It was simple, really. Rhys did the talking. Rhys always did the talking. The crew liked him (or at least, was very good at pretending they did), and he was good at the kind of persistent smooth-talking that had gotten Hyperion Trading Company the most sales in this hemisphere, brutal mass-murdering of rivals aside. Vaughn called it “impressive”. Yvette called it “bullshitting”.
Part one was the easiest. The crew ate all at the same time, packed neatly into the mess hall. Rhys made the rounds. Vaughn, his trusty penchant for largely useless data now irreplaceable, supplied the information on each individual member. With it. Rhys was able to smooth talk his way into almost every crew-members pocket.
Almost every crew member.
Which is how they ended up at the head of a jeering crowd, a little too close to the churning waves beneath the ship.
“Come on Vasquez!” They were walking backwards to the wall of the ship, skimming its edge. “I’m sure we can work this out in a more civil way!”
“Yeah, you kind of blew that one, Rhys,” Vasquez smoothed out the front of his Hyperion-issued jacket, a smug smile fixed on his face. “A mutiny? Really? What are we, pirates?”
A trigger-hungry crew member started moving even closer to Vaughn, making him grab hold onto Rhys’ prosthetic arm.
“Rhys! I don’t think we’re talking our way out of this one.”
“I got this, Vaughn,” Rhys grinded out between teeth clenched into a forced smile. “Just...calm down, will you?”
“Calm down? Calm down? I’m about to take a permanent swim and you want me to calm down?”
The ship rocked, sending them both stumbling backwards. Vasquez’s smile widened. In the crowd, Rhys picked out Yvette’s face, bunched in fear. There was nothing she could do, he realized, just as another wave pushed the ship back again, and he rocked forward.
“Sorry to interrupt your little spat,” Vasquez had pulled out his revolver, an expensive, flashy little thing (Just like him). “But, I’m really in a hurry to kill you guys.”
There was a scattering of cheers from the crowd. Rhys felt his stomach drop, and Vaughn tugged harder on his prosthetic arm. Hadn’t he known these people long enough for them to at least feel a little bad? Hadn’t he shared the same bland company food, swindled the same poor villagers, heard the same legends over the same mess hall tables?
“Throw them off! Traitors!”
No, he supposed. He really hadn’t.
“Vasquez, listen,” he shouted over the rising noise, a small but persistent edge of panic creeping into his voice. “This was a mistake. I’ll do anything--we’ll do anything--just please, give us another chance!”
Another roil of waves. Rhys dug his heels into the polished wood of the deck, bracing himself.
Vasquez gave them another wide smile, “Uhh, no. I don’t think you really learned your lesson.”
He raised his arm and the crew members, people they’ve known for years, ran forward to hold them against the boat. A larger man, picked up Vaughn a little off the ground while he did it. Rhys lost track of Yvette’s face, the panic rising further and further.
“You can’t take over Helios with words kid, you need substance!” Vasquez started to aim his revolver at Rhys’ chest. “You need people to fear you, respect you.”
Vasquez slowly moved his hand higher, taking a step further so they were only a couple of steps apart.
“You’re nothing Rhys, just someone who got in my way,” The gun was aimed at Rhys’ temple. There was nowhere else to go, the wooden rail of the ship pressing painfully into his back. They were trapped. Rhys couldn’t turn his head to look at Vaughn, to apologize, something. All he could hear was his friend calling his name as the gun fired.
The last thing he saw was a swarm of yellow and gray, set against a bruised sky, and the painfully clear grin on Vasquez’s face.
Then there was nothing.
Waking up was difficult. There was the screeching, unbearable pain, for one thing. And the sun. He hated the sun. It was...bright.
“Hey, you’re up,” Vaughn’s voice swam towards him from somewhere to his left. What was Vaughn doing in his cabin? He was a different division.
Rhys reached for the blanket to pull over his head, groaning--it was far too early for this. Except the blanket wasn’t there, and Rhys’ hands were covered in blood. He shot up with a gasp.
“Vaughn, where…?” There it was again, the blinding pain. He slapped a hand to his eye, scraping away the eyepatch, until--
“It’s not your eye, buddy,” Vaughn deadpanned. Rhys suddenly realized they were rocking, a sharp, wet wind carving into his face. It hurt more than it should have. “Vasquez shot you. In the head. Well, he missed, actually, but he still got part of you.”
It was then that it came back. The mutiny plans, high-reaching and optimistic. The escape to Vasquez’s cabin when it failed. The map, buried in Vasquez’s drawer. The angry mob. The--
“Vaughn” Rhys groaned, without opening his eyes. “Are we stranded at sea with nothing but a piece of salvage wood to keep us afloat and whatever we have in our pockets?”
“Yes,” Vaughn answered. “Except...I pulled most of our things out of our pockets when we fell in.” He patted Rhys’ knee. “You’re really heavy, you know that?”
Rhys decided not to comment on how Vaugh, all of five feet whatever inches, managed to drag him anywhere, let alone tread water at the same time. He also decided to pointedly ignore the raging headache and open his one functional eye.
That was a mistake.
“Really? You had to throw up on the one square foot of space you aren’t taking up?” Vaughn threw his hands in the air. Somehow, he hadn’t lost his spectacles.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Rhys snapped back. “I guess getting shot in the head isn’t a valid enough excuse to feel a little nauseous”. He sat up again, slower this time, his organic hand feeling cautiously at his temple. Vaughn, it seemed, had wrapped some sort of fabric around his head. Still, he could feel warm blood staining the makeshift bandage, and when he pulled his hand away, the fingers were coated in a sinister pink.
“Great,” he muttered. “I got blood on my prosthetics.”
They were certainly stranded. Water surrounded the piece of salvage wood (which, Rhys noted drily, was a piece of an Atlas ship, probably sunk by the Helios itself), and, as far as Rhys could see, there was no land in sight.
“Hugo Vasquez,” he muttered under his breath. “I mean, how many times has he double-crossed us? And we try just once to return the favor...”
“It could be worse,” Vaughn tried, meekly. “I mean, we did find this float.”
Rhys laughed dryly and looked at Vaughn askance. “That's it buddy, it's good to think positively.”
The saltwater burned the bullet wound, and Rhys reminded himself how lucky it was that he was even alive, no matter how long that will last. He literally survived being shot in head, he let out another pained chuckle and Vaughn gave him that look that conveyed both concern and a waning patience.
“Did you at least keep a hold of the map?” He offered, after a tense moment. Rhys scoffed.
“Yeah, but I mean, it’s probably soaked through by now. You know. Because we were thrown overboard.”
Vaughn resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It wasn’t always easy dealing with Rhys, stranded or not.
“Just check. Just in case.” There was a shuffling of fabric, and Rhys pulled the soggy parchment from his coat pocket. It was, in fact, nearly completely soaked through.
“See?” He said, dejectedly. “Useless.”
Vaughn snatched it from his outstretched hand, ignoring Rhys’ objections and flattening it on a knee. The ink, shockingly, hadn’t run. It was still readable, if not now terrifyingly delicate and permanently waterlogged. Vaughn grinned.
“I told you,” he said, poking Rhys’ knee.
“No, you didn’t,” but Rhys was grinning again, a familiar gleam in his eye. “Wow. We really have it. Do you think we can make it to a port, find a boat?”
It was Vaughn’s turn to scoff, “And find someone to take us to chase after Handsome Jack’s ‘mythical’ treasure? As if. We’re in deep enough trouble as it is, Rhys, let’s just sell this thing and find somewhere to lay low. Preferably a warm somewhere. That’s dry.”
“Really, Vaughn? Running away from this?” Rhys snapped. “I didn’t get thrown off of a boat and shot in the head just to not look for a legendary treasure.” He snatched the map back from his friend, ignoring the resurgence of pain in his head. The wound was surely bleeding again, but it didn’t matter. They had the map.
“I know, I know,” Vaughn frowned, showing a little hurt from his friends rebuttal. “But that's just it Rhys, you just got shot in the head! We were just left for dead in the middle of the ocean by people we've known for years!”
“No listen Rhys, I just saw you die, We don't even know if we're going to survive this.” He sighed and looked at his hands. “It's not the time for your big dreams and hero worship.”
“Hero worship?” Rhys shrieked indignantly. “At least people liked me!”
“They liked you enough to shoot you! Or did you forget that? Because I didn’t. I was the one who swam you to safety!”
Rhys’ response was cut short, however, when a rolling wave roiled their float uncomfortably. A shadow cut over their heads, and a familiar, chopping sound filled the air.
Vaughn squinted at the horizon, watching its black shape grow ever bigger. Rhys was silent now, the map clutched in his prosthetic hand.
“Is it Hyperion?” he asked finally, after a minute or two of hushed quiet.
Vaughn turned, his face pale.
“No,” he said. “Pirates.”
When they’d left the port of Old Haven, an icy wind and a scattering of rain at their backs, the Caravan had been depressingly empty. They’d picked up an odd job here and there, sure (Old Haven was full of the restless and the crooked), but nothing substantial enough to please Fiona, let alone Felix or Athena.
“It’s just a quick run to the mainland, Fi” Sasha had assured her. “No biggie. We’ll deliver these supplies, then we’ll head back to look for more work.”
She wasn’t convinced, but she wasn’t about to argue with her sister. Not now, at least.
“Fine,” she said, then smirked, adjusting her hat on her head. “And it’s Captain Fi to you.”
“You wish,” Sasha snorted, before heading up to join Felix at the wheel.
Well, thought Fiona, maybe someday.
The first few hours went smoothly. Sasha, perched on the crow’s nest with a musket as usual, made a game of flicking pebbles towards the near-empty barrels of goods on the deck, until Athena gave her an icy glare. Springs and Scooter were off somewhere below deck, performing maintenance of some kind.
“You three take awful care of this old thing,” Springs had said. “Ain’t no problem for old Scooter, though!” Scooter had kicked in enthusiastically, giving Fiona a perhaps too hard slap on the back.
So Fiona stayed near the bow of the ship, letting the warm, salty spray of the Pandoran waters drizzle her face. It was still raining, but the air had grown muggier with each hour they grew closer to the mainland. Pandora was hot. She tried not the let the joblessness worry her. Felix had a plan. He always had a plan. Surely, he’d keep the Caravan away from Hyperion fleets (or, God forbid, Vallory’s hulking enterprise--that was one fish Fiona didn’t care to bait). And yet, it still didn’t feel right. She frowned, and watched the grey water lap lazily against the hull of the Caravan. Springs was right, after all. This ship was small and beaten half to death, and they’d been running low on supplies for weeks. What they need was something big. Some deal, some smuggler’s dream, some shady, intricate scheme for them to twist and shape until they got a pay-off worth relaxing for. She could buy a little house for them, perhaps, or a new gun for Sasha. Pay off Scooter and Springs in full, plus a little interest for their...extended help. Maybe buy a new hat, even. She smirked at that, running a finger over the brim of her own hat. It was a good one, a proper captain’s cap. Almost, she thought with a wistful tug, like a pirate’s.
“Fi!” Sasha’s shout cut her reverie short, and she jumped, nearly dropping her hat. “Fi, take a look ahead!”
“Hyperion?” Felix called from the stern, his hands blurring on the wheel. “Or Atlas?”
“Not Atlas,” Athena’s cold voice cut in, from somewhere over Fiona’s shoulder. “I took care of them.”
There was certainly something out there. A speck on the sea, dark and moving. No, not moving. Floating, like a piece of coral flotsam. Fiona squinted, ignoring the sting of salt water in her eyes.
“Is it sirens? Mermaids?” Sasha had climbed down from the crow’s nest, her musket eagerly balanced on a shoulder.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Fiona said, without paying much attention. “Sirens don’t exist.”
“It’s not sirens,” Athena said. She had produced a portable telescope from somewhere, and was peering through it with a dark expression. “Castaways. Hyperion, by the looks of it. Two of them.”
Peering over the side of the ship, she saw them, two young men, holding onto a jagged piece of wood with all their strength. She could barely make them out, because of the distance between them. One of them caught her eye and a look of pure relief seemed to take over the dread she saw before.
“Hey!” He yelled, causing his friend to peer up at the boat too. “Hey there! We uh, are in a kind of bad situation, do you think you could help us out?”
Sasha snorted behind her, her musket now aimed somewhere slightly above the first man’s head.
“They’re definitely Hyperion scum,” she said, perhaps a bit louder than she had to. “But they don’t exactly look, well, dangerous at all.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Athena muttered.
Fiona knew the poison in her voice was well earned: Hyperion hadn’t exactly done anything altruistic for the people of Pandora. Or anyone. Ever. “Handsome” Jack’s cruel grip squeezed every settlement and town Fiona had ever known, and probably plenty she had never seen before. They brought goods from far away lands, a promise of “security” and of course, their main product, guns. With the guns came Hyperion’s crew, who would take everything they could from the mainland without getting into too much trouble.
“Sasha, don’t put down your gun,” Fiona warned quietly, before leaning back over the edge of the boat. “Hey! You two! Toss any weapons you have into the water.”
“We don’t have any!” The short one yelled, “We’re completely defenseless and stranded.”
Athena was shaking her head. Sasha looked unsure, glancing sideways towards Fiona.
“And my friend’s hurt!” the short one added, somewhat desperately.
“Don’t tell them that!” the taller one snapped back. He peered up at Fiona, brow furrowed. “I’m not hurt! I’m perfectly fine! We’re just lost!”
“Your head is literally bleeding.”
“Shut up, Vaughn! They don’t have to know that! They’re pirates.”
At that, Athena let out a derisive snort. From the wheel, Felix looked momentarily offended.
“We’re not pirates, you idiots,” Fiona was getting tired of these two already, who were still bickering back and forth on their...well, raft was too generous a word.
At the interruption the tall one grinned up at them, “Really? Thank god!” He smiled over at his friend, “Does that mean you’ll be nice enough to let us up then, nice, totally not pirate people?”
Fiona looked over at Athena who was glaring at the two of them again. She looked over after a period of silence and nodded.
“Let them up, but keep your guns aimed straight at their heads. If they do anything, if I or you think anything’s off, we’re dumping them straight back in the ocean for the sirens.”
“No such thing,” Fiona muttered under her breath. “Hey--they’re rich, aren’t they? Shouldn’t we make them pay us or something?”
“They’re stranded, injured and left for dead in the ocean,” Sasha walked over, keeping her rifle aimed at the two strangers. “I don’t think they’ll have anything for us.”
Fiona pouted at her, “You never know, right? Right guys?”
Athena interrupted her by pushing a rope in her hands, “Let’s go get them.”