so-secretly pleased by the whole encounter.
Her gaze softens a little:
“You did good. Now you just have to do the same thing for the cameras!”
Rhys just groans.
Rhys hates the cameras. With passion.
Occasional photos are one thing, but this? Posing, holding himself still in his new black-and-gold suit, when he is caked in makeup, the lights are blinding him and his hand holding the gun is getting progressively more sweaty… h-a-t-e-s. Especially when Catherine, the photographer, shouts at him again:
“What’s that face supposed to show?! I have seen better faces on Pandora! And yes, I’m talking about the ones the psychos tear off other people! Powerful, confident – cmon, I believe you can fake it!”
He is beginning to understand where Handsome Jack’s urge to kill his subordinates comes from. He imagines it for one moment – the fiery bullet leaving the gun, the shocked and horrified faces of the photography crew, the power.
“Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! And with a nice serving of vicious too!”
He points the gun straight at her, but the woman just gets more excited; so excited in fact that she takes the camera off the stand and nearly slides over to Rhys, bending weirdly backwards to get a perfect upward shot. It’s tempting to look straight into the lenses, but the first thing that was imposed onto Rhys was that he shouldn’t stare straight at the photographer unless he is told to do so. Instead he lifts his chin up to the high black ceiling of the studio. He prefers to look at the calm darkness over the various lights around him. He changes his posture slowly, telegraphing his movements, in case Catherine wants to keep some angle, and tries to channel different emotions. Because, yeah, viciousness is good and all, but power isn’t everything Hyperion is to Rhys. There is hope, there is a challenge to always improve himself, there is hard work and determination, there is joy. There is Handsome Jack.
Without much thinking he holsters the weapon and takes the stance that seems to be Handsome Jack’s favourite. Hands on his hips and a cocky grin in place. But it isn’t quite Rhys, there’s something missing. He lifts his robotic hand and flickers the holographic screen to life, letting the Hyperion logo float softly in space. He has Hyperion in his hand. The new CEO snickers softly to himself at the bad pun and straightens with a much more honest smile, letting the cockiness show in the way he juts his hips out.
It is this photo that ends in the company-wide newsletter and info-packages sent to the press.
Rhys makes sure they include the pun too.
“…has the company in hand?” Hugo Vasquez bristles at the screen in front of him. “The only thing this moron should have in hand is a mop. I was so close to making him vice-janitor. And then he had the gist to summon me into his office just to humiliate me!”
“Worry not, he will get what he’s got coming.” The plump blond man next to Hugo drawls and gives him a self-assured smile. The man has charm, but he is also too confident, which makes him reckless and stupid. Yep, Reyden is perfect for his plans.
Since the Handsome Jack’s announcement Hugo took part in a lot of quick, but rich in scheming meetings and a plan was getting along nicely. There was a lot of people who resented the temporary CEO for getting the position by luck and not merit. It didn’t help that Rhys was young and looked like a twink, who may very well have got this new job by crawling underneath Handsome Jack’s desk and not by something as ridiculous as a finger-gun fight. While sleeping your way to the top was one of accepted Hyperion tactics, it made a lot of people even more jealous to think Rhys got not only lucky, but lucky. As it was, Hugo didn’t even have to do much; his position as current CEO’s nemesis was well known and established and people came to him to bitch about the “upstart prat” and offer support and possible alliances left and right. Hugo got his pick of the crop.
And finally it was time to act.
Soon he will show them all.
It was so easy. As promised the guards and the little pretty blond thing, Meg, were all unconscious.
“See? Told you the sleeping gas would work perfectly.” Hugo smirks at Reyden, who acts as a leader of their little rebel group.
“So you did, hahaha!“ The man laughs carefreely. “Now, let’s see how the team did with the security. All set?” He turns to the redhead young man at his side.
“Just a second.” The man frowns at his Echo. ”Security systems deactivated, door will open for you. Aaand we have visual!” He shows them the Echo triumphantly, apparently managing to hack one of the cameras in the CEO’s office.
Reyden whistles at the image of Rhys working at his desk. As their info said, he is alone. And – Reyden squints because it seems too good to be true - indeed he doesn’t have the shield he was posing with for the propaganda.
“I told you he’s an idiot,” Vasquez affirms.
The plump man’s smile turns shark like. ”Allright, let’s do this!” He shouts and their team of 8 runs through the door previously keeping them from their prize.
Rhys jumps when he hears the running feet and moves from behind his desk, to stand just above the stairs.
“What’s the meaning of this? What are you doing here?” he shouts nervously.
“It’s the end of you, scum. Somebody like you can’t be at the top!” The brazen plump blond man shouts at the temporary president, raising his gun and firing.
Rhys stands there, out in the open, not even trying to move from the path of the bullet. Why would he? A dome of energy shines around him, when the Tediore shield activates.
He savours the look of shock on his assailant's face. It was so easy to trick them just by hiding the shield beneath his clothes. But the man has one more surprise coming.
Vasquez clicks the safety off his gun, putting it to the back of Reyden’s skull. The plump man shakes with rage, while his team flails around, uncertain of the situation. One of them, feeling the changing tide, sides with Vasquez and puts the gun to one of his companions, after putting him on his knees with a strong kick. Just in time to see the security team fill in and the turrets to activate (as if it would be so easy to hack them, really), aiming at any remaining threats.
“Now, please don’t do anything stupid,” Rhys says calmly. “That is, anything more stupid then trying to attack the CEO in his own office.”
There is a brief scuffle, when some of the rebels don’t want to put down their weapons, but it is handled quickly, with a few bullets in non-vital places.
With that settled, Rhys takes a few more steps towards the blond man, Rayden, as he knows from Vasquez’s reports. He rips the plainly visible shield from the man’s jacket and tosses it behind him.
“You…! You both will die for this!” the pigheaded man splutters.
“Hmm… I don’t feel like dying today. Killing though…” Rhys takes out the Flame of Fame with a slow, ceremonial gesture and points it at the man’s face, taking a step back. “Smile!” He says in a cheerful voice. “You are on camera!” Just before he fires.
Torgue guffaws at the screen. They arrived only minutes ago and already there’s some action! He watches the live broadcast from the CEO’s office with delight. The burning plump man on the screen squeals like a pig. Of course it would be even better if he was shot with one of Torgue’s explosive guns, but the show is still quite good!
“THE LITTLE MAN HAS SOME BALLS! I LIKE HIM!” He announces to his team and picks up his gun to go to the testing site.
“We have a meeting in 15 minutes…!” His PA tries.
“LET’S GO NOW! THE DAY IS SO NICE I NEED TO EXPLODE SOMETHING!”
They leave the room to the faint sound of the One-Day-President’s inspiring and a bit terrifying speech, broadcasted to all Hyperion facilities worldwide.
Rhys doesn't know what poses a bigger danger to his ears; the big explosions in the testing chamber below, or the overexcited voice of the guest of honor.
“AND THAT’S EVEN MORE BADASS KA-BOOM!” The rival manufacturer flails. He spent the first fifteen minutes of their meeting trying to convert Rhys to explosive weapons. Rhys spent this time trying not to think about what he did and to not puke (again that is; he emptied the contents of his stomach as soon as the cameras stopped rolling). In theory he did know that he was shooting a fire-element weapon, but it didn’t really sink in until he saw a man on fire, desperately rolling on the floor. The man that he shoot. To death. It wasn’t the first kill he was responsible for, but it was a first kill literally done by his hand. The young CEO swallows nervously and thanks all the gods, that this time the testing site used robots, and not those human-shaped mannequins, as targets (Torgue loved it, because MORE THE CHALLENGE!).
Fortunately for Rhys the Hyperion’s presentation was set for the next day, with negotiations following a day after. That means that Rhys doesn’t have to convince Torgue of making any deals today and could leave the responsibility to Handsome Jack. He can just make sure nothing goes wrong and it would be enough. But Rhys wants to excel in the eyes of the Hero of Pandora, not just to be considered “enough”. He bides his time until the end of the explosive show and when everything is over and done he sends a message through his Eye for Vaughn to bring in The Gift.
“Mr. Torgue, I have something for you.”
“IS IT A GUN? I LOVE GUNS!” Torgue bellows.
“No, not a gun. But it IS a weapon of mass destruction.”
Just then the doors behind them open.
“I am here, minion!” a chipper voice announces.
The very last Claptrap unit stands before them in all it’s crazy glory.
One of the first things they had to take care off after completing their team, was the Board, members of which were in a frenzy, as if Rhys would bankrupt Hyperion in just a day. All of them reacted to the announcement with varying levels of incredulity, from polite queries to pure fury, but there was some denial as well and demands for explanations, or, in one case, for airlocking Rhys ASAP. There was also one message with congratulations, praising Rhys and his achievements, written in such a sugary sweet manner Rhys had no idea if it was a genuine sentiment, or if he was getting trolled.
Gee, what a bunch of lovely people he had to deal with.
To get some insight into the role the Board played and exactly how important they were Rhys tried to search any Board meeting notes made by Handsome Jack himself. He found none. Or rather, he only found one page of those, saved only because Jack started to sketch a new weapon prototype on it. The notes on the page weren't very helpful, consisting of things like “Even Mack’s hair finally left him, just as his wife”, “Schrodinger's Jack: when you can’t decide if Sandra is dead yet or not” and “And the winner for most unfunny joke is Ahmed! -100 points”.
Just as Rhys is getting frustrated Vasquez points to the last note:
“Hmm, this looks like a scoring system.”
“Well, it’s probably nothing more than amusement for Jack. I doubt he’s keeping a tally.” Rhys scoffs.
Vasquez eyes glint a bit maniacally.
“Oh, but what would happen if he DID?”
They share a look, Rhys’ mouth hanging open, gears already turning in his head.
He runs to the minion room and shouts excitedly:
“Team, I know how to deal with the Board!”
Rhys smiles wide when he tells everybody the plan. They get to it with favour, searching for relevant files, distributing work and making sure he would have all the needed information on hand (and eye).
When the meeting comes it’s a complete chaos, even though only 12 of the 20 members of the board can attend in flesh on such a short notice. Everybody wants in on the action so the rest is there in the form of holographic projections. Those, fortunately, can’t move from their seats, like some of the others had done, but boy, can they make a ruckus. Fortunately, Rhys has control over the projection systems, so when he steps into the room and all the eyes (and more irritatingly mouths) turn on him, he just lowers the holograms volume down.
The sudden decrease in sound is enough to stop some of the other board members. But not all of them.
“Everybody, please take your seats.” Rhys says pleasantly, not raising his voice and not moving from his standing position at the top of the long table. His voice barely carries over the three most vocal board members. He catches words like “slut”, “incompetent”, “mistake” and “future”. He smiles.
One of the shouting men is tugged down by his colleague, who whispers urgently in his ear. The man stays down. Another troublemaker, a seething brown-skinned woman, looks around the table searching for support. Her eyes go wide and she sits down. The last man, a greying, wizened thing, that reminds Rhys of Tassiter, is apparently too far into his rant to notice anything. He moves threateningly closer to Rhys, who simply puts his hands behind his back in a casual relaxed pose, without acknowledging the man, trying not to show he is nervous. The older male bristles at this perceived offence and lunges at him.
Rhys’ eye glows and he steps to the side, to avoid the falling body. Two of his security guards came in to drag the unconscious man out from the boardroom.
Ah, finally he has silence.
“This time it was only a sedative.” He says, lazily gesturing to the protection system in the room. When he pointed the guns at the offending Board members he manipulated the machines with his EchoEye, but putting them on Autopilot is also an option.
“The next time I have to use those beauties it will be a bullet. Or maybe several. You know how it is with turrets.
Now to the point. I’m Rhys Strongfork, nice to meet you. As you know, I was appointed to the position of Hyperion President, by Handsome Jack himself, for the duration of one day.
As I know this is an unusual situation I wanted to speak with you all personally, to ensure that Hyperion’s future is in the best hands.”
“So you are ready to give it up, pretty boy?” One of the previously silent women, a striking grey fox, asks in a conversational tone. “After all, it’s doubtful YOUR hands are the best deal for the company.”
“Oh, you mistook my words Samantha,” Rhys responds equally calmly. “I’m not here to determine MY worth - I will take Handsome Jack’s words and actions over yours on that.”
He leans slightly forward.
“I’m here to determine YOURS. And to get rid of those who are useless to the company.”
The woman keeps eye contact with him, even as her mouth twist slightly. Around her the indigent sputtering and shouting threatens to rise again.
She raises her hand to ask for silence and she gets it; this reaction speaks better about her standing in the group than any words.
“You don’t have the authority to judge us. You are merely a guest in the upper ranks and your decisions will be scrutinised by Handsome Jack in a day, or sooner.”
“That’s right. They will be,” he nods. “I know about that and yet, I am willing to take down some of you if need be. Doesn’t that tell you something?” His fingers tap the printed pages laying in front of him.
“That you are stupid?” One of the holographic men snorts.
“I’m quite sure you are. So shut up, Colin,” Samantha cuts him down, staring speculatively at the physical files Rhys has. “Does that mean you presume to know Handsome Jack’s mind? That you know what choices won’t get you killed?”
“Nobody is that good at guessing.” A redhead woman speaks her opinion.
“Thankfully I don’t have to guess. I have everything black on white as they used to say.” He waves the files. He doesn’t need them in such an archaic form, since he can access the same thing on his Echo, but damn, they make a good prop.
“What do you mean?! What do you have there?” A squeaky voice, belonging to a self important man named Jeremy, asks.
Rhys only smiles and makes a note on one of the pages.
“Oh, just a game.”
“You…” the man goes speechless with the affront. “So you ARE playing a game with us!”
“Me? No. But Handsome Jack is.” He makes another note with an exaggerated movement.
“What sort of a game, sir?” A young heiress to precious minerals company inquires.
It’s sir now, heh? The plan is working.
“A simple one, just an extension of what working with Handsome Jack is; gaming with your lifes. Only this one has actual rules and points, so it provides me with quite a good context, don’t you think?”
A worried ripple goes through the crowd.
Samantha looks him straight in the eye.
“Care to enlighten us? What are those rules? How do the points factor in all of this?”
Rhys sighs gently, acting disinterested when he says:
“It will probably be quickest to just provide an example. You get points when something you say, or do pleases Handsome Jack. More frequently you lose points because he’s not impressed with you, or just something irks him wrong about you. For example, he doesn’t like the voice of one of you. Hates it, really. So every time this person speaks they get minus points.”
Various exclamations and hushed conversations go through the crowd. Some are wise enough to see where the situation is going but others…
Well, another mark is put down on paper.
The young heiress is scanning the crowd carefully, eliminating people who didn’t speak in that moment, or were still speaking a while later, without Rhys making a move.
“Oh,” she exhales quietly. The silver haired leader picks on her reaction and raises her brows. The young woman nods to the man that indeed, was the victim of Rhys’ marks. Clever girl.
“Jeremy, you better not say another word.” Samantha calls to the annoying man who was indeed opening his mouth to deliver more self-important bullshit.
“What? What do you mean?” He huffs at her.
Rhys has to muffle his laughter with his hand. His other hand, holding the pen, shakes slightly as he makes another line on the page.
Samantha rolls her eyes.
“Maybe I should let you keep going, getting rid of you would be so easy. Seeing as you are already six marks down.”
“Wh-?” The man begins to say, but then stops with his mouth hanging open putting the pieces together. His panicked gaze goes to the page, then to Rhys. Without the possible use of his voice he starts flailing with his hands.
This time Rhys really laughs.
“If you have any objections to the rules, you can discuss them with Handsome Jack. That is, of course, unless you are already past the point where he will just kill you on sight. How do you like your chances?” The man deflates like a popped balloon and Rhys continues serenely “Now, we have a few things on the agenda. Let’s get started.”
This time nobody protests and the meeting goes brilliantly.
Even if Rhys trips over his own feet and nearly falls at one point, it is still a win.
Chapter 2: Endangered species
Thank you for the positive response, it means a lot! Enjoy Rhys making some new friends ;)
Handsome Jack’s office chair is just marvellous. Rhys idly wonders how much money went into not only making it, but probably, like, researching the effect of different textures on the mood, or the correct angles that would be most optimal for relaxing. He could honestly go to sleep here.
In his dreams that is.
In reality, he has another meeting in five minutes and here comes his saviour, August, with yet another cup of condensed energy, otherwise known as coffee.
“Thanks, man.” The lanky youth sighs, reaching for his caramel macchiato. August nods at him and busies himself with his Echo, probably scrolling through all the security updates. Rhys closes his eyes to enjoy the two minutes of rest he still got… and jumps up with a scream when a sound starts blaring in front of his face. His eyes now wide open, he can see the holographic screen hovering over Jack’s desk comes to live and flashes red with “URGENT MESSAGE”. He doesn’t even bother to check who it is, of course it is Handsome Jack! He accepts the call, just as August says:
The screen fills with the transmission. The man in the feed has his face averted while he speaks, and the sounds of mayhem nearly cover his voice. There is screaming and shooting and amongst it:
“Jack!!! I need some help here! Things went to…” he stops to throw a grenade at the people attacking him “…to SHIT!”
The camera, located somewhere on the man’s hand, moves wildly when he runs for another cover. Not as wildly as Rhys’ thoughts though. Because THAT is Handsome Jack. But he addressed him as Jack? What the…
“How soon c-can you send some-” The guy finally makes eye contact with the camera. He nearly jumps when he sees Rhys on the other side.
“W-WHAT? Who are you? Where’s Jac- I mean, what are you doing in my office, pumpkin?!” He tries to sound stern, but his voice rises high and he has the most un-Jack expression of panic on his masked features.
Rhys can only stare.
A sigh captures his attention and he leans to the side to make room for August in front of the screen’s camera.
“Tim, nice to see ya. Team gamma or alpha?”
“August, thank gods. Uh, possibly both gamma and alpha, haha, I’m kinda dying here. Now, I’m going to kill some people and you will kindly tell me – hold on –” The guy presses something on the camera-watch and Rhys hears “Double the handsomeness!” but doesn’t really know what it is about.
“Tell me...” the man continues while sniping people. “Who is this guy next to you. And if we have code zero.”
“Teams alerted. ETA 10 minutes. As for this guy…” he pokes Rhys in the ribs. “He is the new Hyperion Prez.”
“Now it’s no time to joke, August!”
“Oh, I’m not joking. But Handsome Jack is playing one big joke on all of us. One word: finger gunned.”
A groan of misery erupts from Timothy.
“He was freakin’ serious?! And it was years ago when he had this idea!”
“What can I say, man can not only hold a grudge, but hold an insane joke for an opportune time as well. And, oh, we don’t need to kill Rhys.”
“WhAT?!” Rhys wheezes.
August claps him on the shoulder.
“That’s what code zero means. Kill the witness. Can’t leave many people knowing about Handsome Jack’s body double. Even some people with level nine, don’t have access to this info, purely need to know basic. I guess we can’t help it now. Aaand if you can find a way to help Timothy, Handsome Jack will be less likely to overrule my decision later.
Rhys’ mind works overtime processing all this new information and taking in the action on the screen at the same time. More help, less death, right. And this Timothy guy could really use some help from what he is seeing; it seems the situation only got worse and now he is fighting in close quarters instead of sniping enemies from a better position. And is that two more Jacks? Ah, holograms.
The view jerks violently with the shoots of a shotgun and swings nauseatingly when the man desperately tries to avoid getting hit. It shows a view to the side, instead of the main action, but that makes it possible for Rhys to see something that may yet save the day.
“Uh, Timothy, is that a loader bot near you?” Rhys asks loudly, to ensure he is heard over the mayhem.
“Hah, ye-yeah, but it’s useless, they did something to disrupt-” He doesn’t have the chance to finish, fighting madly to get away from a group of bandits, but Rhys gets the gists. Was it an EMP? The rest of the machinery at the scene seem to work fine. Manual failure? It usually meant only a few systems shut down, not the whole machine and Rhys couldn’t see enough damage on the bot, for this theory. Yes, somebody hacking or infecting the bot with a virus was his best bet.
Even before this thought fully crystallises Rhys is already preparing his EchoEye interface for hacking.
“Tim, I need to connect to your Watch, I will try to help you.”
“Oh thank gods. Handsome, connect to HQ!” Timothy commands one of the Jacks, who leaves the fight to fall back and manage the Watch’s connection. A few seconds later Rhys is in and whoa, this code is amazing, it had to be programmed by Handsome Jack himself and oh stars, Rhys can nearly touch it, how is it possible for something this amazing to exist - ...ah, yes, it was made for a body double that was currently having a fun time with a near death experience. Rhys pulls his mind out of a code porn gutter and instead transmits the connection to the LoaderBot’s receiver. It was still on! And there was a connection that was screwing all his movement routines. From one of his ports. Somebody got close enough to introduce foreign software to the bot’s system. Should he just tell Timothy to jerk the bug out from the port? Ohh, nope, very nope, they probably wanted to sell the bot later and keep him in one piece, but from what Rhys could see manual interference with the bug, would active some nasty surprises in the bots code.
“Rhys, whatever you’re doing, do it fast, there’s a Badass coming.” August informs in a tense voice.
On the screen Timothy screams. It sounds a lot like panic.
“Shit. Make it three Badasses.” The blond man corrects.
Haha, no problem, not like Rhys has trouble with performing under pressure. His hands only shake slightly when his fingers dance across the keyboard, information on the screen and in his Eye scrolling fast. Rhys runs circles with his code, around anything that could cause trouble, fast, faster, working too fast always meant mistakes, but he didn’t have time, Timothy didn’t have time…
“That… was… my last grenade!” Timothy informs from the screen, after a big explosion. Two of the Badasses are still standing. The double shoots the next shotgun round. Or tries too.
“No more ammo, great.” He giggles hysterically. The Jack holograms wink out. “Oh.”
“Tim, there’s a bug in the Loaderbot’s port, shoot it!” Rhys urges, sweat dripping down his brow.
Well, Timothy doesn’t stand much of a chance against the incoming Badasses with just his sniper rifle left, so he can as well try. He takes aim, feeling the ground shake from the stomps of badasses coming for him, breathes deep and fires.
Next thing he knows he is flying. Oh, that was only the Badass throwing him at the wall.
“I didn’t even finish my book…” He murmurs under his breath, blood dripping down his chin.
“Tim! Timothy!” Rhys and August, shout over each other. The rescue teams are still too far away.
But the LoaderBot is not.
“It’s rude to shut bots down.” The towering LoaderBot steps in front of the doppelganger and looks back at Timothy. “And people.” With that he barrels into the badasses using his jet propellers to gain momentum.
Timothy blinks and then scrambles to put himself together. Just in time to see nearby moonshots with the backup landing. He is safe. Well, at least from death. Jack’s scolding is another matter. And with a frown on his face and a blink of utter exhaustion he descends into darkness.
Rhys is messaging with Yvette (yes, they are a room apart, but new questions pop up every few minutes and they have no time to waste on walking) about another management crisis when a new message pops in his Echo-Eye view:
From: The Broest Bro
The squeak that leaves Rhys is so startling August jumps from his place next to him.
Handsome Jack strutting into the room on the other hand leaves the blond man unfazed.
“Handsome Jack, sir,” August nods while Rhys tries to get his brain in order.
Those multicolored eyes stare straight at Rhys.
“Speechless, cupcake?” The Hero of Pandora teases with a smirk, sauntering right to the desk. The CEO desk. With the CEO chair, that Rhys is currently sitting in.
“S-sir!” He stutters out, scrambling to get up and free the yellow chair for the man, but before he can stand up fully Handsome Jack jumps over the desk, placing himself on the edge and pushing Rhys down into the chair.
“Now, now, pumpkin, you just lay back and think of Hyperion. So, blondie, what do you think, was he a baaad boy?”
August shrugs casually.
“Well, he did learn some secrets.”
Rhys feels betrayed, even if they knew each other for only a day. He thought August would be on his side!
“Is that so? You should be careful, Rhysie, knowledge can be dangerous.” Jack’s legs swing merrily from the desk, but his tone gets lower.
Rhys feels nauseous, but at the same time a trickle of anger starts becoming a river. Him knowing the situation was the crucial part of saving Timothy. He stares straight into Handsome Jack’s eyes.
“Everything on Hyperion can be dangerous. What matters is what you do with the knowledge, sir.”
“And what did you do, hmmm?”
“A damn good job.”
That startles a laugh from the man in front of him and… is that August laughing too?
“I like you, you have balls. Stars, you might yet live through Jack’s interrogation.” Jack wheezes through laughter.
Wait, Jack? Rhys blinks and takes the figure in front of him in. Bandages on the left hand, a very un-Jack smile on his face… Oh.
“You! You are…!”
“He is a bastard.” August rolls his eyes at them.
“Yeah, sorry for this, man.” Timothy smiles sheepishly at the younger male. “Wanted to see how much interference with Jack I will have to run, to, like, not have a man that saved my life killed.” He jumps off the desk. ”But it seems you can hold your own.” He professes his hand for Rhys to shake. “Nice to meet you, I’m Timothy, you can call me Tim. And, uh, that was a pretty nice save there. I’m not really fond of dying, so thanks.”
Rhys sinks into the chair like a deflated balloon.
“After this one day I think I will age several years.”
“I hear you, man.” Timothy pats his shoulder comfortingly. “At least nobody tried to kill you today.”
Rhys puts his head in his hands morosely.
“You see, it’s a funny story…”
Rhys rubs his forehead, dreading the mounting headache, while he listens to the head of Biotech Department simper about numbers and graphs. The whole presentation could be summed up with “We are doing poorly, but it’s because we don’t have enough money”. What an idiot.
His agony is cut by August entering with an apology.
“Sir, I know you asked to not be interrupted, but I think you should… you have to look at that.”
The blonde man looks nervous; it’s a new look on him, he always seems so confident. This had to be a matter of urgency.
He turns to the executive, who scowls openly at being interrupted.
“Look.” Rhys starts with a heavy voice. “Those charts you are showing me? Utter bullshit. I agree your department is lacking funds, but it’s only because you are constantly siphoning them into one of your private accounts.”
The man splutters, but Rhys doesn’t have time for this charade.
“Which I have proof of,” he continues, unfazed. “So listen to me carefully here. You stole 30 million over the last 3 years. I’m giving you six months to pay that back to the company. As I’m not unreasonable you can pay the sum back with your money, or with a rise in profit margin from your department. If the department’s improvement and your… donations… won’t give the company back what you stole, I have set an automated system that will send the proof of your deeds in 6 months’ time straight to Handsome Jack. And that would be… unfortunate for you, won’t you agree?”
The man is shaking, eyes terrified.
“No, no! Please, sir… don’t send anything to Handsome Jack! He would kill me on the spot.”
“If you are lucky,” Rhys agrees.
“I will do as you say! I promise!” The man practically runs out the door. Rhys doesn’t know if the guy will try to pay back the money, or if he will catch the next shuttle somewhere far away, but it is out of his hands now.
He can concentrate on more pressing matters, like August who looks definitely unsettled.
“What’s the matter?” Rhys asks softly.
The blond man steps up to the desk and leans on it heavily.
“A transport from Pandora came in. With new prisoners.” He says flatly, not looking at the temporary CEO.
“We keep prisoners on the station?”
“Only those that Handsome Jack wants to… personally talk to. They are scheduled for interrogation today, that’s why I caught this. Sir… Rhys… I know I shouldn’t get mixed in it. I know YOU shouldn’t get mixed in it, but… I know those people.” His voice cracks a little. “And I don’t want them to die.”
Rhys remembers the story August had told him, about how he came to work for Hyperion; betrayed by his family and his companions. It probably had to feel like being betrayed by Pandora itself, only to be saved by a stranger with Handsome Jack’s face..
Thus, seeing him caring about a duo of Pandorans Rhys he sees in the report he just pulled up holds weight; there has to be something good about his memories of the two girls. Slowly, the story spills out when Rhys indicates he is at least willing to listen.
“When we first met they tried to rob me blind. And nearly succeeded. Gods I was so stupid then. It was only by helluva lot of luck I discovered something was fishy with the deal they offered, but they managed to run off with half of my money anyway. I spent the next two weeks tracking them down, knowing I would be a laughingstock for my… family…” He spat the word out “...if any of this came to light, so I didn’t let up for a moment. And here they were, finally, and look at that; nearly to be eaten by some monsters. I could just wait and let them eat the frickin’ troublemakers…”
“But you couldn’t.” Rhys nods, understanding.
“No, I blasted couldn’t. I rushed in like an idiot to save the day. Nearly got eaten myself but between the three of us and my convenient stack of ammo we somehow managed to live through it. I was pretty banged up so they got me to one of their friends to let me recuperate. They even paid me back, sorta. The girls worked on my car with their mechanic friend while we were there and got me some sweet upgrades. We became friends, well, as well as a gang member and a pair of grifters down on Pandora could. And gods, maybe I should tell you my whole life story now?“ He groans, rubbing his face. “It’s the second time in a day I’m having a heart-to-heart with you, what’s up with that? My point is: could you at least take a look at what’s going on with them? As far as I know they are too intelligent to piss Hyperion off on purpose.”
Rhys looks mournfully at the long list of departments that will have to wait with their presentations. Always something. He understands Handsome Jack’s stress levels better now.
“Alright then, let me get some more info first and then we will make a visit.”
The cell has one of those fancy translucent energy shields keeping anyone from going in or out. In a small act of mercy, they kept the sisters together. The one with the hat, Fiona, is sitting motionless with stapled fingers, while her sister, Sasha, is pacing the cell like a caged tiger.
Fiona sees him first and she stops her sisters pacing with a careful hand, nodding toward the newcomer. August stays just behind a corner, hidden as promised, while Rhys saunters to the energy shield “window”. There are two guards posted at the ends of the row of cells and Rhys addresses them:
“Leave us, please.” One of the guards looks like he would like to object, but the other one gets moving with a quick “Sir”. The other one follows after.
Rhys can see a quick look of confusion crossing the face of the younger girl, but it is quickly replaced with a smile.
“Hey cutie, what are you doing here?” She chirps at him.
Ah, grifters. Two could play this game.
He smiles sheepishly and rubs the back of his neck.
“Ah, you see… I overheard something about you two… are you… really from Pandora?”
“Born and raised!” Sasha points a proud finger at herself.
“Wow,” Rhys exhales excitedly. “You even look badass.”
“What? Didn’t see a Pandoran before?” Fiona huffs.
“Well, there are a few Pandorans on the station, but it’s like… a difference between domesticated cats and wild ones. You two are like tigers, or maybe panthers.” Those species lived only on some of the Edens, but he thinks the pair before him got the gist of what he was saying.
“It’s a shame we are caged then, mmm?” Sasha purrs.
Rhys lets himself be transfixed for a moment, taking a step closer to the barrier.
“Yes… yes, it is.” He looks to the side as if ashamed and says to them quietly. “Would you tell me how is it to live on Pandora? You must have plenty of amazing stories.”
They regal him with stories made of 50% lies and 49% exaggeration, but even the 1% he suspects was true is impressive. Sasha concentrates on flirting with him, while Fiona asks leading questions to get as much info as she can. Some things Rhys doesn’t lie about, like his age, or what his Echo-eye can do (Sasha flirts even harder after learning he would actually be very useful for potential escape assist), but on other matters, like his position, he can’t be as truthful. After some time of this back-and-forth he finally asks:
“And what happened to get you two here?”
What follows is 100% bullshit.
He frowns at them. Looking somewhere between upset and embarrassed and mumbles:
“That’s not true.”
“What do you…”
“I wasn’t joking when I told you what I can do with my EchoEye. Mission Report 145278B Collateral: Five guards dead, one dead and one injured medic, destroyed medical supplies…” He starts to recite from the report his EchoEye provided.
The girls tense and Rhys sighs.
“Look, I want to help you, but I can’t do that if I don’t know what happened. From what I can see here those medical supplies were going to the workers at the Eridium mines, where an outbreak of some virus started, and those could save lives. Thinking you could have something to do with that doesn’t really make me want to save you. Feel free to try to change my mind and tell me the real story. And if something doesn’t match some of the facts I can see here… I’m gone.”
The prolonged look the girls share speaks volumes. In small twitches and tilts of the head they seem to communicate and come to an agreement.
“The job we were on was supposed to be easy; go in, copy data, destroy the computer after we did so, go out. No contact with Hyperion planned. No casualties either. The company goons took over one of the bandit bases and made a provisional camp there. As we now know for a medical convoy that was passing that way. We suspect one of the Fast Travels in the region was sabotaged on purpose to get them to camp there. They were cut off from one part of the base, but they didn’t bother to try to force their way in, since their stay was only temporary. We were contracted to sneak in and copy some data from the computer in the cut off part. Our employer gave us a map with a secret tunnel going to the main computer, so we were not expecting any contact with the Hyperion troops to be made. We know that messing with them is dangerous, but we thought our little stunt wouldn’t even get enough attention to send anyone after us.” Fiona explains.
“But that fucking pig tricked us. It was supposed to be only a small explosion! You know, to blast the mainframe, so nobody could access the data. We were told it’s power was about 1 meter of radius. As it was, we nearly got buried alive in the secret tunnel, about 100 meters from the explosion, it was so strong,” Sasha continues.
“Uh… so you didn’t check the explosives?”
“How? We didn’t have any specialised equipment with us and we got it in a case with a fingerprint recognition lock. And we didn’t want to mess with it, because, you know, it was Pandoran explosives, probably homemade; it’s risky to even stand next to those things.”
“But if it was only a small case of explosives…. I mean I can think of some substances that would make a huge explosion even when in such a small form, but those cost a lot of money and are generally unavailable on Pandora… I think?”
“Yeah, you are right. The explosives they gave us were more powerful than we were told, but not powerful enough to destroy half the camp. That was the doing of the slag barrels in the ventilation system. Somebody prepared for this and made a perfect domino chain reaction with one explosion after another. They just needed the initial explosion… which they probably didn’t want to risk doing remotely with Hyperion watching. Or maybe it was just easier to send a pair of idiots to do their dirty work.”
“We also refused a few more… hardcore jobs from the Raiders before, so they might have thought we are against them or something.” Fiona adds.
“Are you? And who are those Raiders?” Rhys asks with a frown.
“Crimson Raiders, another bunch of self-proclaimed heroes, who think they will save Pandora from Handsome Jack. Good guys, or well. It started that way. They made this kind of safe haven city, called Sanctuary, on one of the mining ships Dahl left behind. Tried to help people with bandits or monsters, even had a few successful stand-offs with Hyperion. But some time ago, the whole city rose into the air to protect itself from Handsome Jack and, I dunno, teleported or something. Since then they are almost solely focused on working against Hyperion. I heard that you could get kicked out of there for being too brutal just a few years ago, but it seems they don’t have such high standards anymore.”
“Yeah.” Sasha snorts. “Seeing as this whole mess was their doing.”
“Ah, I see. So, the Crimson Raiders were the contractor.” Rhys comments, searching for more info about them. “Working with Vault Hunters, are they?”
“Yeah, mostly Lilith, but some others too.”
“If you ask me, that bitch, Lilith, is getting more and more crazy and that’s why Crimson Raiders are doing fucked up things now.” Sasha crosses her arms, scoffing. “We got the job from one of the Lieutenants, but I think she got her orders from higher up.”
“I see.” Rhys nods, cataloguing all the info he was given.
“So you see we didn’t want to cause any damage to Hyperion, or to the workers in the Eridium mines. You believe us, right?” Sasha asks, serious for once.
“I do, in fact.” Rhys agrees.
“So let us go. You know it’s the right thing to do.” Fiona implores him.
“Letting you go now? No. It’s definitely not the right thing to do.”
The sisters freeze.
“Not if I want you to actually live.” He rolls his eyes. “Do you think Handsome Jack wouldn’t hunt you through the galaxy if you just vanished from his prison? And you know where he would start? You usually work in a group of three, hmm?”
“You bastard!” Sasha slams her fist into the side of the cell.
“Are you threatening Felix?!” Fiona hisses at him.
“I’m just telling you what would inevitably happen. Unless you make a deal.”
Fiona throws up her hands.
“I knew we couldn’t trust you. Of-fucking-course!”
“Do you really think we will make a deal with Handsome Jack?” Sasha sneers at him. She looks quite lovely when she’s angry.
“Handsome Jack? Nah. But you have one-in-a-lifetime chance to make a deal with me.” Rhys smiles. “Nice to meet you. I’m Rhys Strongfork, Hyperion CEO.”
“You…!” Sasha starts to full-on laugh, while her sister just looks deadpan.
“I would believe what he says.” A new voice adds, and the prisoners turn sharply to look at the newcomer.
“August, working to have us killed now, I see.” Fiona scowls at him, while her younger sister just looks betrayed.
Rhys stares at them in bewilderment.
“Uh, kinda the opposite. Are you sure you want me to save them, August?” He starts slowly. “No offence, but they don’t seem to act like friends I would like to have.”
August rolls his eyes.
“They’re just idiots who probably believed everything my dear mother told others to justify trying to off me.” At their surprised looks he snorts. “Or maybe she didn’t bother to mention that? Well, we can get back to my sad story later, I kinda reached the limit for reliving that pile of shit for now. Back to the point. Rhys, yes, I want you to save those dumbasses. Girls, yes, this Danger Noodle is, in fact, the CEO.”
Rhys rolls his eyes hard at the nickname (thank you Handsome Jack).
Sasha looks as if she wants to question their friend some more about his past, but her sister throws a challenge.
“Yeah? You are full of shit August.”
He only grins at her.
“Yeah, I knew the hands-on approach would be needed. Boss?”
Rhys’ EchoEye flickers with activity and the field around the cell blinks and deactivates.
“Welcome to Helios, ladies. Let’s talk over some food like civilised people.”
It’s quite surreal, Fiona thinks as she puts another forkful of food in her mouth. She doesn’t know what is more unbelievable; how good this food tastes, or how they just waltzed out of prison, with guards saluting this Rhys guy. After walking through the Hall of Hyperion and seeing all the looks – full of envy, admiration, lust – directed at the young man, she believes now that he indeed has a position of power. Also, that he is a total dork.
Fiona barely holds her moans, threatening to spill at the deliciousness of the food, at bay, but Rhys has no such restraint. Apparently, the dishes they were served are something special even on Helios and the sounds the young man makes are truly pornographic.
Good thing there’s nobody else than the four of them to hear those. Rhys used his CEO privileges to get them into a special dining room, in one of Helios’ best restaurants, that's conveniently separated from all the other guests. Fortunate, as it leaves them room to talk.
Yeah. Just after this delicious salmon salad. And the freshly baked buns. And the smoothie. Yeeeah.
“Is this how you are planning to lure us into cooperating? Because, fuck, it’s working,” Sasha sighs between the bites. “Is that how they got you August?”
“Nah. They just proved they have my back.” August is leaning back in his chair, hands behind his head. “And you know, I’m not eating like that every day. But I will take boring employee cafeteria meals on Helios, over starving on Pandora. Which brings me to the whole discussion we should be having. Choices. You have them, but I see only one that won’t get you hunted by Hyperion or outright killed.”
Rhys nods, taking over the topic.
“The only way Handsome Jack won’t kill you is if you prove to be too useful to just off you.”
“So what? Shall we become some Hyperion rats? Get a desk job? I don’t think we have many qualifications that would be useful here. Unless you’re thinking about something more in line of what August is doing?” Fiona inquired.
“Uh, kinda, but not?” The blond man smirks. ”Definitely not a desk job though. More like a lot of moving around and grifting, but like, in space instead of on Pandora. Hyperion has bases on many planets and dealings with nearly everyone in this corner of the Galaxy. We could use a mobile covert team for some of the more delicate tasks.”
“Delicate? Like assassinations?” Fiona asks sharply.
“Uh, bad phrasing. Delicate as some spying, grifting, information gathering. Maybe acting as a go-between with some groups after you establish yourself. But the main idea is having someone who isn’t known as Hyperion, who doesn’t look Hyperion, who doesn’t like Hyperion.”
“So, nobody would expect us to work for you. Huh. Standard grifting technique.”
“As you know Rhys is the CEO only for one day, but if we send you on your way before Handsome Jack gets the reins back… I believe either his sense of curiosity or pragmatism will stop him from sending somebody after you right away. He will keep an eye on the situation and get rid of you only if you can’t prove your usefulness. He will probably give you a month or so… Which I believe is enough for you to get some juicy info.”
“Probably.” Sasha agrees. “Even if I don’t know those other planets, I can imagine Handsome Jack’s enemies would flock to any Pandorans, since we are known as the dirt under his boot.”
“And that’s what would work.” Rhys smiles. “Deep cover, where you can still be known as Hyperion-hating grifters. We have some missions for you for the first month, so you have a contract with Hyperion to show to the boss and get some results, but later you could pick and choose where to go, or which information to share or not to share. You would act as freelancers; as long as you provide useful info from time to time, I believe you will be left alone, and the incident will be eventually forgotten.”
“Also,” August winks at them “there’s the money.”
The girls’ eyes widen a little at the mention of money and August continues:
“I believe we could swing it so you two would end up under my jurisdiction. And what you grifted off me when we first met is peanuts compared to what I can throw at you now. Good information means good money. Good enough you could take Felix with you on your journeys after some time. And Fiona, Sasha… I know Pandora is your home, but just… just try it, ok? When you are off this blasted planet you suddenly realise life doesn’t have to be as hard as you always imagined it to be.”
The sisters go silent for a moment, their hands connecting with each other’s, clutching hard. They don’t have to look at one another to know.
“Okay,” Fiona whispers.
“Guess we are Hyperion dogs now,” Sasha sighs.
“Now, now ladies.” Rhys waves his hand and smiles “I think we already established you two are cats!”
Rhys gains a new understanding of Handsome Jack’s attitude with each interaction with Hyperion’s upper echelon, when he listens to the department reports. So far only the Sustainability department truly impressed him. Really turning shit into gems, those people. Rhys ups their budget by 20%. The rest though…
Things like embezzlement are to be expected and, as Rhys found out, a fraud margin was actually accounted for in Hyperion’s profit/loss prognosis, but h-o-n-e-s-t-l-y. The 30 million guy from before was not the only one who took too much even by Hyperion standards. And many of them didn’t just skim from the top of the profits, no, they actively worked to make money only for themselves, which resulted in many plans that would explode in the company’s proverbial face years later, or endanger the workers, or even worse, the research and weapons.
Rhys uses a mix of threats (if the containment centre really doesn’t leak radiation, then you won’t mind staying in it for the next three months, hmmm?) and incentives (the enclosures we are remodelling should last for many years to come, but I know you plan to retire next year. Hyperion will grant you a bonus every year, if the enclosure incident rate stays below an approved margin, even after you retire) to straighten things out a little. He can’t fix everything in one day, but by stars does he try. For some cases he decides on just informing Handsome Jack in his report and let him deal with it, but others he just cannot leave alone, when he sees such incompetence. There are some bright sparks between the rubble and interesting ideas are floated his way, but mostly it’s mind-numbingly boring, since Rhys doesn’t really have time to dwell on the more interesting parts of research, engineering or weapons manufacturing and has to focus mostly on the mundane stuff, like numbers.
‘I’m running out of time and there’s still so much to do!”, Rhys thinks a bit desperately. Granted, he and his immediate and extended team did what they could; no one slept a wink this night and continued through the morning, sifting through all the issues they could catch, but will Handsome Jack see this effort as enough?
Being unsure about when his reign will officially end is not helping. The lunch hour is getting closer, so the promised 24 hours have to be nearly up. He sends another report to Meg, who is a marvel, and agreed to compile everything in one neat Handsome Jack tailored package, and starts on the next report when there is a sound of an opening door.
After raising his head to greet whoever has come, Rhys frowns, because the front door is not open? He’s probably too tired and hearing things.
“BANG!” somebody shouts from the side.
Rhys screams like a banshee and thanks all the gods that the windows looking at Elpis are practically unbreakable, because he rams into them pretty hard when he rolls backwards on his throne-chair in shock.
“Ha! I think this makes us even, cupcake,” Handsome Jack winks, still pointing his finger guns at him.
“I should have expected that,” Rhys wheezes, clutching at his heart. “You and Timothy are the same, enjoying scaring the shit out of me!”
His boss stares at him, then erupts in raucous laughter.
“Same… as… Tim-Tams! I can’t… aHaHA!” Rhys can only watch as the man doubles over, unable to contain his laughter. “I think… I think it’s the first time somebody said I’m like Timothy EVER! Ooooh, good one, pumpkin, good one!”
A frown appears on Rhys’ face. He is aware he’s probably digging his own grave, but...
“Well, isn’t it true? You both like to see people jump… sir?”
Yea, true, true! But see, buttercup,” Handsome Jack saunters over to him and drapes one arm around his shoulders, half leaning on the chair. “If anyone, out of the few people in the know, is ballsy enough to compare us they compare HIM to ME. Not the other way around.”
“Oh,” Rhys realizes his mistake. Original, copy, right. He thinks he should be more nervous, but apparently spending the last 24 hours on high alert desensitised him a bit. “To be fair, at this point I spent more time talking with Timothy than with you, sir.”
“Huh, so you did. Well, let’s change that! So, tell me kid, what fun did you have being the overlord for the last day?”
“Well, sir, I endeavoured to help as much as I could, so that Hyperion would profit from my, ah, overlording, as much as possible, I can show you some of the reports I have on hand and Meg will have the compilation for you in an hour, but I can summarise some points… All the departments-”
“Wait, wait, wait, let me stop you there, kiddo. I asked what FUN you had, not about the super boooring stuff. In theory I’m still on vacation for the next half an hour or so. Do you want to bore me with reports on my VACATION?” The older man asks in a dangerous tone, spitting the word reports like it was the foulest thing in the universe.
Rhys squeaks and puts his hands up.
“N-no! Of course not! Haha!” He laughs weakly, furiously searching for anything fun from the last 24 hours he could tell Handsome Jack about. Oh, he knew a few things Jack would consider fun, like killing the assassination mastermind, but could Rhys really sell that while he was closer to crying than laughing at the thought of what he did? Nope, let’s try something else.
“Well, I got revenge on my nemesis, Hugo Vasquez.”
“Ooooh? Whatchya do? Spill, you nerd. Wait... Hugo Vasquez, I think I remember that name from somewhere… Pull up a photo, sugarpea. Hmmm… did I like, fire him or something? Spit on him maybe? Or… oh! OH! Hahahaha! That HAIR! He’s trying to fake being handsome so hard! Looks like he invested the money I stuck to his head when I was bored and he was working in… mailroom, or something? ...and got himself some hair plugs! He was nearly bald as an egg the last I remember seeing him. What a LOSER!”
“Wut… you mean that’s not his natural hair???”
“Fakest of the fake, kiddo.”
“Stars above, sir, you have given me a gift. This will be a crown jewel in the saga of getting one over Assquez. So now, let me tell you what I have managed to do so far.”
When Rhys comes down to the Coding and Data Mining Department he is greeted with a round of applause; oh, there are some half-hidden sneers and jealous stares, but at the end of the day, it has to make them all proud, that Handsome Jack, a programmer himself, would pick one of their kind to lead the company, even for a day. He smiles, and promises to get them a new, better coffee machine. That round of applause is much more honest. Vasquez is nowhere to be found in the mass of gawking people, but before he can ask, one of the coders he had previously worked with nods towards one of the conference rooms.
“He’s in there.”
When Rhys goes into the conference room and shuts the door firmly behind himself, it becomes obvious that Vasquez picked this place to wait for him. The dark-haired man sits nonchalantly at the end of the table, facing the door.
“Hello, Rhys,” the man greets him with a steady, deep voice.
“Vasquez,” Rhys delivers flatly.
“Or should I say: President Rhys?” The perfectly manicured fingers that Vasquez brings up for a nonchalant inspection tremble a little.
“Rhys is enough. I don’t think you need a reminder of my position, right?” He walks close up to the older man, leaning with his hip against the edge of the table, casually dragging the edge of his jacket back to show the gun he got from Handsome Jack in it’s new black and red holster.
The apple in Vasquez’s neck bobs nervously, as he swallows, but his eyes fix on the weapon and go wide.
“Oh. My. God. It’s the Flame of Fame!” Vasquez nearly flails, his excited voice surprising Rhys, because, hello, he was going for intimidation here?
“Custom-made, the red paint was mixed with the blood of Handsome Jack’s enemies, it has 8 rounds, silver quick reloading time, 40% chance of the victim getting on fire and a proven kill of 128 and counting!” Vasquez nearly trembles with excitement and has to visibly hold himself back from reaching for the gun. “And you… you were given it, by Handsome Jack himself. Found worthy.” Stars shine in the gaze directed at Rhys.
It is… deeply uncomfortable to get sudden admiration from your sworn enemy, but before Rhys decides what to do with this revelation the man continues:
“I suppose I can accept it if it’s with Flame of Fame…” The man says softly, probably to himself, but Rhys catches it anyway.
“What are you talking about?” The cybernetic man frowns at him.
“Well, you killing me of course.” The older man rolls his eyes with an implied “duh”. Apparently, his attitude is returning. “But I have a last request… can you tell me about meeting Handsome Jack first? What was he like in person? You know… I thought that getting higher in the hierarchy will mean meeting him more often, getting closer, but I actually got more attention from him when I was running the mailroom than now… So, how did you do it?”
“I know what you are talking about… Up until now my only interaction with Handsome Jack was him spitting on me… As for how I did it: luck, I guess.” Rhys shrugs. “And apparently being good at finger gun fights.” He hesitates a moment, but continues. ”I can understand wanting to be as close as possible to him, I… I can’t believe what’s happening today… this, this is like a dream, Vasquez.”
They share a smile, understanding each other perfectly in this moment.
“So, let’s go.” Rhys starts walking towards the door.
The expression on Vasquez’s face can only be described as betrayed.
“But you didn’t tell me anything!” he whines.
“Oh, I just think you will like seeing Handsome Jack’s office and his private collection better, hmm?”
Vasquez practically runs out of the door, towards his own death.
There are tears in Vasquez’s eyes. Rhys is certain they have nothing to do with the looming death threat and all to do with the one-and-only Handsome Jack’s private collection of weird things. In comparison Rhys is all composed; he got all his fanboying out when he first walked into the office, with August in tow (there were some embarrassing scenes there), and now he can pretend not to be affected, like a champ.
Vaughn and Yvette are sending him disapproving glances; not because he’s doing something wrong per se, but they just don’t have time for this, there are still so many things to do and would he get it on? Vasquez has to notice the stares too and finally, after about ten minutes, he sighs, tearing his reverent gaze off the display, rights his tie in a nervous gesture and proclaims:
“I’m ready.” He moves from the front of the display case to the middle of the room, where there is less chance of one of the office’s precious artefacts to be destroyed and squeezes his eyes shut. “Just… just promise me you will use the Flame of Fame, yeah?” He stammers.
Vaughn and Yvette stare at them in shock, while Rhys bursts out laughing.
“So-sorry can’t do that.” He says between the wheezes of laughter. “Since you’re, you know, not dying today.”
His Nemesis tenses like a bowstring, snapping open his eyes. He’s shaking with rage.
“So you are planning to do something worse than death to me, then?” He bites out, fist clenched at his sides. “You pathetic little scumbag.”
“Well, it’s a matter of perspective. You may think it’s worse than death.” Rhys shrugs and straightens up, face serious. “Hugo Vasquez, I want you to work for me.”
“Ohohoho! That’s good, Rhysie!” Handsome Jack proclaims when Rhys finishes his recounting.
“Thank you, sir.”, Rhys demurs.
“Call me Jack, pumpkin. So, what else didya do? Bought yourself a villa on Aquator? One of those shiny supercars? Hired some world class strippers?”
Rhys blanches. “N-no, I wouldn’t, sir- um, Jack!”
The CEO looks at him like he’s stupid.
“No? Are you trying to tell me, you sat in the best chair in the universe for a whole day and you didn’t use your “money can get you anything” superpowers to buy, well, anything?!”
“Well, I did eat in your super fancy restaurant… and bought myself some software upgrades for my EchoEye and my arm...” Rhys says defensively.
“Rhysie, pumpkin, cupcake, buttercup, you absolute moron.” Jack has a look of suffering on his masked face. “You could have just bought a new super tech arm, instead of settling for an upgrade that gave you, what, 2% optimisation?”
“I… don’t actually know, I didn’t install it yet.”
Jack throws his arms up, with a noise of utter defeat.
“I can’t even with you right now, kiddo. This conversation officially went into the “I need pizza to deal with this” territory!” He leans and presses one of the buttons on the desk. “And look, I want pizza, and here’s my frickin’ pizza!” Jack exclaims when a pizza falls from the ceiling on his command.
Rhys is suitably impressed.
“Wow, that smells like… happiness and garlic.”
“Amrite? Never let anyone tell you that you can’t buy happiness. So stuff your face, kiddo and let Jack whip you up a new arm.”
“Whu-? You’re gonna order a new arm for me?”
“Yuuup. Keep up, kiddo! Now, let’s add some guns…”
Rhys chokes on his pizza.
“Excuse me??? No, let’s not add some guns!”
“Oh come on, cupcake, it will be awesome. You will be able to kill a whole squad of bandits with this thing!”
“I don’t use it for killing! It’s optimized for working with data! Programming! Office work!”
“Uh-huh. Fiery 21 would look badass even on a nerd like you. Let’s put the ‘Danger’ in the ‘Danger Noodle’!”.
Rhys crosses his arms with a grim face.
“No. It’s my arm. You have no say in it.”
“Excuse you, what did you just say?”
Timothy knows that, even after years of playing Jack, most of the time he cannot guess what the man would do. So he expects to see many things when he enters the office - Rhys dead, Jack showing off his collection, even the two of them having monkey sex on that godsforsaken chair - but he never expects to see Jack and Rhys arguing like a goddamn married couple.
There are at least ten holograms with various data and blueprints hovering over the desk, the casing on Rhys’ robo-hand is off and Jack is gesturing wildly, with a tiny screwdriver in his hand, having an animated conversation with the younger man. Who doesn’t give an inch.
“I said titanium plates and that’s final. I don’t care, even if you invented a new element, Jack!”
“That’s like buying a last year Echo! Ugh, so boring!”
“I want to have a functional arm, you duffus, not an experimental one!”
“Well, your current one is functional and it’s absolute shit! I’m not going to settle for getting you anything less than the best, cupcake.”
“Getting me? Huh? Where did the ‘oh Rhysie, you have the power to get anything!’ go?” Rhys mocks with a high-pitched voice. Then he scowls and pulls some of the holograms to his hand display. After a second the display changes to ‘order sent’. “It is me who just got myself the arm.”
Jack gapes at him.
“Rude. I wasn’t done!” The most powerful man in the whole galaxy sulks and, Tim notices, does not space the kid.
Is this the right moment to butt in? Probably not, but Timothy does so anyway.
“Actually, I think it still is Jack who got you the arm, since you are no longer CEO as of fifteen minutes ago and neither of you seems to have noticed.”
“Ha, got you!”
“Oh, shut up, Jack.”
“Now, butt off my chair. Ooh, I have missed you, baby!” Handsome Jack singsongs to his throne chair, patting it lovingly after practically shoving Rhys off it.
Rhys rights himself and blushes, waving dorkily at Tim.
“Uh, hi Tim!”
Jack springs back up, walks over to his double and throws an arm around him, winking at Rhys.
“Double the Handsomeness, baby!”
“Uh oh, right, so we are done, so I gotta… g-go…”
Jack looks at the stammering mess of a cupcake in delight. Tim just rolls his eyes. He knows how they look for a fanboy. Leave it to the Hero of Pandora to enjoy overloading the poor guy's brain.
“Now, now, aren’t you forgetting something? Or like, many things actually. Man, you are a mess.” The Hyperion Overlord tuts at Rhys.
Tim decides to forgo the teasing and help the poor soul.
“The gun, Rhys.”
Rhys pulls the gun out so fast it nearly falls from his hand and presents it to Jack.
“Well, at least you used it. Although if that’s how you handle it, it's a wonder you didn’t kill yourself with it, kiddo.” Jack comments drily, taking the weapon and holstering it. He gestures to the desk, various elements of the casing still strewn about. “And I hear it’s rude to leave parts of yourself behind. So, as I’m the one that broke you, let me put it in, baby, and make you complete again.” He purrs suggestively.
Rhys honest to gods squeaks.
Timothy snorts with suppressed laughter.
“Should I leave you two to it? Wait, no, I shouldn’t. Jack, we have people waiting for us remember?”
“Yeah, yeah. Get the nerd’s friends and meet us at the private hangar.” Jack waves him off, already tinkering with Rhys’ arm.
August doesn't know why Meg ordered him to the private hangar, but he has his suspicions. He waltzes in and here they are; Rhys’ friends and Handsome Jack. Of course, it has something to do with them. He thought everything would go back to normal now, but apparently fat chance of that happening.
“Look who decided to grace us with his presence!” Handsome Jack… no, that’s Tim, yup, Timothy says.
“Reporting for duty… or whatever you are planning, sir.” He doesn’t do anything as ridiculous as saluting but keeps his tone professional. After all, Rhys is the only one of the trio of friends to know about the doppelganger.
“Hmmm… a couple more and we can get this show on the road, kiddos! Oh, here they are!” Timothy enthuses and August has a front row to watch Yvette’s and Vaughn’s jaws drop when they see a second Jack escorting Rhys.
The one and only true Handsome Jack gives the floored pair an annoyed look.
“Yeah, yeah, prepare for trouble and make it double. Get over it and get in. We can talk on the ship, kiddos.”
August follows dutifully even though he is starting to sweat. They know now. That usually means only one of two things: being in the know for good or being in the ground (or space) for good. He catches Tim’s look and the double shakes his head. He doesn’t know which one it is either.
Everyone piles into a beautifully designed and upholstered ship and Handsome Jack spends a few seconds at the terminal, putting in their destination, before plumping down on a plush sofa on one side of the cabin. There’s a ton of space to his sides, but nobody seems to be hurrying to sit there. The tension spirals until Handsome Jack claps his hands loudly and breaks it, making everyone jump.
“So! We have a few things to address here, like civilised people or something, ugh. First, Timothy, nerds, nerds, Timothy. I don’t need to say this stays hush-hush, hmm? So, now that the pleasantries are over… Remember how I said your pet will always be a bandit, Tim?” August flinches, but Jack looks only at Timothy. “Remember, Tim-tams? And you said - ha! - you said he will be loyal, hardworking, nice to look at - yeah, don’t think I forgot that one - and while I agree with the last one, being a connoisseur of fine butts that I am, I have a bit more trouble with the loyalty part, yanno? Like, I’m sorry, sugarpea, but FREEING PANDORANS FROM MY GODDAM PRISON doesn’t really spell loyalty to me.”
Timothy looks at August, spooked. “W-what?”
Handsome Jack turns to him as well.
“And what, you thought I wouldn’t know about it, huh? HUH? I only started reading the whole backlog of reports, but this story got my blood boiling preeetty quick.”
August cringes, because talking his way out of things? Not his best skill.
“So, talk fast, or I’m going to kill you. No, actually, you know what? Timothy is going to kill you.” The CEO says in a deadly voice.
August takes a breath in to say something, anything, he knew it could end like this, but he has to at least try -
But there are two voices already talking over each other.
“Jack, calm down, I’m sure there’s an explanation-” Timothy starts.
“I - fuck this, bro, you can take my sock collection - it was me who freed them!” Rhys yells and the room gets deadly quiet. Everybody is staring at the string bean of a man.
“I’m taking full responsibility, Handsome Jack, s-sir.” Rhys is shaking now. “But! But we did not try to conceal anything from you. And - please, hear me out - if you only started reading the reports and you didn’t read anything new when you were with me just now… You should have gotten the full report from Meg at the end of the 24 hours and it should include the one I wrote about this whole ordeal. And it’s not as bad as it looks, I promise! Ha… haha… ha!”
Timothy took quick action and whipped out his Echo, finding the report in record time.
“Yup! Here it is! See, Jack? No lying from my totally loyal minion!”
He presents the Echo to the CEO who takes it with no less intense scowl than before.
“You. Military report. Now.” Handsome Jack commands August and somehow the familiar territory makes it easier to start speaking.
“Two Pandorans captured two days ago, shipped in for interrogation yesterday. Presumed hostile terrorists due to an attack on a Hyperion medical convoy that resulted in multiple immediate casualties and loss of medical supplies that would prevent many deaths. Interrogation revealed the Pandoran sisters, Sasha and Fiona, did not intend to attack Hyperion and were tricked to do so by Crimson Raiders. The suspects were hired to collect data from a desolate bandit camp and plant explosives to destroy the camp’s servers. They were not close enough to the Hyperion squad to do any damage in normal circumstances. They had no way of knowing they were being used by the Crimson Raiders who rigged the bomb with extremely strong explosives and planted slag barrels in the ventilation systems to achieve a domino effect that reached the Hyperion troops. It was concluded their actions were supposed to be non-violent and not geared towards Hyperion. Additionally, Crimson Raiders, an enemy of Hyperion, become their enemy as well. It was decided that the optimal action would be to use the sisters for Hyperion gain. To that effect putting their grifter skills and Pandoran background to use was suggested. An agreement was reached to postpone their death sentences if they prove useful. A deadline of one month for the first transfer of information was reached. A ship and necessary equipment were provided. A leverage in case of failure, in a form of Pandoran relative, was acknowledged.”
August feels like he delivered this monologue in only one breath, so he takes a wheezing breath when he is finished. Handsome Jack flicks through the report on the Echo, comparing or seeking out further details, finally throwing it on the couch. They feel the turbulence of the ship entering atmosphere, ratcheting the tension higher.
“Huh. This is either the most stupid, or the most… you know what, it’s still incredibly stupid, but I have to give it to you two, you have balls. And if, by some miracle, it works I will have two Pandoran ladies dancing on my leash and if not, I will have a fun hunt to go onto. Huh, not so bad!” Handsome Jack’s demeanour goes cheery. “Allright-o! Not going to kill you then! Unless those sisters betray me, but that would never happen, eh Timothy? And to make this game all square I’m going to make sure you can’t just speak to them and influence their decision and we will revisit this conversation in a month's time. Sound fair? No? I don’t give a fuck, kiddos.” The ship slows down and docks. “Well, here we are! Come now, ducklings, you are a gift!” Handsome Jack sashays to the opening door to the landing pad expecting them to follow.
And of course they do.
“A gift? Are we going to be made into test subjects?” Vaughn hisses to Rhys.
“Please, I can be at least a sex slave.” Yvette snarks in a bout of fatalistic humour.
“Huh, I think we are in Opportunity. I wonder if...” Timothy trails off when they spill out from the ship and see their welcoming committee.
“Angel, baby! I missed you!” Handsome Jack enthusiastically hugs the black-haired girl.
“Dad!” She huffs. “Stop embarrassing me in front of your minions!”
Oooh. August only knows of her existence by necessity of working close with Timothy, but he never met her! Hyperion’s best kept secret!
“My minions? Nope, sweetheart, your minions!”
The girl brightens.
“Does that mean?! But wait, I don’t recognise any of them from the list. Well, I know who Tim and August are, duh, hi guys! But, uh, who are the rest of you folks?”
Handsome Jack gestures to them.
“Nerd number 1 is Rhysie and this is Nerd number 2 and hot chick gal… whose name I suddenly remember because that’s one of a hell of a death stare, wow, I’m impressed Yvette.”
“It’s Vaugh if anybody asks, thanks.” Vaughn mumbles sullenly in the background, but the CEO is already on a roll again.
“I told you yesterday we could chill together because I suddenly got some free time. But I didn’t tell you HOW I got the free time. So, imagine, princess, this beanpole got to be the Hyperion CEO for 24 hours!”
Angel gasps “He finger gunned you?! Ew, that sounded dirty, nevermind... You really did it? I owe Timothy 100 credits then, I thought you would never actually let anybody else touch your company!”
Her blue haired companion, who August identified as the Siren, Maya, snorts.
“THAT sounded dirty as well.”
“Ugh!” The younger girl throws her hands up in defeat, then turns puppy eyes on her father, visibly excited. “You have pictures, right? Press? Reports? Gimme! Gimme!”
“Ha! I can do you one better! I have videos! And you can always ask the kiddos. The extras were helping stringbean here, to manage all this clusterfuck. And you know, Hyperion is still standing, so good job, I guess. Which brings me to my point. Those three had a unique experience of having to manage Hyperion and they got a crush curse on the functioning of my company. They are up to date on all the departments and general matters and, separately and collectively, have the skills you could learn. We can always supplement you with people from the list on a later date, but I think they will do quite nicely for a start.”
“Ohmygods, dad, you don’t have to sell it so hard! Back off, they are mine.” The girl squeals happily, then gets a hold of herself and straightens up, trying to project an aura of professionalism. “I mean, welcome to Opportunity. I’m Angel and this is Maya. So, you three will be staying and working for me.”
“Actually, I’m leaving the whole squad with you for now. Tim, she’s absolutely crap with sniper rifles, so work on that first, m’key? Blondie, there’s probably a lot you can teach her about the dangers of Pandora, so consider it your homework for your next month on lockdown. And believe me, you do want the brownie points for doing a stellar job. Nerds, you do anything she says, unless it’s against my rules. She is the Overlord here.”
Angel covers her face with her hands.
“Can’t I have, like, a normal title?”
“Nope! Overlord is a proper title for a badass like you, daughter-of-mine, the Future CEO of Hyperion! But you see, nerds, we first need to teach Angel how to play the Hyperion game. And that’s where you come in. Management, teamwork, inter-department rivalries and how to use them, accounting, HR, paperwork - I want you to teach her, so that one day she will be ready to be introduced to the world of Hyperion and take it by storm.”
Everyone shares smiles of amazement, hope, elation, some (Rhys) practically vibrating in place with excitement, only August’s lips turn in a grimace of trepidation.
‘Great’, he thinks to himself. ‘Now I have to babysit all of them’.
Soo, I planned it as a one-shot only, but as you see it kinda grew a main plot and some secondary ones as well. I would love to tell you it's an epic series now, but it took me a long time to write even that much, so I don't know if I would be able to write Angel's full arc. So for now, this story is closed, but maybe in the future (if anybody wants that) I will write at least some short stories in this AU.