Chapter 1: Chapter One
It was self preservation.
Becoming the “CEO” of Hyperion was pretty much everyone’s pipe dream. When Rhys, quite literally, plugged his way up the corporate ladder into his neural port, there was very little he wouldn’t do for the position.
He lied to his best friend, to the two con artists he’d befriended. He’d promised this “Jack” that he would get him back to Helios and that he would restore him to power and, in return, Jack assured him that he would have a very important role to play.
Which, apparently, was to be his meat suit.
A meat suit is, in fact, as horrifying as it sounded.
Just as Rhys thought he was getting the promotion he deserved, Jack told him that he would be testing Nakayama’s prototype out on him.
The prototype was a metal endoskeleton that would have Jack’s AI. But, with an endoskeleton came the issue of Rhys’s innards. Like, his heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, etc. The essentials. This endoskeleton would give Jack a vessel to come back and rule Hyperion and Pandora with an iron fist, probably literally given Rhys’s right arm.
But what Rhys didn’t understand was why it had to be him? Sure, he was there, he was attractive, Jack already knew how to take control of his body. It made perfect sense! But why would Jack not value the loyalty that Rhys had given him?
After all I’ve done for you? You can’t do this for me? Jack insisted, even after straight up telling Rhys that he would die. When Rhys said that he didn’t want to do that, that there were better candidates, that he could help him, please for the love of god do not kill me, it hardly mattered. That just seemed to piss off the AI more. Rhys, when trying to stand from The Executive Chair, was pinned down and cuffed.
From the desk had emerged a machine with spinning blades and sharp tools that were definitely supposed to help in forcing the endoskeleton into Rhys’s body.
He tried to use the blades on Jack’s… scary thing to cut the restraints, but they were not quite sharp enough to cut through Rhys could only push back the chair so far until he was pressed against the window. His soon to be corpse cast a lovely silhouette over Elpis.
That’s when Rhys did what he enjoyed the most. Talking.
He talked a lot. Said a lot of words that he didn’t really remember, since he was in such a blind panic. But somewhere between the struggling, the sobs, and the begging, he convinced Jack that his life was more valuable to him as an ally than a meat suit. Or, the psychopathic AI took mercy on him, since at this point Rhys had taken a couple cuts and was having a full blown panic attack.
That’s how he became Jack’s personal assistant of sorts. Jack was, for all intents and purposes, in charge of Helios. He made all of the decisions, listened in on everything that was happening, worked on his eridium projects and his leads on the vaults. The only difference is, this time, it wasn’t really Jack.
You couldn’t kill him, because Helios had infinite copies of his code.
You couldn’t as much say a negative thing about him, because he literally had ears everywhere.
You couldn’t so much as blink the wrong way in Rhys’s direction, since Rhys was Jack’s.
Which left Rhys with the tasks that the AI, frankly, didn’t feel like dealing with. Going to meetings, filling out paperwork, hiring people for positions, etc. But when Rhys showed up to an accounting meeting, people didn’t really take him seriously. Yeah, he was in charge, and yeah, Jack killed a lot of people who looked at his pet the wrong way, but that wasn’t any way to run a company.
Eventually, they realized that the only way for Jack and Rhys to maintain their unsteady hold on the largest corporation in the galaxy, they needed Jack to actually be back. Not just appearing on monitors and ordering people around and threatening them over the loudspeakers.
Jack was dead. Nakiyama did successfully finish a prototype that could contain Jack’s intelligence, but it still looked like a golden skeleton and they did not have the organic material to recreate Jack’s flesh and make it look real. Not yet, at least.
By the time that they were able to finish the suit, it would be too late. AI Jack would be flushed out of Helios’s system and Rhys would be demoted, best case scenario.
Jack, to Rhys’s silent dismay, had a solution. He had a doppelganger. One he’d hired years ago, before he was the CEO, before he was anything more than a simple programmer with an attitude.
Which lead to Rhys being ordered to hunt down Timothy Lawrence and get him to Helios as soon as possible.
Jack hadn’t lost contact with Lawrence because of the contract. If Jack ever needed him, Tim would be legally obligated to come running to him, or Jack would send every vault hunter on Pandora after him.
Tim was good, but he wasn’t that good.
When soft Jack fell off his rocker some and became Handsome Jack, Timothy didn’t like the shit he pulled with both his own safety and the safety of others in mind. He started to say as much to Jack, which caused tension between them.
Long story short, Jack threw him off Helios. That didn’t void him of his contract, mind you. Now, instead of having a safe base of operations on Helios, he spent his time on the hot, sandy shithole that was Pandora.
Then, in an absurd turn of events, Jack died! So Tim was finally off the hook.
Or, so he thought. He got an email from this Rhys fellow, saying that Jack was back, that Tim needed to be on Helios as soon as possible, and that he was looking forward to meeting him.
Looking forward to meeting him. As if the Hyperion douchebags in the sky cared about Tim beyond how much money they invested into his permanent and inconvenient surgery. Regardless of what Tim desired, he had to head back up to the big glowing “H” and do as his boss instructed. The only question was, how in God’s name did Jack survive?
He’d heard from other vault hunters that one of the vault hunters that was there killed him. The story differed from who actually landed the final blow, whether it was a siren power, a punch, or a gun, but it didn’t matter. All parties involved agreed that yeah, Jack was dead. And dead was supposed to be dead, but apparently not.
So now Timothy Lawrence was back up on Helios, wearing the mask, and reporting to… an artificial intelligence that claimed he was Jack. If he knew, way back in the day, that signing up for this gig would be so morally grey and exhausting, he probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place.
Fucking college loans.
Of course, he hadn’t been required to be Jack in quite some time, so to get back into the swing of things was bound to be difficult. This guy was an asshole.
After being on Helios for a few weeks in, essentially, total isolation to get back into character, hearing Jack’s rants over the loudspeaker, and catching up with Rhys about what has happened since Jack came back.
Rhys seemed almost out of place here. Yeah, he has the coiffed hair, the clothes, the intelligence… but something told Tim that he didn’t want to be here as much as he did.
Rhys comes for a visit!
Man, does that nerd like ice cream.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tim had lost a lot of weight since he had been on Pandora. Jack was in great shape, but Tim himself had very little fat on his bones, so he’d been eating a little less carefully than he had before to catch up.
So yeah, that’s why he was having a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. Not because he could finally afford it or because he wanted to, but because it would help his physique match Jack’s. Naturally.
He heard a knock at the door just as he was going to sit on the couch and eat his healthy breakfast, which meant either someone knew he was a body double and was here to kill him, or Rhys was coming for an unscheduled meeting. He walked to the door, swiping his gun off the counter on the way, just in case it wasn’t Rhys.
He checked the peep hole, seeing the familiar brown hair, artificially heterochromatic eyes, and a dorky smile. He snorted and put down the gun. The only two people on this space station who ranked higher than himself was an evil AI and this nerd.
Tim opened the door, standing behind it so that anyone lingering in the hallway wouldn’t catch a glimpse of one of Hyperion’s biggest secrets.
It was Tim. Tim was the big secret.
Rhys walked in and waited for the door to shut before greeting him. “Hi, Tim.” He smiled, one of the only genuine ones Tim had ever seen on Helios. Rhys was the only one who knew Tim’s real name, and the only one allowed to use it. Besides Jack himself, of course.
“Hey, Rhys. What brings you to my neck of the woods?” He walked back over to his ice cream, but sat at the dining room table instead of the couch, as he’d planned originally.
“Unfortunately business and not pleasure.” Rhys said with a tired sigh, eyeing the ice cream. “The boss seems to think you’re ready to… Go out in the field, again.”
Tim looked up from his bowl, spoon in mouth. He finished his bite slowly and stared down at the bowl. He had so many questions about what Jack’s attitude would be and was unable to ask any of them, in case the AI in question was eavesdropping.
Rhys seemed to understand his hesitation. “Of course, you would be able to… react differently than Jack might.”
The AI in question spoke over the overhead. “Yeah, TimTam.” He purred, voice slightly… pixelated? If that was possible. “You just gotta kill when I say so and do as I instruct. The rest is all you.”
Tim stopped his eyes from rolling. So I just have to do whatever you want and there’ll be no problem. Hopefully Tim wouldn’t be needed around here much longer. “No problem, I got this.” He said, brimming with fake confidence.
Jack’s face appeared on his TV monitor, to the shock of no one. “Good. You start tomorrow morning. Your first appearance as me will be at some bullshit meeting. Tell him, Rhys, I’ve got someone to yell at.” And with that, his image was gone.
Rhys looked from the TV to Timothy, the friendly smile wiped off his face and replaced with something more reserved. “I have your itinerary for tomorrow, which is, unfortunately, a busy day.” He opened his Echo, blue eye glowing almost white as he looked through the screen. Tim looked at how his eye interacted with his arm in interest. “I’m forwarding you the information now.”
He pulled out his EchoDevice, which was much less convenient than something attached to his person, like Rhys had. He pulled up Rhys’s schedule with ease, eyes scanning the document. “Oh, lunch with you? What’s the occasion?”
Rhys was looking at the ice cream again. “Jack wants us to be in public together as much as possible. Since he can’t eat lunch with me and he wants people to stay away from me…”
“I’m the next best thing.” Tim finished, feeling a little weird about that. Does Jack know that Tim is his own person? Probably not. Or he just doesn't care.
“Exactly right. He’s extremely possessive.” Rhys sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Do you want some ice cream?”
Rhys looked at Tim in surprise, grinning. “Was it obvious?”
“Extremely.” Tim walked to the fridge and grabbed a bowl out of his cupboard, then grabbed the ice cream from the fridge. “Vanilla okay?”
“I prefer chocolate, if I’m being honest,” Rhys said, following behind Tim. “But all ice cream is good ice cream.”
Tim tried to scoop the dessert, but it was too solid because of how cold it was. He stabbed it with the spoon, finally breaking the surface. Then, he tried to scoop, only for the spoon to bend. He stared at it, frustrated. “Okay, then we wait instead.” He turned to the fridge. “You want some chocolate sauce on that?”
“Uhh, is that even a question?” He seemed to realize he sounded rude, then shook his head. “Yes please, yeah. Sorry.”
Tim bit back a laugh, grabbing the syrup from the fridge and passing it to Rhys. “We just have to wait a minute for it to melt.” He continued, in response to Rhys’s stare, “You know… to scoop it? It’s too solid. You… did see my spoon broke, yeah?”
Rhys pulled the bent spoon from the tub, amused by its state. He rinsed it off, then bent it back into shape with his metal hand.
“Woah, strong guy over here.” Tim teased, watching him with interest.
“Yeah, absolutely I’m the strongest guy around. And it’s definitely not, you know, my metal arm.” He put the spoon back under the water, turning the water the hottest it could go. He let the metal on the spoon heat up, then turned off the spicket, shook the excess water off, and plunged it into the vanilla ice cream with ease.
“Oh wow. I feel like that’s an obvious strategy, but I had no idea and am kinda amazed.” Tim thought aloud, watching the slightly shorter man scoop a little too much of the dessert into his mug.
“If there’s one thing that I am an expert on, Timothy, it’s ice cream.” He said seriously, stuffing a huge spoonful into his mouth.
Tim watched with a strange combination of alarm, disgust, and amazement. The kid was weird as hell, but definitely not the Hyperion scumbag that Tim was expecting. He was… down to Earth, in a way. Well, he did still have the coiffed hair, the, frankly, weird attire, and the right public appearance to be the second most important person in the most influential company in the universe.
Rhys walked to the table and sat, eating the ice cream. The noises he was making were definitely not pornographic, as some people make when they eat something delicious. They were actually a little disturbing, because Rhys was way too pleased with cheap vanilla frozen dessert.
“This might be the best day of my life.” He said seriously. “Thanks for the ice cream, I’ll clean the dishes when I’m done.”
Tim snorted and joined him at the table, pulling out his Echo to look at the files Rhys had forwarded him for tomorrow’s meeting. “So just to clarify, the executives think that I am Jack?”
Rhys nodded, not waiting to swallow before continuing his thought. “Yeah,” he tried to continue, but inhaled some ice cream. He cleared his throat, then swallowed before continuing. He apparently had learned his lesson. “Yes, they think that Nakayama and his research team had successfully cloned Jack and transferred the AI into his body.” He gestured to Tim. “You are the Jack clone. So you have to stay here at least until we have Nakayama’s actual clone prepared, which a few scientists and researchers are taking care of in isolation.”
Rhys looked at the monitor, scanning with his EchoEye to see if Jack’s consciousness was nearby. Just because he was the most advanced AI in the universe didn’t mean that he was able to be everywhere at once. When he confirmed that he wasn’t, he looked to Tim. “Jack wanted to take control of your body with this creepy endoskeleton thing and kill the rest of the research team, but I convinced him that you are valuable to us alive. But if you step a toe out of line, Jack won’t listen to me and will kill you.”
From anyone else, this might have sounded like a threat to stay obedient. However, coming from Rhys, Tim only felt sincerity and concern. Rhys’s attitude towards Jack was not like the attitude that other Hyperion “JackHammers.” That was the name of Jack’s biggest fanclub. Tim wasn’t sure if they understood how stupid and sexual the title was, but it was better not to argue with fanboys of a homicidal maniac that Tim happened to share a face with. Right. That brings him back to his current predicament.
“So can Jack not do crap when I’m around? Because then he’d be seen in two places at once. That would be… hard to understand, if you’re an employee… because… Two bosses?” Tim scratched the back of his head, trying to keep up. “Maybe I’m missing something, I don’t know.”
“No, you’re right.” Rhys confirmed, not letting him ramble any further. “When you’re out as Jack, other Jack would be silent and hidden. Then, when he wants to wreak havoc or whatever it is that he plans on doing, your roles would be reversed.”
“That makes sense, then, I guess. Wait, so just to clarify, roles reversed means me being in here and him doing whatever?”
Rhys nodded and took the last bite of the ice cream, waiting to swallow before continuing. “Yeah. So when he wants to swap off, you make an excuse to leave ASAP, and he comes over the loudspeaker. Oh, and they know that his intelligence can go back into the speakers, so they won’t be confused or anything.”
“Good to know…”
The pair sat in silence, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. Rhys got up to clean his dish, tacky skag skin boots clicking against Timothy’s way too expensive, imported, cream linoleum. Jack’s decorating of Helios was a big thing back in the day, after he took over. He was honestly obsessed with the interior design. He would be bashing someone’s face in and talking about the colour of the walls in the offices. Maybe that was the first sign of him being a little bit insane.
Rhys cleared his throat. “Tim?”
“Yeah?” Rhys had, apparently been talking for a while. “Sorry, I was in thought. It’s… weird being back here. Never thought I would be.”
Rhys seemed to get it. “Yeah, it’s hard going from Pandora to here. Both are ridiculously chaotic, but… different.”
Tim smiled some. “I think Pandora is easier than here, honestly. At least there I’m myself.”
The tone of the room seemed to shift after that to something way too serious for Rhys to be comfortable in dealing with. “Yeah, I mean I get that some…” He had a lot he wanted to say about his situation with Jack, but he could be listening at any time. “I should probably go. I have lot of work to today.”
“Yeah, yeah sure. No problem. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Tim stood to see him out, because he’s a great host.
Rhys walked to the door, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Don’t get too stressed about it. You’ll do fine, and I’ll be there to help you every step of the way.” He didn’t wait for a response, already feeling awkward at the emotional direction the conversation was going. “See you.” He waved and left without another word.
Tim shut the door behind him, leaning against the wall and running his hands down his face roughly.
Man, tomorrow was gonna suck.
I hope you enjoyed!