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Don't Change the Station

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Rhys shuffled his feet as he gazed up at the sky Hyperion had dominated just months before. He had been wandering around the destroyed Helios complex by himself for a while, contemplating how to spend the days before heading back to Atlas’ headquarters. He laughed under his breath at the thought. If he was being frank, “Atlas headquarters” was currently just a little trailer back home. Honestly, Atlas wasn’t much more than a large file on Rhys’ computer, and he hadn’t made a cent off of it yet because there was nothing for people to invest in. But …. he made due.

Ex-accountants and employees of Hyperion walked by him, bowing as they saw him. He wasn’t too fond of all the absolutely bizarre hero worship. Maybe before all this started, (5 months ago now)  a younger, more naive Rhys would have loved the idea of Hyperion jockeys begging for his attention. He had  liked the idea of rising to “Handsome Jack” status.

Now he was just tired, and wanted to find someplace where he could be alone without being pestered.

Vaughn had given him a nice room to stay in while reconnecting with his friends, but the night was beautiful and crisp and he didn’t feel like being behind walls and under a ceiling. Pandora, despite its terrible, awful, gross flaws, could actually be very beautiful and peaceful at night (so long as there was distance between you and the crawlers and creatures that liked to hunt in the dark). So, Rhys trudged out into the dust of the basin of the Helios crash site and began his climb up onto the bluffs.

The wind was brisk but not strong, allowing for clear skies and twinkling stars. The climb was a little rockier than he’d anticipated, and his footing slipped multiple times, so by the time he made it to the top he was covered in dust. The view was pretty incredible, though, and he had to take a moment to just breathe it in.

Movement from the corner his eye jerked his attention away from the horizon line, and sudden frustration and disappointment rose in his chest. Why couldn’t he just be alone for once? He missed his dreary trailer on the outskirts of sometown, where no one really ever bothered him. Through the Pandoran dust and the quickly dying light Rhys could just make out the silhouettes of what appeared to be two people, standing very close to each other. Probably a couple desk workers making out in the moonlight or something stupid and romantic like that. He was surprised at how envious he felt, thinking about that. God, he wished that could be him and Sasha, embracing and speaking soft words.

After exiting the vault, even with Fiona’s “blessing”, he hadn’t said anything to Sasha yet. They had rejoined with the others, laughing and cheering at their collective success. He had given Sasha a careful side-long glance, only to find her looking up at him. He had turned away quickly, his ears burning hot.

The two shadows turned, and for a moment Rhys was tempted to scan them with his ECHO eye, but decided instead to just turn around and walk down the bluff face, but -

“Rhys! Come over here!”

It was Fiona, who appeared to have lost her hat. Turning fully back around, Rhys squinted and saw that the other person was Sasha, her arm in a sling.

“What are you two doing up here?” Rhys asked, walking back towards them, finally seeing their faces clearly.

“Wanted to get away from those Hyperion groupies for a bit,”  Fiona smiled. “And catching up with the little sis. We haven’t seen each other for like…  6 weeks.”

“And here I thought you two were inseparable,” Rhys teased, brushing his hair back nervously as he looked anywhere but Sasha’s luminous green eyes.

“We do lead separate lives now,” Sasha chided, and Rhys couldn’t help but catch the smile that lit up her face.

“Yeah, well….,” Fiona said slowly, pulling her hair behind her ear. “I’ll let you two catch up now. I’ve got to go send some notes to a possible job offer.”

“Job offer?” Rhys said, as Fiona walked by, back down the path to the bottom of the crater. “What kind?”

“Treasure hunting, to be honest,” Fiona turned, now stepping carefully backwards. “Trying to make a name for myself in vault hunter circles.”

“Oh… uh… good luck then.” Rhys suddenly wished she wasn’t walking briskly away, but instead had stayed as a buffer between him and Sasha and their... awkwardness. Or at least his imagined awkwardness. Sasha seemed to be just fine, as she turned and sat on a rock, facing the large valley below.

“You can sit next to me, you know,” Sasha smirked over at Rhys, who was standing frozen in place.

“Right, okay,” Rhys mumbled, and tripped his way over the rocks and pebbles before sitting down on the rock beside Sasha.

“So, uh…. heh… how’s it going?” Rhys tried, but immediately regretted it as Sasha looked at him incredulously.  

“Uh,” She scrunched her eyebrows together, looking away. “Good, I guess. Besides, y’know, the broken arm….”

“Riiiight, sorry,” Rhys said under his breath, so tempted to put his face in his hands. They sat in silence for a good solid minute, both fidgeting nervously.

Sasha finally broke the silence. “When have you ever been this weird and stiff?” she laughed, punching Rhys in the arm. “I mean, uh. You’ve always been weird, and oh god so stiff. But god, it’s been forever hasn’t it? I mean, yeah we took down a vault monster... and I almost died the other day, and now we’re rich. But… before that…. It’s been a while.”

“Yeah,” Rhys said, leaning back and looking up at the stars. “I’ve been busy, though, keeping my mind off of what happened.”

“What did happen?” Sasha asked curiously, turning to look at Rhys. Rhys only looked at her with his eyes, his face still up towards the sky. Sasha continued, “Fiona tried to explain all that happened after we left Hyperion but… you know, she can sometimes just talk my ear off. I lost focus a few times. So give me the abbreviated version.”

“Well,” Rhys began, closing his eyes, his elbows digging into the rock below him. “Loader Bot sacrificed himself for me, I ended up shutting Jack down, and then I took the shareholdings of Atlas to  start a new company.”

“Oh my god. Of course,” Sasha rolled her eyes. “You, of all people, would start a company after that mess.”

“Heh, yeah… I thought it would be more glamorous, whenever I daydreamed about it back in my Hyperion days,” Rhys sighed, opening his eyes again and sitting up. “But it really hasn’t been easy. It’s actually been my own private hell. Running a company that literally does nothing right now is really incredibly hard. Like, where do I take it? What do I want to see from it? Will it end up being a good influence or will I just… turn into Handsome Jack...? Good intentions pave the road to hell, after all.”

Sasha giggled nervously before coughing over her shoulder, “Wow… Rhys, got a little deep for me there.”

Rhys shot her a glare, resisting rolling his eyes, “It’s practically your fault.”

“What?!” Sasha laughed out loud now. “Whatever, Rhys.” She pushed him this time. “I’m actually proud. I’m glad you’re thinking about Pandora. Not just the money you could make.”

“Oh I think about that too. I mean, mainly because I don’t actually have a paycheck yet.” Rhys grinned sheepishly. “Hopefully that’ll change soon.”

“Then where did you get your nice new threads?” Sasha picked at Rhys’ sleeve. He rolled his eyes at her.

“Well, a lot of people died when Helios crashed and a lot of them -”

“No. Oh my god, no, you did not strip this off a dead body,” Sasha looked shocked and horrified.

“No! No! Not at all!, I just… managed to find some cash laying around, enough to get me this new arm,” Rhys pulled up his sleeve a little to show the shiny chrome hand. “Aaand my eye, and a suit! I’m a businessman now, I have to at least try and look the part.” He looked at her, thinking he would find disapproval, and instead he saw her grinning wickedly at him.

“Probably something I would do, too,” She conceded, looking away from him, and back over the plains.

They now sat in comfortable silence, Sasha brushing her shoulder against Rhys’ as they looked out across the plains. A truck left a trail of white dust in the moonlight, and the roar of a skag echoed through the canyons.

Rhys broke the silence, nudging Sasha. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Sasha sighed.

“What have you been up to?” Rhys pushed, feeling his cheeks burn.

“Oh. Well,” Sasha pursed her lips to the side. “Hm, this and that. I was with Fiona for a while, we did some con jobs, I picked up... an old hobby I used to do. I don’t know, shot some nice guns. Nothing too revolutionary.” Sasha sighed, kicking her foot against stone, looking sullen.

“Sounds kind of nice,” Rhys offered. “After everything that happened.”

“Yeah,” Sasha sighed. She suddenly turned to Rhys. “I kind of hated you for a while. Even though I knew you finally went against Jack, I just, I seriously wanted to punch you so hard! You idiot!” She raised her fist, and Rhys reacted instinctively, ducking with his arm shielding his face, but instead Sasha just chuckled sadly, putting her hand back into her lap. “I just couldn’t believe you idolized and were in cahoots with Jack that entire time. And then I thought you died when Hyperion crashed. I felt really betrayed. But, I don’t know, I guess I forgave you at some point.”

Rhys pulled at his vest nervously, sitting back up straight, and coughed, “I know.”

Sasha squinted at him in confusion. “You… know?”

“Yeah,” Rhys said shakily, standing up and walking to the edge of the cliff. He took a deep breath, “I was in my trailer, and it came with this ...shitastic radio, which could literally pick up, like, 5 stations. But I had nothing better to do for a while there while I started revamping Atlas, so I would just listen to it. There was like… this weird station with a preacher…? I guess? I’m not really even sure what he worshipped. I never listened to him unless a sandstorm kicked in and took all the stations with it… I guess he was transmitting nearby because I could always get him yelling… loud and clear.”

Rhys glanced at Sasha, who had an eyebrow raised. He coughed again.

“Sorry, anyway, the other stations were mainly music. Actually... I guess all of them were, so I just listened to them while working, and the commercials were really weird on most of them. I heard ‘Catch a Riiide’ commercials all the time. I guess the business is still going strong even without Scooter. Anway!,” Rhys started pacing nervously. “There was this one station that I was really excited that I got, because... I remember seeing a poster for it in your caravan actually!”

“Hollow-” Sasha began, her eyes widening.

“Hollow Point Underground Radio!” Rhys interrupted her triumphantly. “I usually turned the volume down when the commercials started or when anyone started talking because it would distract me from working. But I liked listening to it because it reminded me… of well… you, actually.” Sasha seemed to have clamped her mouth shut, her eyes big as saucers. “But then one day I listened to the host, and it was you!” Rhys pointed at Sasha. She didn’t react. He put his hand down slowly, and started pacing again.

“Well, I started just listening to you talk! It would brighten my day whenever you came on, and I would stop work to just hear what you had to say. And you had a lot to say. I heard you tell your listeners what Helios was like on the inside, how it made you feel, what went down, how the fall of Hyperion was the new horizon for everyone. That you wouldn’t let another corporation ruin the lives of Pandora any longer. Real, good, old fashioned propaganda kind of stuff.”

Rhys took a deep breath. “I was so lonely for a while there, but you on the radio made me feel as if you were sitting across from me at the table, telling me how I should set up Atlas, explaining what you thought the voice of Pandora would be asking. And I really… really tried to listen.”

Rhys stopped pacing again, and turned back to Sasha. “I heard you talking about me. I really did come off as a massive dickbag, didn’t I? Especially there at the end. But I also got to hear you say some really… awesome things about me. So. I know. Thank you.”

Sasha sat in stunned silence. Rhys stared at her nervously, and then at the ground, the horizon, and then back at her.

“You uh… going to say anything, or should I…?” Rhys asked stiltedly, his face feeling hot even in the cold breeze.

Sasha finally uncracked her jaw. “Uhmmmmm…..” She said slowly, looking down at the ground. “Wow, Rhys.”

“Was that creepy? It was totally creepy, wasn’t it. Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Rhys pulled at his face. “The way I said that… listening to your voice... God, I’m such an idiot. I just meant it was really awesome to hear a friendly voice. Even if you weren’t friendly towards me all the time - not that you weren’t in the right! I just mean, I’m such -”

He’d been so caught up in panicking that hadn’t noticed when she stood up and stepped up to him, but he noticed when she pulled his hand down from his face and kissed him gently on the mouth. He didn’t know what to do, it was like his brain had turned off or something. Reboot initiated.

Sasha pulled away, a playful grin curving her lips. “Well? Aren’t you going to kiss me back, you creep?”

He leaned down and put his hands on her cheeks and caught her lips with his. It was everything he had been hoping for and yet it was so much better than he could imagine. The kiss was deep and long, Sasha wrapping her good arm around Rhys’ neck, one of his hands moving to the small of her back and pushing her closer. The stars twinkled down on them.

The wind kicked up, and Sasha shivered against Rhys, pulling away to put her head on his chest. “Here,” Rhys said quickly, shimmying off his jacket and slipping it over Sasha’s shoulders. “Maybe we should head back.”

“Oooh, let’s... avoid the Rhys-worshippers,” Sasha groaned, leaning her head against Rhys’ shoulder as he wrapped an arm around her to  descend the hillside.

“So. Your hobby, was it the radio station?” Rhys asked. His giddiness seemed to have made his voice very shaky.

“Yeah,” Sasha smiled. “I was even thinking of stopping again, but your little speech may have just inspired me to keep talking on the airwaves.”

“Good,” Rhys murmured.

Before they entered the Helios complex, Sasha stood on her tiptoes to accept another shy, soft kiss from Rhys  They broke apart.

“I’m your number one listener,” Rhys said, and winked.

“Oh my god, shut up!” Sasha laughed, punching him again in the shoulder. He was definitely going to have a bruise there. But it was so worth it.