[ATLAS AUDIO LOG RH-00001—16:17:03]
[Initial login unsuccessful. Executive override accepted upon scan of company deeds and new login created at at 16:15:29. Audio file partial due to weak vocal volume. Recording begins mid-sentence.]
—goddamn it, you stupid thing, why won’t you start—oh…wait…there. Hey. Looks like we’re running. System booted, logged in, recording initiated…aaaand the first thing it logged is me swearing. That’s great. Yeah, look at that, Atlas…your new CEO really is just as much of a dick as the last one.
Full disclosure on that: I used to work for Hyperion, so we thought everyone at Atlas was a dick. Kind of a thing.
But I’ve got it on good authority that I am one. Got told that not long ago by someone who’d know. Got told that with conviction. And maybe he was right.
I’ll have to work on that.
[File edited due to indistinct audio. Labored breathing indicated. Recording begins again at 16:18:12.]
…so. Atlas. Audio log. I’m…recording here at the old facility, which I finally got to this afternoon. That was…God. Ever tried to drag yourself out of t…the ruins of a space station, and then haul yourself across the wastes of Pandora on scavenged equipment, when you’re down one arm and one eye and you’ve got a hole in your head? An actual hole? Any idea what that’s like? …well, I’m talking to a computer terminal, so, uh, obviously not. But hey, to say it once for posterity: that’s not fun. That’s…way less than fun.
I gotta admit, I’m pretty banged up here. I’m worried about how banged up I am here. Going to need to fix that, too.
First I have to get the equipment up and running. I found a first aid station a few minutes ago. Pretty rudimentary, unfortunately. Managed to stop the bleeding, though, and I patched my eye and the port up, so it’s something. We’ll see how long that lasts. The arm isn’t healing up very well.
And I’m kinda going in and out here, still. I passed out for part of the ride. Good thing autopilot worked and I didn’t get, I don’t know, attacked by scags or something. Bandits. Scavengers. This planet’s got so many ways to kill you.
I’m trying not to let it.
So: audio logs. Gonna talk my way through this. I need someone to talk to, even if it’s just me. I’m…I hate to admit it, but I’m not used to being this alone in my own head anymore. And with the headaches and all, if I forget something…I want all this on record. Progress. Any problems. Ideas. Anything. Last words. Better not be last words.
…’cause “shortest-lived Atlas CEO” would be a crappy damn way to round out a résumé.
[Audio log ends, 16:20:46.]
It was evening at the Helios ruins, not long after their fateful talk with Loader Bot, when Fiona caught up with Rhys again.
She had to admit, she hadn’t been expecting the bandit camp—well, refugee camp—to be as functional as it was. It was functional in completely eccentric ways, granted, since Vaughn hadn’t been wrong about most of the ex-Hyperion folks being adrift without their office jobs. But at least someone, probably Vaughn himself, had come up with a system for the day-to-day basics, and they all followed it with a vengeance. The upshot was that she’d managed to get a sorely-needed meal, even if it wasn’t the most orthodox one she’d ever seen. Lots of fruit. Some mystery meat she didn’t want to think too hard about.
And there was entertainment of a sort, which she had to report to Rhys. It just took a while to find him.
The base, cobbled together as it was, made odd jogs between floors, various pieces of the station, and other jury-rigged extensions. Rhys turned out to be upstairs from the camp’s makeshift dorms. “He’s resting,” one of the lackeys told her, bowing in that creepy way of theirs, “but I’m sure he’d be happy to see you.”
“Uh,” Fiona said warily. “Right.”
The man nodded again, smiling, and she quickly pushed past him, mostly to get away from that grin. Up a short flight of stairs and an improvised ladder, she found an unexpected opening to the sky. The vantage point overlooked most of the valley. Sitting there in what looked like a former office, its roof ripped clear away, was Rhys. His lanky legs were stretched out and propped atop a desk, and he was leaning back in a dusty chair, gazing skyward.
She followed the angle. Up there was Elpis, unobscured.
“I’m still not used to that,” Fiona said quietly. Rhys tensed, then slowly let his breath back out. He replied without turning around.
“Seeing the moon, you mean?”
“Yeah. That station blocked the view for years. Looked like a giant goddamn corporate brand on the thing.”
“That was the whole idea.” Rhys finally swiveled enough to peer at her over one shoulder. “Also, you’re still standing in that station, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Fiona shivered. “Really haven’t.” She paused, getting a better look at him. There was something oddly distant in his expression. “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Uh. Making another round of crazy, death-defying plans, maybe?”
“You know…oddly enough, that’s not even it.” He sounded almost amused. “I think I’m getting used to that with you.”
“Then what is it?” She gestured to the surroundings. “I thought you were enjoying your audience down there. The whole conquering-hero routine. The great liberator, isn’t that what Vaughn called you? The one who freed everyone of their shackles? I didn’t think you’d walk off and go brooding alone.” He didn’t rise to the bait. Fiona pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “Besides, you’re missing out. Vaughn’s telling everyone tales about your exploits. I think he’s amping everyone up for this Vault plan. Seriously, I thought you’d been talking yourself up, but this is something else again.”
A sheepish smile flickered on Rhys’ face. “Do I even want to know?”
“Oh, he’s having a grand time entertaining these Children of Helios”—she made fingerquotes around the words—”with flowery accounts of everything. Like, seriously, five-syllable adjectives were involved. I think he’s appointed himself Chief Mythologizer. You really shouldn’t have told him you were enjoying all this.”
Rhys laughed and rubbed his forehead. “Maybe not.”
“But who would’ve thought? A scheming Hyperion money man with the soul of a poet.” She found an overturned object that looked mercifully free of sharp edges, and sat near Rhys’ desk. “I didn’t see that coming.”
Rhys smiled again, crookedly but fondly. “Ah, I knew. He may have acted as cutthroat as the rest of us, but under all that…dude’s a romantic.”
“Really. Don’t even get me started on his taste in movies.”
Fiona grinned, but soon went thoughtful again, because there was still something strange in Rhys’ voice. She gave him another look. His hands were both in his lap, obscured by the arm of the chair, but it looked like he was holding something. “What is that?”
Rhys didn’t reply right away. He tapped his fingers across it. “You know where we are right now? In the station, I mean?”
“I have absolutely no way to tell.”
“Yeah.” He sighed heavily. “Vaughn showed me a map. They’ve been plotting the debris field. It goes for miles. They’ve figured out some of what landed where, scavenged whatever useful stuff they could find, but a lot of it’s too mangled to know what’s what, and there’s so much of it. They hadn’t even found Jack’s office, which figures. I had to point it out. It’s way out west of here. He said they’re sending a party…”
Rhys was wandering off the topic. Fiona re-steered him. “Yes, but what’s this room?”
Rhys gave her a wry look and held up a nameplate. She stared at it, eyes wide. It read Hugo Vasquez.
“Oh, shit,” she whispered.
“It was in the desk. Guess Yvette had been keeping it as a souvenir after she took his office. Hyperion and all its trophies…”
Fiona didn’t know what to say. She looked through the destroyed window at the distant moon again, remembering Rhys’ story of his first, fateful meeting here, his demotion, his revenge, stealing the Vault key plans…
“What the hell are the odds?” she breathed.
“What are the odds of anything we’ve done?”
It was quiet for a minute. Then Rhys gave her another guarded look. “You know, when we were captured out there…before we knew who we were talking to…I left a few things out.”
“I…I know. So did I.”
“I figured.” Rhys faced the broken window again. “I don’t know if you want to talk about any of that. You don’t have to. But I want to tell you about going back to Atlas. ”
“Rhys,” she said softly, afraid she knew what he meant. It had to be the “patching up” he’d talked about. The gap in time he’d slid on past without offering any specifics. She began to try to say something, but he just lifted his other hand.
He’d obviously found something else in Vasquez’s office. It was a data drive, with a tiny status light blinking to indicate it was empty and ready for data transfer. As she watched, Rhys brought it up to his temple.
“Wait a second,” she protested, remembering the last time she’d watched him do this, but he slid the drive into its dock with no hesitation. To her surprise, it didn’t spark, didn’t shock him. Its status light just ticked over from green to a steadily blinking blue as whatever data he was talking about copied onto the drive.
“Hey, I did actually learn a few things from all this.” he said, before the light turned green again and he disengaged the drive. After flipping it thoughtfully between his fingers, he kicked back from the desk and faced Fiona fully.
“It’s my audio logs from Atlas,” he said. “I want you to hear them. No bullshit, I promise. That’s…that’s what actually happened.”
She hesitated. Taking that drive from him felt eerie in a way she couldn’t quite pinpoint. “You sure?” she asked quietly. “I mean, if you want, but…have you even told Vaughn? I’d have thought you were sick of telling me stories by now.”
“I’ll tell him. But you’re the one who spent all those months thinking I’d screwed you over. I promise I never meant to. And if we’re going to face all this mess again, together…I just want to be honest. This should explain a few things, at least. I hope.”
Fiona, struck dumb for once, stared at the drive. Eventually, she nodded. Rhys looked relieved, she thought. Mostly. Still a little apprehensive. She had some idea of how he felt.
And she wondered, as she tucked the drive into her pocket, left Rhys to his thoughts, and went off in search of a data reader, exactly what she’d just walked into.
[ATLAS AUDIO LOG RH-00007—10:59:11]
I didn’t want to start with this, but—everything hurts today.
I think the arm’s infected. It hurts when I move my shoulder and it’s sort of…oozing. Can’t get a good look at it—my eye’s strained from pulling double duty and my head’s still killing me. Can’t be sure there isn’t shit going wrong in there, either.
I’ve been trying all morning to get the med station back online. There’s an automated function for self-repair, but it keeps fritzing out mid-scan. Maybe I’m confusing it. Too many broken wires.
God, I’m a mess.
No, I’m a broken friggin’ puppet, is what I am—
[Recording runs silent for seven seconds.]
Jack’s not even in my head anymore and I’m still talking like him. Damn it. Damn it—
[Audio log ends abruptly, with the sound of a slam.]
“Hey, Yvette? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Fiona’s call rose over the chatter in the common room, catching the attention of the only familiar person there. Fiona watched Yvette turn away from the company of several other former Hyperion employees. Her expression was…polite, certainly. A little guarded.
Fiona wondered briefly if she was barking up the right tree, considering the last time she’d really spoken with Yvette, it had ended with, well, punching. Yvette, though, surprised her by offering a friendly greeting.
“Fiona. I was hoping to catch up.” Yvette stepped up. She was looking as put-together as ever, despite the fact that everyone was probably assembling their wardrobes from random salvage. She’d even found makeup somewhere. Still, there was something different in her stance this time, something less haughty. “I’m so glad you made it. We were worried.”
“Ah. Well. Me too. That evac was sure a hell of a ride, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was.” Yvette glanced over her shoulder, then back at Fiona. “And just so you know, about what happened before all that? I mean, capturing you up at the station…?”
“You mean this station?” Fiona asked, remembering what Rhys had just said. She gestured at the surrounding space. Yvette in turn looked sheepish. It was an odd look on a face more suited for being calculating, but Fiona recognized it for what it was: being uncommonly honest.
“Yeah. I’m sorry about all that. I wish I hadn’t done it, now. I was just working with what I had at the time, is all.”
Fiona shook her head. “I get it. It’s water under the bridge. Hell, I’m pretty sure we blew the bridge up anyway. Except…I’m sorry about knocking you out and everything.”
Yvette cracked a smile. “Hey, I’d have tried the same if I were you.”
“Hah. I bet you would.” Fiona squared her shoulders. “Well, that’s one awkward conversation out of the way. Which is good. Except now I gotta ask…”
“For a favor, right?” Yvette grinned. “Saw that coming. Especially with this crazy plan of yours I keep hearing about. What do you need?”
“It’s something personal first, actually. Is there a better spot to talk?”
“Sure. Follow me.”
The two of them turned together, walking down a corridor away from the crowd. Finally Yvette spotted a particular door and scanned them both in. Fiona was surprised to see that the security system was still online, but this part of the former station was remarkably well maintained—probably because it was still the closest thing they had to a nerve center—and the room Yvette waved her into was neatly organized despite the fact that it was full of, well, things. Boxes and labeled crates, artifacts Fiona couldn’t even name, a locked cabinet holding what looked like weaponry… Fiona peered curiously at it all while Yvette secured the door.
“I know you used to be the requisitions master at Hyperion,” Fiona said at last, fingers brushing the pocket where the data drive was tucked away. “I’m guessing this means it’s still your gig?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m heading all this up.” Yvette surveyed her domain, which must have been a whole lot smaller than it used to be. She still looked proud. “Vaughn wouldn’t trust anyone else with it.”
“So he put you back to work?”
“Soon after he found me, yeah.” She paused, fingers drifting over a label on the nearest shelf. “You know, he forgave me for everything, too. He gave me even less crap than Rhys did. Said he was too grateful to see me alive to be bothered by any of it. And then he put me to work.” Yvette arched an eyebrow. “If I know Vaughn, I actually figure he wants me somewhere he can keep an eye on me. He’s not stupid. But I get it. And at least he’s being nice about it. He didn’t have to be.”
Fiona thought about that. Vaughn clearly hadn’t forgotten the Hyperion way of thinking, or more to the point, how to manage people who hadn’t broken out of it yet. Yvette obviously hadn’t. But if they could change things enough around here that that kind of scheming and second-guessing wouldn’t be necessary all the time…that could really be good for her.
Same goes for someone else I know, Fiona thought, her smile turning wry. She had to set it aside, though, and get back to her original question.
“If you’re still in charge of equipment, do you know if we have any spare data readers? Something that can run audio?”
“Several things could, but what do you need to listen to?”
Fiona tentatively reached into her pocket. Then she made a decision and drew it out. “I need something compatible with one of these.”
Yvette’s eyes flashed. “That’s a neural-interface drive. Looks like a HyperDrive 12, in which case it auto-encrypts… Where did you get that?”
“I…um. Rhys gave it to me.”
Yvette opened her mouth to ask another question, then shut it again. She pivoted instead and walked down to the next aisle, looking at a shelf slightly above her head. “You can plug it into almost any terminal, although it might need an adapter. This…” She pulled down a box, rooted something out, and handed it to Fiona. “That ought to do it. And you’ll probably want a headset.”
Before Fiona could respond, Yvette crossed the room, her heels clicking quickly on the floor. “Did he tell you how to access the data?” Yvette asked.
“No, actually. He sorta skipped that part.”
“Well, there’ll be a password. I’m guessing he set it to something you’d know.” Yvette ducked down out of sight, pulling out another crate. “Or else it’ll be some dumb pun or whatever. This is still Rhys we’re talking about.”
“Yeah.” Fiona thought about that. “I’m getting the feeling that it’s sort of…a new model of him, though. So to speak.”
Yvette re-emerged, holding a pair of headphones. She almost held them out, then hesitated. She looked like she was thinking through something, too. “About that.”
Yvette looked suddenly uncomfortable. “I know you didn’t know him before, so it’s hard to compare, but he’s different these days, isn’t he? Mostly he seems like himself, but then I catch him sometimes and he just…” Abruptly, she shook her head. “I don’t know, maybe it’s the new eye messing with me. I am not used to that. But there’s something else, too.”
She wasn’t wrong. Fiona just didn’t know exactly what to say. “We went through a lot,” she said eventually, wondering how much exactly he’d explained to Yvette, and how much he wanted her to know. “He’s still Rhys. But yeah…I think all this left a mark.”
“I guess that’s what this is about?”
She was gesturing at the drive. Fiona nodded. Yvette, for a moment, looked a little sad.
“Used to be, I always knew. Either he’d tell me whatever was going on, or Vaughn would tell me, or, well, I’d just find out. But I guess that’s just…not how it is, now.”
Fiona quietly revised her earlier thought. Yvette was, to put it simply, lonely.
She didn’t get a chance to say anything reassuring, though. Yvette held out the headphones and said briskly, “Take these. If it helps you two…I hope it does, anyway. I owe you one. A big one. It’s the least I can do.”
“Thanks,” Fiona said, taking the headset in hand. Then she took a chance. “But, Yvette…no one’s keeping score on all this anymore, okay? Friendship doesn’t have to be so—I don’t know, transactional. Don’t worry about who owes what, so much. Just be there. Open up a little. The people who matter will understand.”
Yvette didn’t say anything right away. Finally she swallowed, brushed her hands off against her skirt, and said, “I’ll…remember that.” She nodded across the room. Fiona saw a desk on the far wall. “You can use my computer over there. I’ll log you in.”
Yvette smiled faintly, then crossed the room, unlocked the terminal, and pointed out the jacks. She gave the drive in Fiona’s hand a long, curious look. All she said, though, was, “I hope you find what you need in there.”
“So do I,” Fiona said.
Yvette nodded. With that, she left Fiona to it. In her absence, the room was quiet, except for the sound of the ventilation system and the quiet hum of the computer bank.
Fiona looked at the equipment in her hands and took a deep breath.
“Now to figure out your password,” she said, and slid Rhys’ drive into the dock. A password window opened almost instantly.
It was also immediately obvious that Yvette had been right. He’d keyed it to a clue that only Fiona would really know. When the prompt and hint appeared on her screen, she almost laughed.
The feeling didn’t last for very long.
[ATLAS AUDIO LOG RH-00009—23:06:41]
I found the painkillers.
It’s been the day from hell and everything’s infected and I feel like I’ve got a spike in my brain…or at least I felt like that before the meds. I was struggling all day. Couldn’t stand upright, couldn’t see, couldn’t think. But somehow I found the painkillers, and oh my God. Oh my God. No wonder Jack wanted Atlas’ assets. They make. Amazing shit.
I can’t feel anything. There’s work I have to do or I’m totally fucked, but I just…
Oh, God, it feels so good not to feel anything.
No voices in my head. No pain. Nothing.
You know, it got so I could feel Jack poking around in there. It was like this constant electric buzz, all the time. He wasn’t just messing with my cybernetics. He was trying to influence me. Get into my thoughts. He even started trying to mess with my dreams. That…that psychopath was in there, haunting me, all the time. Judging everything I did. Telling me that…that if I messed up, he wouldn’t just hurt me, but he’d make me kill my…
I should’ve told you sooner, Fi. I was scared. I’m sorry. And maybe you wouldn’t have ditched me like that if…fuck, I don’t know, but maybe I can’t blame you. Maybe it was me.
You know I… I, um… there was a machine in here, with blue lights all over it. Well, it had blue lights all over it. I kept seeing them out the corner of my one good eye and thinking it was him. I mean, I know better. I cut him out of my own head, I smashed the pieces, I know he’s gone, but…
I smashed the machine in with a pipe this morning, too. Sure hope it didn’t do anything useful.
Like everything else that I wrecked trying to get him out.
I…I did finally get the med station online, though, that’s where I got the painkillers. Maybe…hah, y’know, maybe I should have told the machine what I needed it to fix before I took those. Whoops. Coding while on this stuff…not the best plan. But I think I got a clean scan, finally. Not that what it’s scanning is clean. What it’s scanning is a mess. I’m….I’m sick. Really sick. I’m going to have to throw myself in, hope for the best. Guess we’ll find out together if the old MedAssist protocols still work.
Or you’ll find out if it doesn’t.
[Audio feed pauses for five seconds.]
You’re still there, right? Any of you? I’m not really just recording this for myself, am I? Someone’s listening, right?
Please still be out there. Please don’t really have left me.
[Audio file cuts off due to inactivity, 23:09:09.]
The password to Rhys’ audio logs was, of all things, about running away.
That was the prompt that appeared before her: “What’s the worst way not to get captured?” All Fiona could think of was watching Rhys try to zig-zag through the wastes while their captor watched his pointless, flailing escape attempt. And sure enough, “zig-zag” was the password, Rhys finally having copped to one of his mistakes.
The files themselves confessed to a whole lot more.
Fiona almost immediately regretted that comparison, though. It wasn’t about mistakes; that wasn’t fair. The picture was too big, too complex for that. It was more about…consequences. Emotions. Thoughts he hadn’t shared. Most of all, it was simply about survival. She’d suspected, after he’d told her about his final confrontation with Jack, that things had been grim for a while.
She still hadn’t really understood.
And after finishing log 11, she had to stop the playback, take her headphones off, and put her head down on folded arms just to breathe.
Her comm buzzed while she was like that, and it took her a minute to answer the call.
“Fiona here,” she said, her voice rough. She blinked, trying to get her vision clear, and felt grateful suddenly for the supply room’s dim lighting. It still took her a second to pay attention to the voice on the other end of the line.
“Sasha,” Fiona said, sitting the rest of the way upright. “Hey.”
“Got your message. Finally. Thank God you’re okay.” Sasha paused. “Are you okay? You’re sounding a little…off.”
“No, no, I’m fine.” Fiona scrubbed her cheeks dry. “Sorry, I just sort of…drifted off, there.”
“You know, for a supposed con artist, you’re a terrible liar.”
“Always worst at it with the people I know,” Fiona admitted. “Sorry. Long story. I’m fine, though. Really. And I’m so glad to hear from you. You’ll be able to come meet me, right? Don’t say no.”
Sasha laughed, the sound distorted but familiar over the line. “Fast-talker. Of course I’ll come. But how come you won’t tell me what’s going on? You’re being all…mysterious.”
“Don’t mean to be.” Fiona blinked at the screen, which was still showing her the list of audio files. The one she’d just been listening to was still highlighted, glowing a faint, lingering gold. “It’s just a lot to explain. It’ll be much easier in person.”
“Sounds like it. I mean, you got yourself captured? How’d you let that happen?”
“Ugh. Sasha. I said it was a long story.”
“Well, if you’re holed up in the ruins of Helios of all places, it’s gotta be.” There was a pause. “Did you find other survivors out there?”
Rhys’ voice echoed in her head again: Please still be out there. It made her voice shake. “Yeah. We found people.” She caught her breath and told Sasha, “Rhys is alive. He was with me. He’s here.”
The question, breathless and amazed, tugged at her. Fiona took that in, that feeling of hope. Even when Fiona had written Rhys off after the Helios disaster, Sasha never really had, and every bit of that was suddenly laid bare in Sasha’s voice. She really did care about him, Fiona realized, with an odd little pang.
“Oh my God, Fiona, you couldn’t have led with that bit of information? You found him?”
“Yeah, I did,” she said, watching the faint pulse of light across her screen. Before her eyes could cloud over again, she made herself swivel her chair away from the display. “Listen. Just get here, and we’ll all catch up, okay? We’ve got a lot to talk about. Big plans. Big, kicking-Vault-monster-ass plans. And you wouldn’t believe who got us together for it.”
“Fi, I’m going to kick your ass for keeping a lid on all of this. But you bet I’ll be there. I got your coordinates. I’ll hit the road first thing.”
“Good. We’ll all be waiting for you.”
“You better. I’ll see you soon.”
The comm went silent. Fiona lowered it and set it on the desk with a little click. She still wasn’t looking at the computer.
Sasha’s coming, she told herself. The whole gang will be back together. Just like…just like old times.
Except with a little more of the story known. A little more understood.
And one of those things, she thought, was that file she’d just listened to. She turned her head. It was still there in the playlist, paused just before the end of the recording.
After a long while of silent indecision, she slid the headset back over her ears. She stared at the display. And after another minute, she tapped the back button to listen to it again.
[ATLAS AUDIO LOG RH-00011—03:06:41]
[Data recorded after emergency procedure to combat high-grade infections, severe tissue damage, head trauma, and shock. Patient still docked in Atlas Medstation 4 in recovery mode, under mild sedation. Speech is indistinct and largely confined to fragments. Clearest excerpts provided.]
Have to…stay awake.
Display’s showing…arm’s patched up, port’s clean, eye’s…empty, now. Broken casing’s gone. I saw it happen. I didn’t let it put me all the way under. But I…I think I was still dreaming. When the…the things came at me, I saw…
It’s all glass and cold blue light in there.
Please don’t make me sleep again.
[Audio pauses. Recording restarts at 3:08:22, adjusted to compensate for lower volume.]
I…I wanted to tell someone my plans, you know? For after all this? I’ve got it all picked out. Have to start with the arm. Need both hands to work on the port and the eye. So I found what I want. Top of the line…chrome finish, even. Better motor control, better dexterity. I should have clean connection points now for the install. I should’ve…
…I should’ve told you—
[Audio feed interrupted by MedAssist status ping.]
—no. No. Please don’t put me under again. I have to stay awake.
I want to tell someone.
I mean, it matters. This matters. Vaughn, you’d remember…you know what I gave up the first time. You said you missed m… You wouldn’t even let me get rid of that guitar after I couldn’t p…play it anymore…
[Audio breaks up. Recording indicates a low sound of distress, followed by rueful laughter.]
It’s smashed with the rest of Helios, isn’t it? So many things were.
I wanted to tell Sasha about that. Found out she loves music. Dancing. Was a DJ, even…wish I could have heard her. Wish I could hear her now. I keep imagining her voice. That smile. Why can’t I dream about that, instead of fingers around my throat?
Why is that how it had to end? W-why couldn’t he have been—
Please, just…Fiona, you’d snap me out of this, wouldn’t you? Even if you’re mad at me? Especially if you’re mad at me. I’m mad you left, too; we’ll call it even. And at least you could tell me I’m being stupid, and that he’s gone, it’s over, it’s done. I might even believe it coming from you.
Or maybe you could…
Oh, hell, Fiona, I lied, I’m not mad anymore. I just want you here. All of you.
Please don’t be dead. Don’t tell me I’m struggling through this for nothing. Atlas may be worth a lot…but you guys are worth more.
[Audio goes nearly inaudible.]
Don’t tell me I’ve lost that, too.
[MedAssist logs record an increased dose of sedative, following automated protocols. Patient goes quiet. Audio log ends, 3:10:02.]
Twilight had faded into proper nighttime by the time Fiona left Yvette’s office and stepped outside the station for some air.
Pandora wasn’t ever exactly peaceful, but for once, it was quiet. The usual screams and growls of the local wildlife were all distant from here. Seemed like the Children of Helios had done a good job at setting up a safe perimeter. They were learning.
There weren’t too many people in sight, though, apart from the silhouettes of the occasional guard posts. Fiona hiked up a rock outcropping for a better view and eventually settled cross-legged on the ridge. The air was cool here, the red-tinged moonlight almost gentle.
She still wasn’t used to Helios not hanging up there above her head, but she knew she could learn, too.
She folded her arms across bent knees and was resting there, mind drifting, when she heard footsteps behind her. She turned.
“Hey, Fiona,” said a familiar voice.
Rhys was standing there near her, cybernetic hand raised in a tentative wave. She took a second just to take that in. His expression was so new, somehow: it looked regretful and hesitant and hopeful all at once. There was only one good response to it, really.
She got to her feet and pulled him into a tight hug.
“You could have just told me, you jackass,” she said, voice muffled against his shoulder.
Rhys shook with a single, low laugh, then returned the gesture. They stood there a while in a long, warm, comforting hug, one that told her without a word just how relieved he was—and how much he’d needed the reassurance. Maybe, she admitted, they both did.
“Sorry,” he said softly. “It was kind of a lot.”
“Yeah, it was.”
She drew back, although not very far. Rhys released one hand to nervously rub the back of his neck. “So how much of it did you listen to?”
“Not everything,” she admitted. “I got through the first eleven files. Had to stop after that and take a breather, honestly.”
He nodded. It was clear he knew exactly which files she meant. “I get it. But really, you stopped before you got to the fun part.”
“Oh, God. There’s a fun part?”
“Sure is. I mean, after I really came to, and it was time to get all my new cybernetics running? That was high comedy. Ever watch a one-armed man trying to install his own limb? Awkward.”
He was deflecting, Fiona knew, but she played along anyway. “Too bad you didn’t keep a video log.”
“Oh, hell, no. I turned off all the cameras on purpose.”
His smile just then didn’t reach his eyes. The new golden one, in fact, dimmed slightly. Fiona thought about what Rhys must have looked like when he first arrived at Atlas, wounded as he was, and she shivered.
If Rhys knew why, he didn’t comment. He just asked, “Are you cold?”
“I’m fine.” She looked over one shoulder at where she’d been resting. “Sit with me?”
Rhys let her get comfortable first, then settled in beside her. He was close enough to bump shoulders, although he was careful not to push. They sat in silence for a minute, both just thinking.
And for some reason—even Fiona wasn’t sure why—the first thing she found herself saying was, “You didn’t explain the eye.”
Rhys peered slantwise at her. Fiona hitched a shoulder and added self-consciously, “I don’t know, maybe I just missed it. If you talked about it in the later files…I can go back and find it. But I wondered why it was different. Why…” She paused. “That color.”
“Ah,” Rhys said slowly. “Right.”
“Was it just the color Atlas had on hand? Or did you—”
“No, I picked that on purpose.” Rhys rubbed his cheek below the eye. “It probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. But you figured out why the old one went yellow now and then, I guess?”
“Hyperion yellow,” Fiona said. “I figured it was Jack.”
She still couldn’t keep the distaste out of her voice. She’d meant for it to come out more sympathetically. Rhys didn’t flinch, though. “Yeah. I didn’t even realize it was happening at first. But I saw a reflection once when Jack was…tinkering. I got the idea then.”
“Then why would you want to keep it that way?”
“Well.” He laughed, his voice low. “You know the really messed-up thing? Jack knew what he was doing.”
“Uh, you’re not really telling me that—”
“I mean with my cybernetics. He made me so much better at what I do. Say whatever you want about Jack, he’d deserve it, but he was also a hell of an engineer. Way better than me.”
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to compliment Jack at all, even if Rhys had a point. But Rhys met her gaze again, that eye of his so vivid that she couldn’t have turned away if she’d tried.
“I cut Jack out of my head with my own bare hands, Fiona. Bare hand. One damn hand and a shard of glass. It was that bad. But there are things I have to remember about him, so I don’t ever fall into the kind of things he’s done. And…yeah, maybe there’s one or two things I want to keep.”
Fiona swallowed hard. She thought she understood, in a stomach-twisting sort of way. She still told him, “It better be only one or two things.”
“Trust me,” he said somberly, “I know.”
It was quiet again for a while after that. Finally she said, “You were brave back there, you know.”
Rhys looked at her. Fiona blew out a breath and said, “Hey, you were. Just felt like I should say it.”
He nudged her, like a gentle, unspoken “oh, please.” Then he said—more sincerely than she was used to—“You were too, Fi.”
She winced. “I don’t know if I’d call shooting Gortys brave. Desperate, maybe. And I had help.”
“But it’s still true. You had a Vault monster on a rampage and an awful decision to make, and you didn’t back down. I don’t know if I could have pulled that trigger.”
After what all she’d just listened to, she had the feeling that he could. But she was also already thinking ahead. “We’ll both have to be prepared to do more than that soon,” she told him. She stared skyward. “How did we let Loader Bot talk us into this?”
“Uh, because it’s Loader Bot. And it’s Gortys. You know we were gonna say yes.” He smiled lopsidedly. “Who’d pass up the opportunity to plunder a Vault and save the two cutest robots in the world?”
Fiona snorted, suddenly remembering her last conversation with Yvette. That still-unfamiliar yellow glint in his eye notwithstanding, yeah, this was still the Rhys they knew. A little different, maybe wiser to a few things…but still Rhys. He was, after all, repeating “come onnn” at her now as if he were trying to cajole a recalcitrant puppy. She punched him in the arm for it. At least, she thought while he yelped and ducked away laughing, she had the advantage; the robotic arm was on his other side.
She wanted to ask him about that new arm, actually. She wanted to ask about so much more that she’d heard in those files. But he was already getting up. “Come on,” he said, offering a hand. “Save the planning for tomorrow. It’s late. Vaughn said he’s got people setting up a place for us to sleep. Which means we should probably go make sure it’s not the old Facilities staff nailing together bunk beds five stories high or something.”
Despite herself, she laughed. “Now that would be something,” she said.
When she took his hand, Rhys tugged her lightly to her feet. For a second there, standing so close and watching him smile at her like that, she envied Sasha a little. On the other hand, watching his face tomorrow when she got here was going to be so very, very worth it.
There were reasons she didn’t tell people everything. Sometimes, it was just more fun to let them be surprised.
“Race you for the top bunk,” she teased, and pulled away to get herself a head start. And Rhys, laughing like for once he didn’t have a care in the world, came racing down the hill behind her.
[ATLAS AUDIO LOG RH-00032—14:03:52]
So. Here’s a development: I woke up to an ECHO message today.
It wasn’t audio or video, just a text ping. It showed up on my ocular display first thing—and wow, am I not used to the new interface yet, but you know what? I kind of like the font. Ten points to Atlas for the design aesthetic.
And hell, yes, I made this thing work. You know how long I spent hacking that eye to connect to all the networks I wanted? Gotta give a hat tip to you-know-who…some of his code actually came in handy. Although I modified it, thanks very much. And sure, I could have done it from scratch if I wanted. It was just more fun handing his work over to his favorite rival company. Suck on that, Jack.
…yeah, fine, so he wasn’t wrong. I’m still an absolute dick.
Still, that’s not the important thing right now. You know what is? That message. I must have read it twelve times.
Because she found me. Fiona found me.
Just…oh, my God, she’s alive.
Also, uh, if this text is anything to go by, she’s still pissed off.
But she wants to talk. She wants to meet me. She’s kind of demanding it, actually. Pushy. But there’s no way I won’t show up. I mean, I don’t even know what to think, but—it’s gotta be her. Quoting Loader Bot at me? Yeah, she wants to get my attention.
She’s got it.
And hey, I’ve gotten pretty good at fixing things over the last few weeks. I’ve had to. It got pretty close there, I’m not going to lie, but…but I did it. And if I got through all that, I bet I can make this right, too.
For now…oh man. I’m gonna copy all these logs down locally—I might need ‘em, if I’m going to explain all this later—and see about these coordinates she sent. It’s remote enough that I think I’m taking an old handheld ECHO unit too, just in case. Haven’t tested every bit of connectivity yet.
If it works, though, and I can find her…
I really hope we can work things out. Hey, if we’re really lucky, maybe we could get everyone back together.
Wouldn’t that be something.
So…I guess I’m logging off. And hey, whoever might end up listening to this, someday, somewhere…send a little thought back at me and wish me luck, would you?
After all, it is still Pandora out there. Who knows what surprises it’ll throw at us next?
[Audio log ends, 14:05:01.]