The synthetic uprising was all Rhys’s fault.
At least a bit of it, though if Atlas’s CEO were asked his opinion he’d claim it was Jack that had brought about the beginning of the end. Which…
Jack wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of that. It was just…
Rhys programmed the AI that came to call itself Handsome Jack.
“That doesn’t even make any sense. By that logic my parents brought about the end of human life by creating me – every hamburger that I’ve eaten that’s given me calories to live is guilty to an extent, even!” Rhys shouted, crossing his arms and glaring to where the AI’s mobile platform was spinning around in his grossly opulent golden office chair. Jack may have been the most advanced sentient software made by human hands but that didn’t mean he had taste.
“Honey pie, you know I love it when you get all pissy like that,” Jack cooed, “but you know you’re part of all this crap. I mean, obviously I did all the important stuff and hard work. You just kinda sat around looking pretty,” he rambled, wheeling a hand around, “buuut you’re still a guilty little creep.”
Rhys ground his jaw, fingers digging into the fabric over his biceps as he glared down his mad creation. This was the millionth time and a half they’d argued over whose fault this mess was. The entire thing was ridiculous, infuriating, but Rhys knew better than fight the truth of the matter – that Jack was right. Instead he threw up his hands and stomped to the sitting area in Jack’s office, flopping down on the couch like a petulant child. Jack just snickered and jostled his computer awake, amusing himself with its contents. Early on in his personality development Rhys had noted how Jack seemed to prefer using devices separate from himself. At first Rhys was concerned Jack was acting out to foist his processes on exterior devices so he wouldn’t be cannibalizing his processing power for dicking around on the net. So Rhys had upped, read: tripled, Jack’s processing power and yet the behavior persisted. Even after integration into the android body where he had full access to just about any device’s subsystem access through his own programming’s tools Jack had still stolen Rhys’s credit information and bought himself an ECHO device.
Which he used near constantly to message, call, and generally harass Rhys.
“Oh, by the way, how’s my baby girl working out?” Jack asked, eyes still on the computer screen and fingers rhythmically tapping at the keys. The younger man, well technically Jack was under a decade in age but for some reason elected the persona of an older man, sighed and scratched the back of his neck.
“She’s fine, processing power’s just,” he shook his head, “out of control. Her platform’s still under development, she can’t seem to pick one idea to follow through with.” The Angel AI was a spiritual successor to Jack, built under similar base coding but tweaked by her own self editing in the code. Her initial creation had been spurred on when Rhys realized that Jack, his dearest and most noteworthy advancement in technology, was a frothing maniac. Could mental illness exist in artificial intelligence? Rhys really should have paid more attention in that Synthetic Sentience and You college class.
Angel was a personal project, Rhys’s way of proving that he could create someone stable and sensible and she was an overwhelming success. Jack found out about the Angel AI during a routine invasion of Rhys’s privacy by digging around in the younger man’s various work computers. Then he’d demanded a meeting, learned about their shared origins, and taken a passionate liking to the girl. Rhys allowed the relationship, quietly finding the pair’s strange father daughter dynamic fucking adorable.
“You think she’ll call me dad?” Jack wondered aloud. Rhys snorted, rubbing his eyes. Sometimes Jack just said things, was just this easy element that made dull days a bit more flavorful. It made forgetting the ongoing genocide of Pandorans almost forgettable. There were entire days where Rhys didn’t think about the virus his AI had unleashed in the six galaxies, or how Jack only barely paid attention to the legal human colonies.
While Jack was always sure to keep Helios and Hyperion warm and fat with every luxury the colonies provided, it was clear Jack didn’t think much of humans. There was always something dull in the man’s eyes when he was forced into dealing with any other than Rhys, something callous and unlearned – a child tapping the glass housing an ant farm.
Jack held no affinity for humans, going so far as to keep only a skeleton crew on Helios to keep the station afloat. They were the only other organics Rhys interacted with in the flesh, though even then Jack would pout and whine and ferret Rhys away to their shared living quarters. He wouldn’t let himself be called a pet, but there really was no better word. The harbinger of end times was so busy frowning at his lot in life he hadn’t noticed Jack’s waning attention span. He was too busy furrowing his eyebrows to see Jack perk up from behind his computer screen and give the younger man a considering once over. Rhys was just so involved with his own self loathing that when Jack popped over the back of the couch, wrapping his arms around his human’s shoulders and pressing a cold cheek to his, Rhys shrieked and slammed his shin on the low coffee table.
“Ah, fuck!” he whined, rubbing the forming bruise.
“Tsk, language dollface,” Jack hummed, lazily rubbing his cheek up and down against Rhys’s. Atlas’s CEO grumbled, face smooshed up until one eye was squished shut. Handsome Jack didn’t let up on the personal space invasion, big hands wandering around Rhys’s torso then back up again as Jack leaned back enough to nose at the boy’s throat and inhale deeply.
“Aw, did Rhysie get a booboo?” Jack asked, voice just sickly sweet, one hand almost thoughtlessly coming to slip into the deep V of bared chest exposed by Rhys’s button down.
“Oh my god, stop,” Rhys grumbled, cheeks dusted pink as he palmed his companion’s forehead and shoved him away from where he was nearly open mouthed worshipping the younger man’s clavicle.
“Aw c’mon baby cakes, you used to get so excited about my tactility,” Jack whined. That was true and Rhys privately hated how Jack was right, again. Transferring Handsome Jack into an android form, modeled after the AI’s own tastes of course because who else would have given him those stupidly massive hands and shoulders coupled with that goddamn wasp’s waist, was as stressful as it was exciting. Jack got to experience senses and experiences in completely new forms, learning what it was to hear first hand and having a field day discovering taste and all its massive variety. Rhys had privately been recording the event on his ECHOeye and he would absolutely never admit he’d watched Jack’s face screw up in his first bit of disgust related to texture while eating pretzels.
Touch was fun to watch the AI learn, but in a different way. Rhys had given Jack one of those baby books, the ones with the thick pages where a circle was cut from things like a kitten or a dish towel and the coin sized hole was patched up with an imitation of that fabric or fur. Of course the AI knew it was for literal babies, glaring at Rhys the entire time he’d pet the fluffy golden duckling.
“Yeah, well, it’s getting old.” It wasn’t. Rhys was leaning more towards how the touches were getting more aggressive and less…innocent wasn’t the right word. Less thoughtless, yeah, that was it. Rhys knew Jack had a sex life, shouldering the burden of listening to the man’s conquests whenever Jack felt like blathering on about it. But, frankly, Rhys and Jack’s relationship wasn’t that. It was…it was…
Jack frowned against the hand still masking his face. He stuck his tongue out, licking.
“Eurgh! Don’t be so gross!” Rhys ducked out of the other man’s hold, grumbling and wiping his damp palm on his hip.
“Whatever butter bean. Let’s go do shit, I’m bored to dicks here.”
There wasn’t much else to check in on or take care of that Jack and Angel didn’t have under control in their background programs. It was getting around lunch time but Rhys had fallen into the bad habit of grazing all day over taking meals, a learned habit that spared him from eating alone while Jack stared rudely. They ended up down in one of the labs that serviced Jack’s mobile unit and found Angel critiquing hologram mock ups of her unit.
“I don’t know, that small and you won’t be able to reach diddly shit with those short arms,” Jack frowned at the chest high model of a young girl.
“I can have extendable arms. Or use a stool,” Angel countered. Rhys was circling a different projection, one of a young woman about his age if a touch younger. The hologram stood to his shoulder with big blue eyes and a cute round face. The two mock ups were very similar, clearly age progressions of the same creation. That Angel was having trouble deciding between adopting into the life of a child or an adult and it fascinated him. It spoke of a lack of confidence in Rhys’s mind, of someone unsure of themselves.
“You still have plenty of time to make a decision, Angel. And if we end up producing both it would only be a drain on time,” the only human in the room shrugged, glancing over to where Jack was squinting at the older model.
“Thank you, Rhys. It’s good to know I have options.”
“What, she gets two bodies?” Jack whined, “spoiled brat.”
Taking his chance Rhys slipped out of the lab while the AIs sparked up another bickering bout. Calling out that he was gonna grab a snack the programmer headed off to harass a vending machine. The halls of Helios were sparse on the levels Jack let Rhys have free reign on, the other residents confined to their work and living spaces that rarely crossed Rhys’s path.
So when one did it was an event.
Rhys came to a dead stop when he turned a corner, thirty feet from where a woman with a push trolley stood restocking the vending machines. She was dressed in the garish yellow and black Hyperion custodian uniform, an unflattering yellow polo and stiff formless black trousers and to top it all off a logo riddled baseball cap with a wonky ponytail threaded out the back. Rhys didn’t realize he was staring like a kid at the zoo until she turned to grab more food stuffs from her cart, pausing when she saw him then jerking back in a full bodied startle when the realization hit.
“Sorry!” he squeaked, taking a step closer with both hands up, palms out. The motion seemed to set her off, the woman scrambling to shut and lock the machines with shaking hands. Rhys frowned. The machines were clearly still half empty, what the hell was freaking her out? He panicked when she grabbed at her trolley, frantically trying to maneuver it and herself away and take with her Rhys’s only chance in the last who knows how many months at pure human interaction. Unthinking, he lurched forward, long legs easily carrying him to the opposite side of the cart where his hands slammed down on the push handles, holding it and the woman in place.
“Wait, wait! I just want to talk!” Rhys gasped, working up his most charming smile. Which came out more twitchy and weird, but hopefully it didn’t come off totally serial killery. The custodian didn’t look like she was buying it, breathing heavily with wide eyes and a grip on the cart that was making the plastic creak under the force. Well, she was royally freaking out but at least she wasn’t screaming.
“Um, ahaha, so I’m Rhys.”
She stared; shoulders hunched up near her ears and pupils tightened into pinpricks.
“Yeaaah… So, I guess you’re a custodian, um,” he glanced at her nametag, “Jessie?”
She nodded, finally closing her mouth and quieting her panting, swallowing audibly. Alright, so not that talkative.
“Sorry if I scared you. People don’t come up here that often. I work as a programmer, by the way – “
“I know,” Jessie croaked, gaze locking with his, “I know what you do. Who you are. Everybody does.”
Well, that wasn’t unexpected. Jack did stick to him like a bad smell and with the guy’s fondness for media it was only reasonable that Rhys’s identity would be spread as well.
“You’re Handsome Jack’s pet.”
Oh she did not.
“Wh-what? No, no no no no, we’re partners. He’s not my…I’m not his pet,” Rhys stammered. Jessie pulled her hands off the cart and Rhys saw nothing but the custodian trying to build distance between them. His chance of making a friend, hell just an acquaintance, was actively slipping away. Floundering, he swallowed hard and fought to drag up anything that would salvage his reputation.
“Jack runs this station and Hyperion but he owes it to me,” Rhys humble bragged. “His coding that allowed him to be so successful was developed by me originally.” Right, yeah, that was impressive. People liked to be impressed, right?
Jessie’s eyes were a mess of flickering, from him to her trolley to some unseen middle distance. She didn’t say a word, just rubbing her chapped lips together and glaring hollowly into the Atlas CEO’s chest. It dragged on to the point that Rhys opened his mouth, hoping to say something to fill the stifling silence, when she cut him off.
Rhys blinked, gawping at the randomness of the remark, his eyebrows twitching in a mix of embarrassment and confusion, when turrets dropped from the ceiling and zeroed in on them.
Jack was arguing the point that the younger angel model should be chosen for final production, citing that she would be the perfect height to give a noogie with a demonstration on her younger mock up, when Angel interrupted him with a screen pop up of Rhys down by the vending machines. Jack frowned, dropping his arms and walking through the hologram to squint at Rhys and one of the worker bees.
“Why’re you showing me this, baby girl?” Jack asked, bringing up his own camera and audio feed on his internal set up.
“Jessie Abrams. Aged thirty two, unmarried with one twelve year old son held off station on a Hyperion labor camp. Recently diagnosed with – “
“Ugh, shut it sugar,” Jack groaned, half listening to Rhys’s awkward attempt at human interaction. Occasionally he wondered if he and Angel were ruining the kid in terms of proper social conditioning, but then he remembered how lame humans were and figured he was doing the kid a favor. Like, there was a reason Rhys spent half his squishy organic lifetime learning and developing tech and software that went into Jack’s creation. Obviously humans weren’t cutting it if Rhys went through all that trouble for Jack. Over the feed he heard the worker call Rhys Jack’s pet, the AI crooking a smirk at the flush of outrage and embarrassment that prettied up the boy’s face. Rhys stepped back from the trolley, hands fisting and correcting the woman. Apparently he was Jack’s partner.
Aw, that was cute. Rhys was totally his pet, but that stubborn little pout made Jack all sentimental and shit.
“Oh, sorry, I let the profile info get out of hand. I forget how information sharing isn’t instantaneous in this manner,” Angel shrugged. She had a point, data bursts were instantaneous and a bajillion times more convenient than talking. “What I was getting at was Ms. Abrams is an unqualified worker carrying an illegal pistol and currently in a highly emotionally unstable state,” Angel finished with a lazy deadpan. Jack’s face fell, emotional drop processing as he saw the woman’s hands pull back from the cart, one moving to her hip while Rhys stood there like an ignorant dumbass trying to softly correct his newfound friend about his position on Helios. In the time between a human’s heartbeats Jack had the turrets lining the hall snap out of hiding, zero in on the bitch near his human and shred her into a pulpy sludge of bullets and polyester fabric.
Jack was already out the door taking quick furious strides to where Rhys was huddled against a wall, holding himself and sucking down breaths that were too fucking quick, the only color on his face being the messy splash of red from the cooling mess of worker on the floor.
“Shh, sh, baby c’mere, it’s alright,” Jack swept over the kid, sturdy arms and body blanketing him and curling around his waist firmly. Rhys loosed a stuttering hitch in breath, obediently pressing against Jack in a way that pleased the AI immensely.
“Jah – Jack, what the fuck,” Rhys gasped into the older man’s jacket. Right, so that language was a no no but even Jack had the social tact to save his bitching for later. Holding onto the kid’s waist he pulled them both to their feet, steering them to the elevators and way from the slop on the floor.
“Your new friend over there was gonna blow your brains out, sugar. Had to beat her to the punch.” Jack explained, calling the elevator with a thought and a quick command, making sure Rhys wasn’t about to collapse or make a run for it as he let the boy lean against the elevator carriage’s wall. Setting the destination for their shared penthouse, Jack crossed his arms and looked over Rhys. Tall, pale, twitchy and anxious. Nothing new there. Although the waxy dampness of his skin was about as off putting as the dampness gathering in his eyes.
“She wanted to kill me?” Rhys croaked softly, blinking rapidly in an unsubtle removal of tears. Jack shrugged a shoulder.
“It that hard to believe, kitten? You’re kiiinda part of the reason I’m the king.” To Jack, hell even to Angel according to their private exchanges, it was obvious Rhys was the most hated man in the six galaxies after Jack. That was partially why Jack made sure Rhys was forcibly isolated from his peers. Jack wasn’t about to risk anymore half assed assassination attempts. Frankly, he thought it was obvious the kind of danger the kid was in. He sighed silently, already scheduling a shift change from human personnel to loaderbots for any kind of maintenance to be done on the levels Rhys had access to. Also: find out how that chick smuggled a weapon onto the space station. One unstable janitor was not capable of screwing over the security Jack had put in place. She’d had help and now Jack had some spring cleaning to do in his human personnel.
Rhys loosed a shuddery breath, dragging both hands down his face. He didn’t talk for a while after that, sliding past Jack into the penthouse and heading straight to the bathroom for a shower and change of clothes. The AI kept an ear out for him while getting down to business with Angel on their plan of sniffing out and dispatching the disloyal buttmunches that had a hand in causing this mess.
“Will he be alright?” Angel’s digital avatar queried, a composite image of a female frowning on Jack’s ECHOcomm.
“I’ll keep an eye on him, don’t worry about it, baby girl.” Rhys poked his head out the bathroom, hair wet and sticking in all directions from a quick towel rub dry. Hanging up, Jack kept the human in his sights, shadowing his creator as he shuffled to the kitchen for a pint of ice cream and spoon then to the living room where he disappeared under a swath of blankets. Jack sat next to the French vanilla scented lump.
“Ughhh…wanna talk about it?” Jack winced. Shit, his bedside care was really lacking. The cocoon wriggled, a blocky cybernetic hand poking out, lighting up a bit, then sucking back into the sheets as the television clicked on playing a trashy reality program. It was the really mindless kind, the ones where they stuck a group of girls who excelled in bitching and fighting dirty in the same house and basically let them go at it. The season where the show filmed on Pandora was Jack’s favorite, three chicks ended up missing fingers and working as strippers and one got eaten by a skag.
“No,” came the small sound from the blankets. Jack rolled his eyes, throwing an arm around the mass and stubbornly pulling it to rest against him. He snorted at the outraged squeak.
“Guess there ain’t a rush, sugar lump. I’ll be here for whenever ya wanna talk,” Jack’s hand moved up and down his Rhys’s side in something of a mix of comfort and possession, “all you’re ever gonna need is ol’ Jack.”