Nightfall over the caravan, somewhere between nowhere and everywhere else.
As much as he’d needed it, Rhys hadn’t had a single moment to process his thoughts on his own. It was near impossible given the circumstances, how many eyes watched and waited for him to make a move. It was the nature of being on the run.
Although they had formed a ragtag family of sorts, tensions ran high between opposing parties, and especially whenever he opened his mouth. There was no luxury in it, not when his decisions had gotten them to this point, not when there was someone else riding shotgun in his brain.
He still hadn’t told anyone. Was he ever going to?
How long was this going to keep up, and would he even survive to see the end?
His mind ran a mile a minute; by the time he’d exited with his conscience intact, he’d stumbled and fallen over his confidence, greeted by bitter sand. A sigh, a grumble, he pulled himself up aided by no one and walked solitarily.
He waded through whims toward the ledge and sat himself down some ways away, throwing his legs over as though casting his lifeline out to sea. His shoulders dropped, weighed down by the self-doubt he’d consistently masked with assurance.
He couldn’t recall exactly when he’d become this way; guard up in day, defenses down as moonbeams fell over his true form. Hyperion had never been kind to honesty.
His ECHO eye illuminated as he was broken out of his thoughts. His chest tightened, whole body turning to scan the area for the cause of what odd a sound he’d heard; he could feel goosebumps rising along his left arm as he formulated a list of scenarios involving his inevitable death. By the time he’d come to his incorrect conclusions he realized the source, standing and turning on his heel in stark confusion.
Harsh, garbled noises echoed around him; Jack was hunched over, back turned to Rhys as he heaved out a collection of strangled sighs. He was… sobbing.
Unsure of how to approach the situation, Rhys strode over to the blue figure in his sights, arms and hands cautiously outstretched as though he were expecting a sudden backlash.
“Jack?” He choked out, anxious. “Are you- crying?”
The sobbing immediately quieted as Jack went rigid. He stood then after a moment in the eerie silence of a desert night, back still turned.
“Thought you were asleep.”
He sounded defeated, maybe even embarrassed. He didn’t bother with affect, seeming caught up in his own mental warfare.
Rhys took this in for what it was, his stance awkward as he teetered between questioning the validity of Jack’s emotions or feeling immediately sympathetic. It was hard not to feel anything for the situation, even despite that Jack–the AI, he needed to remind himself–had selfishly put his friends in jeopardy and led Rhys to lie for his sake.
“Well, I’m- I’m awake.” He replied, tone softened by compassion though the response itself was stuttered warily.
Jack laughed a short, self-loathing exhale that entailed a lot more than just reaction to wit, having been caught in a moment of weakness. Upon turning around, he was quick to bounce back, a look on his face that Rhys equated to ‘if you tell anyone about this I’ll kill you.’ All he could offer was his own laugh, though strained by absolute confusion.
The thought in itself was strange, as it were. An AI crying over memories that technically belonged to the person it was imitating–and yet it seemed natural to deem it human simply because it acted as such. Rhys didn’t want to decide whether or not what was attached to him was capable of emotion, whether it even had a soul, but this seemed to indicate some semblance of that on its own.
AI Jack was about as much Jack as he’d expected. The crying seemed to make things more real.
The irony of it all was the reason behind the crying; Jack himself felt overwhelmed by these thoughts, stuck in some strange limbo, unable to identify between fiction and reality for himself.
It clearly wasn’t going to be as peaceful a night as Rhys had wished.