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a very good (bad) thing

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This was the thing about Hyperion that Rhys hadn’t expected:

It was more dangerous than Pandora.

He sometimes wished he could explain this to the people working on the Helios space station. Rhys had grown up on Pandora and lived in an underground city filled with cutthroats and grifters and bounty hunters and murderers. He was used to people being pretty terrible on a regular basis, as well as the constant effort it took to stay ahead of the game, to stay alive.

There was also the planet itself: the stirring wildlife, the brutal climate, the various natural phenomena that could end your life as quickly as a raider could.

Despite all that, Helios was worse.

But Rhys couldn’t tell anyone that. For one, that would require him to admit that he wasn’t actually from Eden-5 like his employee documentation claimed. For two, Rhys wasn’t sure if anyone who lived in the space station that sat silently between Elpis and Pandora in its cozy Lagrangian orbit, that any of them would understand.

He sometimes thought about telling Vaughn. He wasn’t sure how that would go. Vaughn had been the first surprise of Rhys’ time aboard Helios: an ally. Which had to be taken with a grain of salt, given how they'd met. When Vaughn learned that Rhys was a con man who'd stolen aboard Helios, his response had been, "You're here to rob Hyperion? Do you... work on commissions? 'Cause I can think of a few jobs you could do for me."

So Vaughn was his friend, and was maybe better adjusted than most Hyperion people, but Rhys still doubted he'd get it. Helios had that effect on people.

It was a weird place. Rhys was a bit more confident he wasn't going to be murdered here than he'd be in Hollow Point, but it was a slim margin. However, his safety from having his life or career ruined? He had a lot less confidence in that.

That was the difference between Hollow Point and Helios, really. Hollow Point, people living there didn’t really pay attention to anything beyond getting through the day, getting to their next meal, keeping themselves alive. As long as you didn’t get in anyone’s way and didn’t look like an easy mark, you were mostly safe. Around Helios, though, it was a different story. The only things that mattered were information and money, and everyone was vying for the same pool. It was like sharks.

Or so Rhys assumed, he’d never seen a shark before. He’d heard about them, though, and that was what Hyperion was like.

Except Vaughn.

Or, Vaughn too, but not as much. Most days, Rhys was pretty sure Vaughn wasn’t going to stab him in the back.

“So here’s a tip for you,” Vaughn said as he sat down next to Rhys on the D level observation deck overlooking Pandora. It was the end of the work day, and Vaughn looked the part, a tired slope to his shoulders and his shirt sleeves already rolled up to his elbows. He leaned back on the bench, pointing his toes, voice going tight as he stretched. “Hyperion’s apparently acquiring one of its rivals in the next two months. Deal’s in final talks right now.”

Rhys nodded slowly. “That’s indeed a tip, man. You know who I need to ask about it?”

Ask.” Vaughn huffed out a small laugh, then held up his hands when Rhys gave him a weak glare. “Uh, no. It’s really hush-hush right now. No one in finances knows who’s heading the negotiation, so it’s probably not even on D.”

“Great,” Rhys sighed. “Well, that’s more than I had this morning.”

“Hey, what are friends for,” Vaughn said, resting his arms along the back of the bench.

Friends was a funny word for it. Not wrong, because Rhys could count the people he called friend on one hand and Vaughn was one of them, but partners in crime was probably more accurate. Hyperion would call them accomplices to fraud if they were ever caught. Which honestly sounded worse than it was; it would be bad, no doubt, but compared to some of the other people on Helios, a little fraud was small time.

Rhys heard that Vasquez, up in marketing and propaganda, might’ve actually killed a guy to get his position. Rhys didn’t have a hard time believing that at all. It was weird, he thought, to be in a place where a con man could claim the moral high ground.

“You going to be home for dinner?” Vaughn asked, quieter. “Or are you going to…”

Ask around?” Rhys let his voice drop into something a little softer and deeper. “I might, yeah. If I don’t get something back to Fiona and Sasha soon, they’ll start talking about shuttle times again.”

“God, don’t,” Vaughn said, pained. “I would have to get another roommate and since Yvette won’t move in with me-- do you know how hard it is to find someone to live with who won’t kill you in your sleep? On Helios? Because it’s not easy.”

“I will try my very best not to leave you to Hyperion’s tender mercies, buddy.” Rhys stood and tossed Vaughn a wink. “Don’t wait up.”

Vaughn smiled, his ears turning a little red. “I know, I know. Be careful.”

“Always am.”

 


 

Rhys hadn’t always been in this line of work. Actually, compared to Fiona and Sasha, he was green as they came. The only reason the three of them had decided Rhys was the one who had to go to Helios was because Fiona had a bounty on her head and Sasha’s criminal record was a little too long to get past Hyperion’s security. Rhys, being the baby (so to speak) of the little crime family, hadn’t been arrested yet and was less likely to get had the moment he stepped onto the Hyperion employee shuttle.

But before.

Before DAHL fell, Rhys had another family. As the only son of a minor mercantile empire that bit the dust around the same time DAHL itself did, Rhys could remember better days. He could recall early settlements, before they were run down and blasted to pieces and torn apart by a mix of raiders and scavs and the occasional moonshot.

It was hard to remember sometimes that Pandora was not always… Pandora.

After his family died, Rhys hadn't enough money to get off planet. And then, when his car had broken down outside Hollow Point, he didn’t have enough money to get it fixed.

Fresh meat in Hollow Point, walking around in a nice jacket and a shiny ECHO eye. He shouldn’t have survived the night, honestly. He wouldn’t have, if Fiona hadn’t found him and inexplicably decided to buy him lunch instead of fleecing him for everything he had.

Five years later, Fiona had squeezed his hand tightly in hers as they stood at the spaceport to see him off. “We love you. Be careful up there. Come back alive.” It was a rare moment of affection for Fiona, a glimpse at the softness she kept hidden under layers of metal and patina and raw-willed determination.

Sasha, who was even worse at the whole emotions thing than her sister, had just punched Rhys’ arm and told him, “Yeah, don’t screw up. It’ll be hard to come bail you out when you’re in space.”

That felt like a lifetime ago, but it still echoed around Rhys’ head as he sauntered down the halls of Helios, peering into the various offices to see who was still working. It was just after work hours for everyone except R&D, who as far as Rhys knew didn’t get sleep or leisure time or fun ever. Anyone else, though, either was on their way to the housing wing or they were working on something worth knowing about. If Rhys found someone, there was a good chance they were on the team nailing down the acquisition.

It’d taken some time for Rhys to learn what was worth learning and what wasn’t. Hyperion moved fast with a lot of dramatic upheavals on a regular basis. It made for one of the most stressful environments Rhys had ever been in. But not all of it was useful. People getting thrown out of airlocks and being demoted and, on rare occasion, promoted, was all important if you were living on Helios, but it wasn’t worth reporting back to Fiona and Sasha.

New mining projects, though? Rumors of new supply drop sites? Moonshot targets? His friends back home could turn that information into cash. Anyone who could demystify Hyperion’s actions could make a killing with the right people. Once, Rhys got the location of a planetside bot test two weeks ahead of schedule. It’d given Sasha enough time to put together a plan and get a few scrappers in on it. They’d managed to steal an entire bot. Nothing to Hyperion in the long run, but for a few grifters it was a great haul.

Rhys was loitering around, trying to see what he might overhear, when someone jabbed their nails against his ribs, making him yelp and jump, almost falling over as he whirled around.

Yvette gave him an arch look and a smirk, leaning back on her heels and crossing her arms. “And what are you doing here? Lose your way back to residence?”

Rhys pursed his lips and tugged his jacket back into place, stepping in close to loom over Yvette a little. She didn’t seem impressed, but Rhys didn’t mind. He’d stopped trying to actually impress her months ago. “Ha ha, that only happened twice.”

“If only you’d paid attention during your official employee orientation.” She snapped her fingers. “Wait, now that I think about it--”

“Oh, come on, stop,” Rhys whined. Yvette and Vaughn joked about it a lot, how Rhys’ employee credentials were all spoofed. He thought it was unfair, considering the two of them had been the ones to set him up, making him look legitimate enough not to be caught out. If he did get tagged by security one day, surely it was going to be their fault for not making him a better cover.

Somehow, that argument never worked.

Yvette reached out and put her hand on Rhys’ shoulder, nudging him back until she didn’t have to strain her neck to look up at him. “You working on a lead or something?”

“Yeah, Vaughn heard a thing. I’m checking it out. Seeing if anyone’s around, if they might want… company.” He smiled, ducking his head a little bit. “What about you? We still going to see you this weekend?”

“Definitely.” She dropped to a whisper, suddenly. “Beverly up on B has been trying to convince me to be his plus one for this party on Sunday, and I need an out. If anyone asks, you and Vaughn have invited me to a 48 hour old movie marathon.”

Rhys laughed before her words really clicked in his head, and he trailed off. “A party, huh. On B?”

Yvette nodded. “Yeah. Don’t know for what, apparently it’s not going to be announced until next week. Why?”

“I think,” Rhys said slowly, “I might know who I need to get close to. Don’t suppose Beverly might want me as his plus one instead?”

She let out a snort, head shaking. “Don’t count on it.”

“Not into…” Rhys looked down at himself.

“No, I think he’s got a soft spot for the leggy brunets. But cyborgs?” She seesawed her hand.

“Oh, ew,” Rhys muttered. Nothing was worse than the people who looked down on him for the metal parts. There was a specific way they wouldn’t meet his eyes, or his eye, the way their lips curled. Even Rhys had his limits to what he’d put up with.

“Mmhm. But I’m sure you’ll find someone who wants to be friends.”

“Here’s hoping. I’m going to head up there now, see if I can bump into someone. Saturday?”

“Saturday,” she agreed, patting Rhys’ arm as she stepped around him. “Don’t stay out too late.”

He turned to watch her go, unable to avoid the smile that was left on her face and not wanting to. He could use it. Being able to put on a genuine face was part of his job, but there was always that worry that his attempt at seeming friendly or more would look false on his face. He never broke his habit of checking his reflection in glass and mirrors to make sure he was pulling it off. He did that here too, grateful that usually the metal walls themselves were polished to such a degree he could see himself in the surface.

But today, he didn’t need to check. Keeping careful hold of the comfortable, warm feeling Yvette left him with, Rhys headed to sector B, ready to put it to use.

 


 

Fiona had taught him the basics of finding marks and how to read them, how to manipulate them. “What you need to remember,” she had told him early on as they sat in purple neon light outside a bar in Hollow Point, her lips moving against the straw of her drink, “is that you and the mark aren’t enemies. You’re partners. They just don’t know it.”

“But they end up betrayed,” Rhys had murmured.

“Only if they know about it,” Fiona had said. “There’s plenty of people that I’ve conned that I’m still in touch with. If you can, you can hold onto that relationship. Push comes to shove, though...” She had trailed off, and Rhys nodded along.

Fiona had a lot to teach about maintaining cover and reading people, talking to them. Rhys had absorbed everything she told him like a sponge.

But she taught him to be a con. Nothing more than that. And while calling Rhys a con man was technically true and was polite besides, it wasn’t really accurate.

The term was honeytrap.

He checked for Beverly first of course, but he was out of office. Two doors down, though, Tam still had her light on. Rhys peeked through and watched as she fought with her coffee maker. For whatever reason, it wasn’t working.

It was as good an in as any, and Rhys took a moment to scan the machine, checking its error code against the ECHOnet. It handed him back an answer briskly, floating over his vision before he sent it away again with a flick of his eyes.

Leaning in, Rhys made a joke about Tam running low on midnight oil and offered to help out. The relief on her face was immediate, smoothing out the tired, drawn look she was wearing.

Fixing the machine was easy; it just needed a full power cycle. Rhys prodded at a few of the buttons as well for good measure, just to make it look less easy. It wouldn’t do for her to know the solution was so simple. He didn’t want her to feel embarrassed.

He made two mugs of coffee, tacitly inviting himself to stay for a while. Sitting on the corner of her desk, he was far enough away from her to avoid crowding but close enough that her eyes darted over him, unused to someone in her space, asking about her late hours, listening as she complained about her work.

Rhys smiled, and she smiled back.

Small talk lulled, and Rhys could see that she didn’t want that, not yet. He shifted on his perch, like he was about to leave, and she quickly asked about his arm. He stilled, ducking his head a little, playing bashful for a second before offering his hand to her. She held it, linked her fingers with his, bent the joints and watched avidly at the way the metal moved silently. Her touch lingered, and when she finally let go, her face was red.

Hook, Rhys thought, finishing his mug and wishing her luck on whatever was keeping her up so late before leaving. As he went, he was careful to stop in the doorway and look back over his shoulder at her, making sure she saw.

She was watching him right back, her hands clenched together on her desk.

Line. Rhys waved before leaving, closing the door manually behind him before taking a deep breath and heading to the elevators.

The party wasn’t until Sunday. There was time for the sinker later.

“Patience,” Fiona had told him a million times. Rhys didn’t have her natural talent, but he was a good listener.

 


 

Vaughn and Rhys shared an apartment on the residential wing. On Helios, almost all employees lived in those apartments. It was a sign of status to have one of the penthouses throughout the station, reserved for the department heads and important figures of the company.

There was also the Penthouse, but Rhys didn’t even know where that was and had never met anyone who’d been in there. Rumor had it that Handsome Jack had the largest window that overlooked Elpis and the glass was inlaid with crystal so the moon’s reflection cast light over the marble floors.

But that was just a rumor.

Vaughn and Rhys, though, had a two-bedroom with a nice master bath, a small rec room, and a full kitchen. It didn’t have a planetside view, but the stars were nice, even if it’d taken Rhys months to get used to waking up and seeing nothing but black skies.

Saturday, Rhys laid across the sofa with a pillow over his face as he listened to Vaughn putter around.

“You’re going to have to explain this to me again,” Fiona said. Her voice was oddly hollow, an effect of being transmitted from underground on Pandora up to the ECHO communicator set up on the coffee table.

“It’ll be simple, don’t worry about it,” Vaughn said from the kitchen. “This is going to be very easy money once Rhys gets us a name to work with. Acquisitions are very lopsided in the stock market.”

He heard Fiona sigh. “I don’t even own a tie and you have me playing stocks. This’d better work.”

Over her, Sasha’s voice came in. “Relax. Last time we did this, it paid for the caravan’s repairs. Even bulletproof tires!”

“Hub caps still got stolen,” Fiona groused. “Rhys, are you even awake right now?”

“No,” Rhys said dryly, the sound muffled through the pillow.

Rhys felt Vaughn come closer, patting his knee. “Rhys was up late doing… what he does best.”

“They have mechanical bulls up on Helios?” Sasha asked.

Stooop,” Rhys said, swatting his hand in the direction of the communicator. “Yvette had info, I was following up on it. Tam might be willing to play ball with me, I just have to apply some pressure there.” Talking into the pillow was starting to get annoying, inhaling cotton taste as he spoke. He nudged it away, squinting up at the light. “I tried Ignacio too, but…”

“Is he still mad you never got back to him after last time?” Vaughn asked, brow furrowing.

Rhys made a face and turned to look at the ECHO screen. Fiona was sitting in front of the camera on her end and she had a needle and thread in her hand, her jacket on the table. She was working steadily on the hem of one sleeve. “I know, it’s almost easier when the mark ends up hating you after. The clingy ones are the worst to handle,” she said with sympathy.

“Tell me about it,” Sasha muttered, pulling up a chair to sit next to Fiona.

Fiona looked askance at her, and Sasha shook her head.

Rhys’ chest tightened. He didn’t know what had happened, if Sasha had gotten into trouble with a mark recently. If he was still on Pandora, he’d know. The three of them knew everything about each other.

Swallowing his sigh, Rhys laid his head back down. Helios was a glimmering gem with technology laid into every wall, a food court with just about anything Rhys could imagine wanting to eat, and even a few corporate bars that Rhys could go to without worrying about being armed if he wanted a drink. It felt ungrateful to miss home so much, but he did.

“I’ll go seal the deal with Tam tonight, hit the party tomorrow, and have that name by Monday,” Rhys said.

“Good. We’ll let you go. Just wanted to check in.”

Vaughn smiled and waved at the screen. “Nice seeing you guys!”

Sasha laughed. “Same, short stuff. Keep an eye on Rhys for us.”

“Be safe, Rhys,” Fiona said, softly, and then the ECHO clicked off with a fading hum.

The homesickness was getting to him. It came in waves, and the tide would go out again, he knew that.

Vaughn squeezing his knee and not saying anything wasn’t much, but it helped.

 


 

Dinner was good. They ate early, since Rhys had things to do afterward and a limited timeframe in which to do them. It was a great excuse for him not to help with cleanup, either, as he ducked into his room to change out of his lazy weekend clothes and into something nicer.

The sweater he chose was cut just a little too high on the one arm, showing off his metal arm and some of the skin of his shoulder, a small glimpse of his tattoo. It was just what he needed. He mussed his hair a little, then stepped out, arms wide. “So, nice?”

Vaughn looked at Rhys and gave a tentative thumbs up. It wasn’t really his area of expertise, but Rhys appreciated it.

Yvette gave him a toe to head sweep of her eyes and smiled. “What’s the occasion? Or should I ask who?”

Vaughn snorted. “Tam up in B. Rhys is going to get laid tonight. Or try to.”

Rhys rolled his eyes, letting out an exasperated sound. “Okay, for one I don’t always sleep with my marks. And it’s not getting laid, it’s my job.”

Yvette lifted one sharp, perfectly penciled eyebrow. “Do you have fun?”

He smiled and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I, uh. I think it’s important to enjoy your work.”

“It is a very interesting skill set,” she said, sipping the red bubbly drink she had in a tall, narrow glass. “You must work hard.”

There was just enough playfulness in her voice, it sparked against Rhys in kind. He smiled slowly, a little coy as he bowed his head and sauntered over. He put in the extra effort, keeping his shoulders sloped low, his hips moving a little more than necessary with each step. He leaned in, setting his arm on the counter next to Yvette, his thumb brushing against the soft skin inside her arm. “I try,” he said.

Yvette sipped her drink again and rocked the glass against her lower lip. “But are you any good?”

“Want to find out?” Rhys asked, bending just a little closer. He stopped, a few inches from her face, and she watched him steadily for a moment.

Then, she grinned, one of her rare, wide grins that lit up her face, accentuated the apples of her cheeks. “Save it for Tam.”

“Aww.” Rhys pushed away, winking once before going to find his shoes. “Okay, I’m going. See you next week, Yvette. Vaughn, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Vaughn nodded. “And try to be quiet when you come in. I have an early meeting tomorrow. Unlike you, some of us are actually employed by Hyperion and they don’t like it when you’re late.”

“I’ll do my best. Have a nice night, guys. I intend to.” He smirked as he went, unlocking the door, hanging onto the frame long enough to look back, to see them wave to him. “Later,” he said cheerfully, and was gone.

He had work to do.