There's not a lot of ways to get into Hyperion University. Dean Tassiter always makes sure his students are the best of the best - or rather, that they can pay to be the best. That means to get in, you'd have to be loaded yourself, to know loaded families or... Well, to have a lot of luck. And then, there's Jack. Even though he's only a junior, everyone knows him - from the lowest freshman to the best seniors. People say he's been handpicked by Tassiter himself. That he has ideas so weird that it must mean he'll change the world one day. Others, the ones green with envy, grind their teeth as they'd rather believe Jack made use of his others talents to get in the elitist college. They don't call him "Handsome Jack" for nothing.
Nevertheless, the man is well-known among students and professors and pretty much everyone in the school is always eager to see what kind of new crazy schemes he concocted in the lab he always uses. He's basically the entertainment for spoiled children, between boring classes and stressing exams.
There's a lot to know about Jack even before Rhys gets to meet him. Firstly, he's a lot older than most students, older than seniors even and some whispers that he's older than teachers (but no one will ever dare to ask Miss Kadam how old she is, not with the whip and gun strapped to her belt). Some seniors who claim to be close to him say he's married, that he has a daughter and that's why you can never see him on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
There's even talk about him being the real Dean of the campus, with Tassiter being only there to stand for him while he "evaluates" the next generation of brilliants (and rich) minds. Of course, there's a lot of bullshit among the rumors too. Rhys finds that out when he hears about the conspiracy theory that Jack's part of the government for a secret project that involves aliens and hidden treasures, that he has a doppelganger (that is almost true, but Timothy Lawrence is only his identical twin, not some poor sod who sold his face to help Jack with his shady business). Paranoid freshmen avoid him because he might have been in jail (either for killing his wife or his relatives, depending on whom you ask).
Handsome Jack is so well-known also because he's one of the two students who managed to get into Hyperion University with a scholarship - his work considered so great that even though his last name (that shall not be said) didn't bring any fame or money to the university, he was chosen among thousands of eager teenagers with science projects ranging from mediocre to genius. Rhys is the other one. That's how he came to hear about Jack in the first time - because everyone talked about how Rhys should be proud to be next in line, how his work would never reach the awesomeness (his teacher's words, not his) of Jack. Rhys wore Jack's designs. His prosthetic arm, slightly improved with cybernetics, is one of the earliest work of the junior. And it's because he managed to improve it that he got notified (he tries not to think too much about the fact that Jack had implanted a protocol in the code to know if someone played with his work, wonders if Jack is the reason why he's at Hyperion). He tries to only think about the beginning of the year, about the fact that Vaughn will come with him to Hyperion, about Yvette, the sharp girl they met on tour day, who shares his snarky sense of humor and his hunger for success. He thinks about all of this, while he walks through Helios' glasses doors, inhaling the scent of, well, money or at least, people with it, watching with wide eyes the majestic hall - the Hub, the tour guide said it's called. Then he stops, because there’s a crowd, a real crowd, of students surrounding the object of his thoughts and, wow, his daydreams (mostly filled by all the Hyperion-issued merchandise with Jack’s face plastered on it like a supermodel, with an easy grin and a thumb up: “With Hyperion’s program ‘Geniuses Come From Everywhere’, you can get to be me too, kiddo!”), they didn’t do Jack any justice, did they?
He stops right on his tracks, and almost hits Vaughn - blessed Vaughn, still with him even after all these years, even after the sleepless nights to work on his essays so he could have the perfect grades to get into the perfect university. Vaughn’s as smart as Rhys of course, but he doesn’t need to show it off as much - his family comes from money, much more than Rhys’.
Yvette on the other hand, she walks just like Rhys - like she has something to prove. She does too, because Hyperion is known to be hard on its female students, and well, Rhys might not know Yvette as much as he does Vaughn - they only met the week before, when the new students had gotten their tour around campus and some information before classes started - but, she’s smart, ambitious and Rhys is already certain she’s going to storm Hyperion and change it for the better.
“-o, you here? Rhys?” Like a far-away sound, Rhys finally hears Vaughn, feels the hand on his shoulder. Another voice joins in, Yvette’s, and he doesn’t have to turn and face her to know she’s smirking.
“Let it go, Vaughn, I think he just came in his pants. Too much money around him.”
“No, that’s you Yvette, not me,” he’s laughing too now, because damn but they’re here, finally. It’s a freaking dream come true and just in front of him is the rest of his, hm, let’s say, wetter dream.
The name “Handsome” doesn’t really do him justice either, because he’s so much more than that, a raw charisma emanating from every gestures, every big smiles and smirks, the little knowing eyes he sends to the freshmen near him, waiting to hear more of whatever story he’s spinning - how he got a barista fired, his love story with a teacher, the way a teacher once stalked him to give him flowers - anything he says, they’re suspended to his lips like he’s a goddamn god descended upon Earth.
“I am so going to bang him,” he says, a wistful whisper, more for himself than anyone else. But of course, his friends hear him and Yvette snickers, probably already preparing the speech she’s going to give to students so they bet on that ever happening - she’ll probably push them to bet for him. But only because it’s unlikely to happen, and that means more money for her.
Vaughn, on the other hand, well. He puts a hand on Rhys’ shoulder, another on Rhys’ cheek to turn him around, so they’re, uh, almost to eye-level. And then he pleads.
Rhys simply grins.
The dream doesn’t last. First of all, Hyperion isn’t one of the best college in the world only because its students are among the 10% who own most of the world, but also because it’s freaking hard. Rhys has the absolute pleasure of rediscovering late-night studying, along with Vaughn and Yvette - who is just as brilliant as expected, even more so because somehow she manages to always get someone else to buy her lunch.
His first essay comes back with an “A -” circled in red and Rhys spends the first months of fall basically drowning himself in work so he can forget that blasted minus and get the grades he knows he can get.
(Two week into october Vaughn has started bribing the librarian so she kicks Rhys out for lunch after he forgets to eat three days in a row)
All of that studying, plus the practical works the teachers love to assign means that Rhys barely has time to remember Handsome Jack really attends the same university as him, never mind plans to make the senior fall into his arms. Well, except when he has to run away with the rest of his promotion from a building that Jack has conveniently decided to use for one of his prototypes. No one really knows what kind of robots or cybernetics he wants to create, except that he uses them to create chaos whenever he wants.
Teachers are used to it. Students like Rhys definitively aren’t.
Because apparently, he’s a dumbass (or even more of one than he thought) and he manages to lose his class, looks around to realize he’s not even in a part of Helios - the nice nickname students the main Hyperion buildings because it’s very, uh, shiny - he recognizes. That part of Helios is pretty empty, although he does hear the droning tone of a teacher slowly weaving his spell on his class to make them sleep - wait no, learn. The corridor’s empty otherwise, and every door he sees are closed.
So he sights, runs a hand in his hair (and grimaces because ugh, gel is disgusting). There’s a mirror in front of him so he takes a few seconds to adjust his tie, fold his collar back in place and make sure his brown hair is perfectly in place.
(He refuses to admit he looks a bit sick, way too exhausted for someone who only started college two months ago)
And then, finally, when he turns away from the mirror to look around and see if there’s any kind of plan of the place, he sees a cleaning lady wipe the ground. She doesn’t look happy, a frown on her face and her gestures a tad too passionate to be really useful. He wonders what happened to make her look so angry.
He also can’t help but admire her, because his head might be full of Handsome Jack fantasies, but well, he knows a beautiful woman when he sees one, even if her uniform doesn’t make the best outfit for her curves. That and the colour it has really doesn’t match her skin. He’d love to take her shopping so they can find better clothes… Maybe a bowl hat too, that’d suit her haircut really well... And the fact that he’s busy admiring her really doesn’t mean that she looks intimidating as fuck with her murderous look and that electronic tag on her ankle that is really familiar for someone like him who love watching crime shows his Saturday evenings.
“You’re going to watch me do my job all day, or you have something to tell me?”
He jumps. Her voice is rougher than expected, lower too. It suits her though, because when her eyes go up to look at him, it feels like she knows what life really is about… Or something like that anyway.
“Hum, huh yeah I uh - I was…” he trails off, because she… Isn’t actually looking at him, but past him, and right before he can turns, there’s a heavy hand falling on his shoulder, too hard to be friendly and an awful scent of man perfume combined with sweat and aftershave invade his nose, makes him cough and hunch over. He knows who that is, he realizes, dread filling his stomach, a knot of anxiety and fear because yeah, he definitively knows and memories come back, swirling in his head until he feels almost too dizzy to stand up.
Vasquez is at Hyperion too, huh?
Rhys shouldn’t be surprised, really, Hugo Vasquez is the perfect representation of what a Hyperion University student should look like: a snivelling snake, with his pockets full of too much money and nothing but air in his head. He could have been hot, if only he didn't have that disgusting sneer deforming his face, which makes him look like a clown who smelled something bad around him (probably his perfume, Rhys guesses, because it definitively doesn't suit him and the sheer amount makes his eyes water).
“Hello there,” Vasquez is talking to the girl, but his hand is like a claw on Rhys’ shoulder. “You must be new, darling, because that part of the building isn’t cleaned by… Your kind.”
Rhys isn’t sure whether that’s for the colour of her skin, or the fact that she’s a woman. Knowing the guy, probably both and he shivers, remembers the time where they were children and he had to “play” with Hugo, hide from him until he found something else to bully, usually one of the lowest servants, the ones who were desperate enough for a job that they didn’t report his abuse, even when it reeked of barely hidden racism or sexual harassment.
“I must say,” Vasquez goes on, “you look almost fuckable though, so I guess I won’t report you if you’re… willing to help me out a little. Privately.”
Rhys gags. The woman just frowns more and then approaches. Her pace is measured, like she’s evaluating a potential enemy. Rhys almost feels like a prey watching two predators about to rip each other’s throat. If he remembers right, the lioness always win. He’d cheer for her, but his body still won’t move, paralyzed by the grip Vasquez has on him.
When she’s finally in front of them, she stops, still far enough that she can’t be grabbed.
Then she spits right at Vasquez’s feet., accompanying it with a snarled “Fuck off Hyperion.”
Rhys’ eyes widen, go from the smug expression on the janitor’s face, to the spit on the ground, and finally, he goes to stare at Vasquez’s face. It’s gone gray, like he swallowed a whole lemon, the sneer gone and replaced by bewilderment. His hand finally falls from Rhys’ shoulder, fists closed and shaking with, something - probably rage. Who was the last person to say that to Hugo Vasquez?
Oh yeah. That was Rhys. He - he remembers what consequences that had had.
And so he can’t help but intervene, because Hugo has money, a lot of it, and both in and out of Hyperion, that means everything he does will be forgotten when the cash changes hands.
“Hahaha,” he laughs, nervously, passes a hand in his hair again, tries to avoid thinking about what he’s doing - the nausea that still threatens to overwhelm him, and the cold sweat running down his back. “Looks like ‘ugly asshole’ isn’t her type, eh? How about you leave her alone now? I mean -”
But he can’t say anything more before his arm - the flesh one, because of course Hugo remembers which one is still here - is grabbed and violently twisted so Rhys faces Vasquez. The man isn’t as tall as Rhys is, but he’s definitively broader, his voice dripping with honey and laced with poison and hate.
“Rhys Bowen. I must say, ah, I’m, how should I say, surprised, that you managed to get past middle school. If I remember right, you weren’t one of the, huh, smart kids.Or one of the rich one. What was, remind me, what was your mother’s job?”
Rhys refuses to answer, stares right into Vasquez’s dark eyes, hopes the tremor he feels in his legs don’t show too much. Goddamn it, he wants to punch him.
“Oooh, you’re certainly smarter than in your youth, hm?” Vasquez smiles, distorts his face and looks like one of those ugly monsters in cheap horror movies Vaughn likes so much. “At last, you know when to keep your mouth shut when faced with your betters.”
(̵̉̏̓̂͊s̴̍̀̀͛͝ḧ̵́͂̅͆̈́ư̸͑́̃͛t̶̓̅̍̑͐ ̵͌̊̋̉̚u̷͆̏̅͆̓p̵͐͂̋̓͝ ̸̌͂̋́̀s̷̔̀̈́̄̑h̴̃͌̈́̾̕u̶̿̉̓̀͝t̶͆̇͋̚̚ ̸̓̌̏͑͝ư̶͛̈́͋̕p̵̏̑̉̊̑ ̴͆̀̂͗̚s̵̈̈́́̎͝h̷̍̄͒̓͝ú̶̐̈͗̔t̶̾̆̎̚͘ ̷̓̐́̑͠ũ̴̏̔̑͆p̸̛̓̏͆̀ ̵̽͆̂͘̚s̸͗̀͋̋̚h̸͂̐́̓̈u̴͋̐̌́̄t̵̎̾̒̍͗ ̶̛̊̌̈͒u̷͗̽̉̔̓p̴͗̂̓̀͒,̵͆͐̈́͛̀ ̸͑͛̐͗͘p̷̈̉̈́̌͝å̸̛͒̐̈́i̵͌̍̓̚͠n̶͂̃͌̎̏,̷̓̋̐͆̽ ̷͑̆̈́̈̉Ḧ̸́̽̿͊̾ù̸̅̀͊̀g̴̔͐͆̑̈́ő̵̈́͐̂̀ ̵̌̽̃̒̍l̸̽̉̈́͗͠ā̵̎̓̂͑u̵̎̈͒̽̏g̸̈́̒͌̈́̄h̴͂̏̉̐̒i̵̽̅͑̂͝ṅ̶͋̏̓̕g̴͆͛̇͒̃ ̶̓͒͂͌̎ā̵͒̈̐̚n̵͌̄̾̅̋d̵́̏̀͒̄ ̷̀͐̓͛͝l̵͒̓͋̎͠à̷̽̒̀͠ù̷̑̽͐̏g̸̈́̐̀͒́h̷̛̓́̅̽i̷̇̈́̀̏͌n̸̓̽͒̓̉g̶̀̒̂͋͝,̶̍̓́͆̉ ̷̛̒̄̾̇t̷̆͑̃̏͝h̵̉̈͊͘͘ȇ̸̋̃͌͝ ̵̛̅̈̔͘b̶̆̃̈̌͆l̴̾̿̆̅̚o̷̓̿̀͒̚ő̷̓̈̀̎d̴͊̾͋̈́͠ ̷̛̐́̎͘a̵̅̂́̓̒n̶̊̈́̀͝͠d̵̑͋͌̓̈́ ̸͒̃̃̂̂t̵̛̽̄͂́h̵͑̐͗͐͘a̸͂̔̓̌͝t̸̛̀̍̂̀ ̶̇͌̋̐̉f̶̽̈́̇͊̕u̷̒̅͐̈́̂c̴̄̈́̌̕͠k̸̇̉̽̄̍ĩ̵́̋̓̔n̵͌̉̈́̏̊g̵̛̃͐̾̄ ̴̛͗̊̍̂s̶̈̔͛̔͠m̵̄͒̓̀̎i̸̔̂̇͌͠l̷̇̌́̋̈́ë̸́̅͒́͠,̷͊̎̆̀̃ ̴͒̾͛̊̒s̶̍̔̊̚͘ŏ̵̋̆̇̐ ̶͐̋̇͛͋p̷̛̿͐̈̇r̶̈́̍̎̃̊o̸̾̍̀̔̂ű̶̈́̀͊̋d̴͐͌́̈́̿ ̶͊̃̔̚͠å̴͛̔͂̉r̶̈́̈́̈́̐͂e̶͂͐͒́̑n̷̔͐̅̍͝’̷̽͆͐̅͝t̶̀̽͒͂̕ ̸̇̾͋͊̓ỳ̴͗́̕͠o̷͆̒̐̏́u̵͑̂͘͘͠?̴͒̒̆̊̋ ̶́̆̋́͘D̴͆̊̒̚͝o̸̓͗́̈́͘ ̷̌̀̓̏͘ẏ̴̒̌̏̂o̶̐̀͑̅͝ű̷̈́͂̐̕ ̶̈̅́̈́͋t̶̛̋̋̈́͆h̶͊̒͌͋͘i̵̓̍̍͛̇n̵͆̍̈̒̚k̶̑̓͊̾̕ ̶̀́̓̒̕b̷̀̄̒͑̈e̸̽̂̓͆̕h̵́̈̋̎͠i̸͆̎͗͛̕n̸̿̂̑͘͘d̸͂͗̃́͘ ̵̇̈́̈́͋̕-̶͒͊̀̕͘ ̵͂̈́̋̄́ä̷́̽̓͂͠ ̵́̾̔̑͌d̴̐͗̾̈́̽i̸̊͆͋̾͠ř̸̍͐̚̚e̸̽̌̽͂̊c̶̿̅̾̂͝t̶̆̈́̃͗͠ ̴͌̐̽̚͘l̸̐͒̈́͌̕i̷̒͑̈̋͋ń̴̋͐͊̀k̸͒̔̂͒̑ ̸͂͋̂͒̕t̷̄͐͂̈́̽o̶͐̽͑͝͠ ̷͋̅̄͊͝t̶̔̀̂̈́̃ĥ̵̂̈́̑́e̵͆̽̓́͘ ̴͛̆̌̄͝b̷͗̽̓̇̕r̸͊͗͗͆̀à̷̀̆̒́ï̷̅̊̎͝n̵͛́̔̅͠ ̴̛͑̐͌̑R̷̂͋̂̽͝h̵͌̈́̐̑̓y̸̏̾͐̒͝s̶̈̌̈́̋͠,̴̛̎̆̆͛ ̴͋̀̀̍̏c̶̈̈̊͑̇à̶̀̎̽͗n̸̈͗͐̽͘’̴̂̍̎̀̕t̵̛̅̄͊̔ ̶͌̊̂͐̚s̸̿̾̍̍͝ë̸̛́̓̓́e̸̐̍̏̎͝ ̸̈́̅̕̕͘a̶͆̌͒̃̚n̶̑̉̔̿̄y̷̛͊̎͆̈t̷͐̉̌̇͝h̸̅̐̓̕͝i̴̅̓̍̏̔n̸̒̅̑͋̕g̵͋͆͗̽͘,̸̀͂̇͌͝ ̶̒̏̓͊̽s̸͛̾̔̑͘h̶̾̓̀̀̚u̸̎̃̅͘͝t̴̾͆̿̐͒ ̵̌̎͋̋̎u̸̍̈́́̍̏p̷͆͐̀͋̋,̵̀̃͊͛͑ ̶̄̇̂͝͝s̶̆̆̈́͛̆h̵̓͌̔͌̍u̵̇͛̏̉͠t̵̾͆̈́̏͠ ̵͛͂̍̍͝ũ̷̓̌̑́p̴̀͌̎͗̅,̵̛͐͆̿́ ̷̈̈́̐͒͠s̵͋̾̅̓͘c̵̿͑̽̅͘ŕ̸́͆͆͝e̴̓̽̎̐̚a̵̋̆͊̿̽ḿ̶̋̂̕͘i̸̛͐̌̽̚n̵̾̈̍͒͘g̴̈̈̍̀̎)̷͐͛̽͗̎
“I’m here, because Handsome Jack himself picked me.”
His insides are twisting with the lie - although, is it a lie, really? - but at least Rhys has the pleasure to see the horror on Vasquez’s face, before rage replaces it. Rage and something else, something like - like -
“Listen you little shit, Jack’s mine, mine, you got that, huh? Is that clear for you you fucking freak?” Vasquez’s breath is hot against his nose, the teeth too close for him to relax, the smell still too strong, and he straighten, tries, really, he tries to make himself even taller, bigger while Vasquez laughs.
All the while, the cleaning lady stared, and Rhys has almost forgotten her until she speaks again, her voice somehow even colder than before.
“Listen, I’ve got a fucking job to do, and since you’re oh sooooo important, you probably have some fans waiting for you somewhere, so, once again, fuck off.”
Vasquez doesn’t even look at her, chuckles like they’re all friends and he’s being funny. He lets Rhys go, and Rhys can’t help but be relieved, restrains himself from showing how his arm hurt.
There’s a silence, where Rhys looks at the ground, reins in his breath,before Vasquez speaks again, final cutting words like a snake going in for the kill, fangs dripping with venom.
“You can’t do anything, Bowen.” His name’s spit like an insult, like something he ought to be ashamed of (and maybe he is). “I don’t know whose dick you sucked to get into Hyperion, but I am going to make sure you won’t get out of here with anything more than a crushed pride and crippling debts. Maye then you can join your little janitor friend here, and get many little disgusting mulat -”
He can’t finish his sentence before the janitor gets fed up with his bullshit and knees him in the groin. Rhys almost winces but well, this is Vasquez. He deserved that. So he coughs slightly, and simply says, his breathing still uneven and the panic slowly fading:
“I think the lady told you to fuck off.”
And this time, this time Hugo listens, backs away slowly, his parody of a smile back on his face.
“This isn’t over. For either of you. I’m going to make you pay, you got that? Don’t you dare put yourself in my way, Rhys. And stay away from Jack!”
Rhys nods, instinctively before remembering - no, no this is over, it’s not like before, this time he has no power over me - and so instead, he just fakes a grin and slowly, finger guns toward Hugo.
(you can’t control me - this time, your parents aren’t there to protect everything you do)
When Vasquez finally disappears around the corridor, Rhys’ legs give out. The woman - he needs to, has to ask and babbles:
“What’s your name?” Her brow shoots up (wow, smooth Rhys). “I, I just - thanks for, you know. So uh, yeah. I’m Rhys… As… you, uh, already know.” At this she laughs, takes his hand to haul him up.
“That’s Fiona for you, Rhys. So, for a Hyperion, you’re weirdly, hm, nice. And that asshole really has it out for you huh? What’d you do? Stole his boyfriend? The, huh, Handsome Jack, was it?” She frowns at the name, like it had a nasty taste into her mouth.
Rhys wants to laugh. Or cry, he’s not sure. Shakes his head, because, yeah right, as if - as if he could really seduce Handsome Jack…
He certainly can try, that’s for sure.