Zer0 could care less about the conglomeration of disgruntled residents outside Moxxi’s Bar. All of them were upset that the place was closed for the afternoon. A cacophony of complaints about ‘where to get booze now’ and ‘how it wasn’t fair’ didn’t mean anything to Zer0.
For a week now, they have been planning this luncheon with Rhys. Moxxi seemed perfectly content with renting the place out to Zer0 for a private event. Her ‘appreciation’ of their mysterious behavior, frequent use of poetry, and tight-fitting leather suit were also convincing factors. The deal between them was simple. Zer0 had the cash; Moxxi had the space. Her space also included the best (and most functionable) kitchen in Sanctuary. And the rising CEO of a weapons manufacturing company on the verge of its comeback deserved the best.
Rhys had recently relocated to Promethea, meaning he’d be traveling quite the distance just to have lunch with Zer0. They wanted to make Rhys’ experience worth it.
Executing the best meal Zer0 had to offer, however, was a different story.
They rarely cooked themself. In the past, they were constantly on the move. Never staying in a place long enough to become fully situated. Zer0 survived on whatever supplement was readily available, whether it was the small snacks they carried with them or taking advantage of surrounding resources such as edible wildlife. In this case, their best resource was an online recipe from the ECHOnet.
Rhys seemed like a fancy, normie type of guy. Serving him a generically desirable meal should be easy. Zer0 hoped he liked skag roast--especially when it's been carved with a sword.
Currently they stood in the kitchen of Moxxi’s bar. Her oven was on a skag roast cooked inside of it. An incoming call from Zer0’s comm alerted them. They answered it.
“Hey, Zer0,” Rhys said from the other line. “I’ve made it despite your uh, complicated directions. Never knew it’d be so difficult getting to a floating city like Sanctuary, heh. Care to let me in? The doors to Moxxi’s Bar are locked.”
Zer0 left the kitchen at once. They entered the main area of the bar and crossed through it to the front doors. Rhys stood outside. In his hand was a bottle of sparkling fruit juice with a ribbon tied into a bow around it. He wore a white shirt as well with a dark blue vest over it. A long, red tie ran down the middle of his torso and was neatly tucked into his dark pants. In other words, Rhys looked as clean and spiffy as he usually did. Zer0, on the other hand, still wore their usual black suit and helmet.
“Hello, Rhys,” Zer0 greeted. “Come inside.” They opened the door for Rhys and led him through the bar. When they reached the counter in the back of the bar, Rhys stuck his bottle into a bucket of ice sitting on its surface. Zer0 didn’t recall asking Rhys to bring a drink--they were eating in a bar, afterall--but overlooked it. “This luncheon I’ve planned for us / Should be a nice treat.”
“Ah, yeah. I look forward to it.” Rhys took a seat on one of the barstools.
Zer0 walked past him and towards the door one the right side of the bar. As they entered the kitchen, their helmet projected an exclamation mark in alarm. Gray clouds of smoke billowed from the oven. Zer0 crossed the kitchen and yanked the oven door open. The slab of skag roast they had prepared was engulfed in flames. Its outer skin was black and charred as it burned. Zer0 slammed the oven door shut. “Crap...”
Their skag roast was ruined. Zer0 pressed a hand to their helmet. A red frowny face popped up as a projection while they thought about what to do. Perhaps setting the oven temperature twice as high in an attempt to cut its cooking time in half wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Zer0 looked around the kitchen for alternatives. While Moxxi had plenty of raw food ingredients--both fresh and frozen--stored away, cooking a new meal from scratch would consume too much time. Rhys is a regular civilian guy. His standards for a luncheon were likely different from Zer0’s, and Zer0 assumed Rhys would expect their meal to be ready by now.
The oven still smoked as Zer0 searched the kitchen for a solution. A stack of Moxxi’s empty pizza boxes sat on the counter. The sight of them gave Zer0 an idea. Fast food didn’t take long to cook. It would easily be ready to serve and Zer0 could pass it off as a meal they had prepared. Rhys wouldn’t have to know anything about how they burned their skag roast, nor how they had failed a task as trivial as cooking.
Zer0 quickly pulled out their ECHO device. A quick ECHOnet search for the nearest fast food place should solve their problem. Within seconds, Zer0 downloaded the coordinates to a Dynasty Diner located in the area where Handsome Jack had tried to build Opportunity. All Zer0 had to do was get to a Fast Travel station and leave without Rhys noticing. Their cloaking tech came to mind, and out of habit Zer0 was about to activate it until they realized Rhys would notice a door opening and closing by itself. Zer0 would have to sneak out another way.
They opened the window in the kitchen. Zer0 placed one leg out, ready to leave the bar, when Rhys opened the door unannounced.
He stared at them. “Oop. Uh… Zer0?”
Zer0 slowly withdrew their leg from the window, maintaining eye-contact with Rhys while doing so. “Was stretching my calves,” they lied. “Isometric exercise. / Nothing to see here.”
Rhys’ eyes widened and pointed at the oven. “Dude, there’s smoke coming out from there! Is the oven supposed to be doing that?”
Zer0 looked at the oven then back at Rhys. They needed an explanation, a believable lie so Rhys wouldn’t judge them for burning the skag roast. “That’s not smoke. It’s steam. / Originating from the / steamed skag I’m cooking.”
“Ah… I’ll leave you to it then.” Rhys still had a look of mild concern on his face, but he didn’t question them. He turned around and left the kitchen, returning to the bar area. Zer0 was happy to be alone again.
They had to admit, climbing out of a window at Moxxi’s Bar to sneak over to a Fast Travel station provided a better challenge than simply waiting for food to cook. Zer0 teleported to Dynasty Diner in no time.
When they returned to Sanctuary, they ran through the town with their order of gettleburgers. Zer0 entered Moxxi’s Bar the same way they left--through the window. A few seconds were spent taking out all the food and arranging it on a tray, but as they exited the kitchen they estimated Rhys hadn’t been waiting for long.
Zer0 carried out a tray with the food on it and placed it on the counter in front of Rhys. At some point he must have uncapped the bottle of sparkling juice he brought, because two glasses of the liquid stood on the counter.
“Your meal is complete,” Zer0 said. “Hope you enjoy these burgers.”
Rhys looked down at the fast food in front of him, one brow cocked at it. “Not to say I’m ungrateful or anything, but I thought you said you were cooking steamed skag?”
“No, I meant steamed ratch,” Zer0 said, recalling the ingredients in the gettleburgers. “That is what I call burgers. / We’re having steamed ratch.”
Rhys made a confused expression. “You call burgers steamed ratch?”
Zer0 nodded, maintaining a straight posture and clasping their hands together confidently. “It’s a dialect. / From a different planet.”
Rhys nodded slowly, his eyes locking on the food again as he processed what Zer0 said. “Uh-huh. What planet?”
Zer0 hesitated. They quickly scrolled through a mental list of different planets they knew about. “Upstate Eden-Four.”
“Ah, really? ‘Cause I’m from northern Eden-Four myself, and I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase ‘steamed ratch.’”
“I am mistaken. / Did I say Eden-Four? No. / I meant Eden-Five.” They needed to act natural. They couldn’t let Rhys catch on to their lie.
Zer0 reached for their cup of sparkling juice Rhys had poured. Without missing a beat, they looked straight ahead at him as they tipped the glass to the edge of their helmet. The cup clanked against their visor, spilling a bit of juice down Zer0’s suit, but they refused to acknowledge it.
Rhys, on the other hand, stared at the gesture. “I see...”
He reached for one of the burgers and took a bite out of it. Zer0 watched, making no attempt to eat any of the food themself. After Rhys swallowed his bite, he paused. His ECHOeye began glowing, indicating it was activated, and he squinted at his food. “You know, Zer0, my scan is telling me that this is really similar to those gettleburgers you can get at a Dynasty Diner.”
“Perhaps your eye lies,” Zer0 replied flatly. Confidence is the best way to sell a lie--pure confidence, and a straightforward tone.
“You know, Zer0,” Rhys set his burger back on the tray, “if you can’t cook that’s okay. I won’t think any less of you.”
Zer0 hummed a response. They weren’t expecting Rhys to catch on so quickly, to pinpoint their flaw. His tone didn’t carry a hint of judgement to it either, rather he sounded understanding. Still, Zer0 did not want to admit defeat.
They offered no reply as they turned around and went straight back into the kitchen. Smoke trickled from the door when Zer0 opened it, the fire from the oven still roaring. The flames licked every inch of the kitchen now. Zer0 decided not to deal with it, and quickly exited the kitchen and returned to being face to face with Rhys. The door creaked as it swung from Zer0’s push.
“A successful lunch,” they said. “Time flies. We should move on now.”
“You know, I’ve only been here for about fifteen minutes or so,” Rhys said. “I’ve still got some free time if you wanna--OH GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THERE?!”
Rhys rose to his feet and pointed past Zer0. The kitchen door was still swinging behind them, offering a brief look inside to the kitchen. Zer0 caught a glimpse of the kitchen inferno before the door came to a halt. Smoke began pooling at the ceiling of the bar now as steady gray streams of smoke carried the heat to the rest of the building. Zer0 maintained a calm demeanor.
“Don’t worry, that’s just / Aurora Borealis,” they said, hands clasped behind their back. Zer0 projected a smiley face from their helmet as Moxxi’s kitchen burned behind them.
Rhys didn’t seem convinced. His voice strained with emotion. “Wh--Aurora Borealis? At this time of year, at this time of day, on this part of Pandora. Localized entirely in Moxxi’s Bar?”
Rhys paused. “...Can I see it?”
Zer0 stepped forward and gently grabbed Rhys’ arm. They placed their other hand on his back and led him out of the bar. Given his outburst, Zer0 suspected Rhys must be catching on to their ruse by now. He must suspect Zer0’s lies, must be disapproving of their unusual ways. If it were anyone else, Zer0 wouldn’t give a damn. They never had reason to care about what others thought of them. But this was Rhys. He actually thought they were cool and his dorky charm had grown on Zer0. They didn’t want to scare him off now.
As Zer0 escorted Rhys to the door, the hud display on their helmet notified them of a call. It was Moxxi. Zer0 put her connection through.
“Zer0!” she yelled from the other end. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! My bar is on fire!”
“Things are fine, Moxxi,” Zer0 replied calmly. “It’s just a trick of the light.”
They hung up before Moxxi could reply. She had sounded angry. Her voice cracked with aggravated annoyance and horror. Zer0 would have to talk to her later, or else they risked having another bounty on their head.
Zer0 opened the door. They were practically pushing Rhys forward now until he turned around to protest.
“Wait, wait, Zer0, slow down.” Rhys stopped just outside the entrance to the bar. He stared directly at Zer0, his mismatched eyes full of confusion. “You’re acting like, kinda weird. Weirder from the typical weird stuff you usually do that’s actually the norm for you.”
Zer0 shot a question mark from their helmet. “What do you mean, Rhys?” they asked, acting as if they hadn’t just lied to him earlier.
Rhys ran a hand through his hair and glanced past them. For a moment, he focused on the smoke rising in the sky from the emblazoned bar. Then he focused back on Zer0. “I mean, I know you’re usually full of surprises and all, but uh… these past twenty minutes just didn’t seem like you were being you. Ya know?”
Zer0 still didn’t reply. They stared back at Rhys blankly. He had always been more observant than he let on. They’re surprised he saw through them so well. Few people do that--even fewer are so polite about it.
“...I have put stress on myself,” they admitted, albeit reluctantly. “You have distinct tastes.”
“I--what?” Rhys shook his head. “Nah, dude, you’re fine.” He chuckled at them. His eyes darted to the fire accumulating within the bar. Its smoke reached towards where Zer0 stood and floated past them. “Uh, hey, come walk with me. It’d be good to ah, to get away from the fire that’s going on back there.”
Zer0 obliged. They followed Rhys closely as he walked down the path leading to the bar. Panicking civilians rushed past them.
“Listen, Zer0,” Rhys said. The two of them stood at a different corner of Sanctuary now. Moxxi’s Bar was nothing but a burning building in the background. “I know you and I both come from completely different backgrounds, but you don’t gotta do things in a uh, ‘normie’ civilian way just for me. If that makes sense.”
Zer0 thought about it. They stood silently next to Rhys, their mind mulling over his honesty.
“You being really different from me is what makes you so cool and interesting,” Rhys continued. His voice was soft, and his tone sounded genuine.
Zer0 hadn’t considered the merit in their contrasting tastes before, hadn’t considered how Rhys saw their differences as a highlight. On a battlefield, disagreements in preferred methods could prove lethal. It could lead to an argument over an attack plan whilst the enemy exploited the conflict. Or an asynchronous team falling to friendly fire due to mishaps in communication. Zer0 has experienced their fair share of conflict from teammates due to contrasting methods. It usually ended with one party begrudgingly following the other.
But here, within this non-combative context, perhaps differences weren’t such a bad thing.
“How about the next time we meet up, you do whatever you want in whatever ‘Zer0’ way you want,” Rhys said. “Be as cryptic or violent or whatever else you wanna be. Basically, I just think your style is neat. Everything you do is just so cool and uh,” he paused as blush became visible on his face, “I’d feel kinda bad if you felt the need to rewrite yourself for me. Surprises from you can be fun, afterall.”
“Very well,” Zer0 replied. A “:-D” projected from their helmet.
Rhys grinned and clasped his hands together. “Ah, nice. So uh, I guess I’ll see you around then? You uh,” he turned his head towards the blaze behind them, “you might be busy later with cleanup from all this.”
“I’m sure that Moxxi / Is already well aware. / She won’t be happy.”
“Well, if it means anything, I’m happy.” Rhys reached up and planted a quick kiss on the side of Zer0’s helmet. He smiled as Zer0 projected an exclamation mark. Rhys chuckled. “And hey. You steam a good ratch.”
Another emoticon followed, this time a “<3” directed at Rhys. Behind them, the smoke from the kitchen plumed into massive clouds. Spikes of fire flickered from the top of Moxxi’s Bar. The upper half of the establishment was singed black and the fire threatened to spread to nearby buildings. Zer0 heard the frantic yelling of other citizens, heard someone call for Lilith and the other vault hunters to come put the fire out.
None of it meant a thing to them as they focused on Rhys offering a gentle wave goodbye before walking off. He stumbled over one of the many piles of trash in Sanctuary, and it amused Zer0. They may not be a master at cooking, but at least their skills were enough to satisfy Rhys.