ACCESSING EMPLOYEE DATABASE… PROCESSING SEARCH QUERY…
OPENING CONTACT RECORD 12475…
CONTACT NAME: Rhys
TITLE: Sr Information Security Specialist
CURRENT STATUS: Recent Arrival
ACCESSING PERSONAL RECORDS...
PROCESSING ENCRYPTION KEY…
ERROR: RECORD DOES NOT EXIST
<!-- file away for further review -->
<!-- and no last name? weird -->
ACCESSING ECHO LOG 13447...
“Shit, man, this is bad. Everything’s gone to hell.”
“Woah, woah, what? What happened?”
“Yeah. And John is the one who killed him. I knew that son of a bitch wouldn’t stop at just stealing all our shares.”
“You’re kidding. That douchebag killed our CEO? Christ.”
“We should’ve seen it coming. We should’ve fucking seen it coming.”
“Yeah, well… there’s no way he’ll last long. The board will find some reason to kick his ass to the curb. That’s if the remaining shareholders don’t off him first.”
“I dunno, man. He’s been saying some pretty wild stuff. Something about some element buried on Pandora, something really big.”
“Yeah, right. He’s so full of shit. Have you heard his little story about what happened on Elpis? He’s been telling everyone that he killed a vault monster all by himself, with nothing but a Hyperion shotgun. What a steaming pile. Like anyone believes anything he says.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m gonna go call the rest of the guys and try to figure out our next steps. Tomorrow’s gonna be a total clusterfuck.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna suck. Good luck, man.”
<!-- keep track of these idiots -->
<!-- why does every person at this company have to be such an asshole -->
Here was what Rhys learned in the past three hours:
- Helios might’ve technically been operational, but it was still very much under construction. That much was obvious when Rhys noticed the gaping hole in the wall next to his brand new desk, exposed pipes and all.
- The CEO (the one he actually knew about, the one he memorized the picture of so that he wouldn’t make a fool of himself in his presence) was murdered the night before. Tassiter’s corpse was then ejected into the void that surrounded Helios, his floating, frozen carcass on display for all of Hyperion to see, strangulation marks and all.
- The new CEO was named Jack … or John. For some reason, Rhys kept hearing people throw around different names. He was a programmer not too long ago, but found something on Elpis that gave him leverage over Hyperion’s upper management, including the other C-level executives. Rhys also heard that his face was a mask, but had no idea what that meant. Was he in costume all the time or something?
- Rhys’s ECHOeye had been weirdly glitchy ever since landing on Helios. Rhys thought updating the software would solve the issue, but it only seemed to be getting worse.
- In times of crisis, no one at Hyperion gave a damn about new employee orientation. His fellow coworkers barely even glanced in his direction the whole morning, and his department head, Mr. Henderson, seemed intent on locking himself inside his office the whole day.
The last point ended up being something of a mixed blessing. Watching Hyperion employees that morning was sort of like watching a Rakk with its wings cut off, helplessly squiggling around in the sand. That was to say: Rhys may have had no idea what the hell he was doing, but apparently, no one else knew what to do either.
The first real interaction he had all day was with a fidgety accountant (Vaughn, Rhys reminded himself) who informed him that he was his assigned “Hyperion buddy”.
“Basically, I’m just supposed to take you to lunch every now and then,” Vaughn said with a nervous laugh as they made their way to the cafeteria. “But man, this must be one craaazy first day for you, huh?”
As if on cue, a gaggle of exceptionally well-dressed men rushed past them, the loudest one of them proclaiming, “This whole company is fucked.”
“It’s been … educational,” Rhys said with a sigh, eyeing the men as they rounded a corner and disappeared from view.
The cafeteria was oddly quiet despite the afternoon rush, everyone hunched over their tables, whispering to each other conspiratorially. Vaughn’s friend, Yvette, already had a table reserved for them when they arrived. She acknowledged Rhys with a sly half-nod before asking, “So, new guy, how are you liking Hyperion so far?”
Rhys paused thoughtfully in-between bites of his sandwich (ham and cheese—old habits die hard). “Considering I saw a dead body less than six hours after my arrival ... It’s more or less what I was expecting.”
Vaughn laughed, sounding much more relaxed in Yvette’s presence. “Tell me about it. Backstabbing, murder, corporate sabotage. That’s Hyperion in a nutshell.”
“You two are surprisingly calm about all this,” Rhys observed. He gazed pointedly at Yvette, who looked like the kind of woman who could endure god’s wrath with a straight face.
“You know how it is,” she said with a shrug. “New boss, same old shit.”
At that exact moment, the speakers overhead crackled to life. A single voice, smooth and effortlessly magnetic, swallowed up the sound of hushed chatter around them, instantly commanding the attention of every single person in the room.
“Hey there, kiddos! Handsome Jack here. I’m sure you’ve all heard the good news by now, or at least waved at it as it floated by the windows. If you look real closely at Mr Tassiter’s frostbitten face, you can see the tear streaks from when he cried like a pansy bitch in his final moments. Good times!” Jack let out a low chuckle, prompting a few forced, hesitant “ha-has” from the crowd. “Anyway, just wanted to tell you all how honored I am to know that you dirty ingrates are already making attempts on my life. I’m expecting at least one more before the day’s end, so-” He cleared his throat, his voice dipping to a deep, harsh growl. “Don’t disappoint me. I’ll be waiting.”
The room was deathly still in the moments following the announcement. Just as a low murmur began to fill the silence, the speakers blared to life once more. “Oh yeah, almost forgot. I’m having a little shindig later tonight at ... six-ish? At the ballroom near the main atrium. Attendance is mandatory.” A pause, then, “At ease, soldiers. Jack out.”
This time, it took a full minute before everyone thought it safe to resume their conversations.
“Well,” Vaughn said, staring blankly at the few remaining scraps of food on his plate. “He certainly seems to be a lot more lively than Mr Tassiter.” He blanched as he realized what he said, burying his face in his hands. “Crap, I so did not mean for that to be a pun.”
Yvette rolled her eyes and used her fork to stab one of Vaughn’s untouched potato wedges, transferring it to her own plate. “Pun or not, ‘lively’ isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe him. Granted, Tassiter wasn’t the nicest of guys either, but...”
Rhys was still eyeing the speakers from the corners of his eyes, chin resting on his palm as his fingers idly tapped his jaw in thought. The whole announcement had been a company-wide threat, more than anything. The rational part of his brain knew that he should feel frightened or intimidated or anxious or any number of normal human reactions to obvious danger. But instead, Rhys felt … curious above all else. He activated the holographic screen on the palm of his cybernetic arm, glimpsing the time on the HUD and noting how many hours were left until the party.
Handsome Jack, he thought, imprinting the name into his mind.
He met up with Vaughn and Yvette at six on the dot, grateful to have some company amidst the sea of unfamiliar faces. They were situated towards the back of an enormous auditorium, the cavernous area still barely large enough to fit the entirety of the Helios workforce, which his ECHOeye informed him was more than ten thousand strong. Judging from the tuxedos and formal gowns most other attendees were sporting, Rhys completely stuck out in his dress shirt and slacks. Or rather, he would’ve stuck out if all the guests weren’t practically rubbing elbows in the tight confines of the space.
“So, what do you guys think this is, exactly?” Vaughn asked in a hushed voice just before tipping the lip of his wine glass into his parted mouth, sipping politely.
“Probably more gloating,” answered Yvette, sounding completely unimpressed.
The taut atmosphere only worsened once a figure climbed atop the raised platform at the front of the room. Rhys squinted, but the distance was great enough that he couldn’t clearly make out the person’s features even when zooming with his ECHOeye. Once the figure reached the center of the platform, where the audio had been digitally amplified, his identity became obvious from his voice alone.
“Ladies, gentleman, thank you all for joining me in celebrating this truly historic day. Future generations will look back on this moment and think, ‘This is when Hyperion truly aspired to greatness.’ Exciting, ain’t it?” he asked no one in particular.
After a heavy pause, Jack continued, “Unfortunately, some are less than enthusiastic about our change in management.” He glanced behind his shoulder, gesturing at someone with a wave of his arm. “Wilhelm! Help guide our guests onto the stage.”
Rhys felt Wilhelm climb onto the platform before ever seeing him, the floor itself vibrating from the sheer force of his steps. A low murmur overtook the crowd as the man came into view … if he could still be considered a man at all. At first, Rhys mistook him for a customized loader bot, until he recognized the undeniably human-shaped torso comprising the man’s upper half.
Rhys hadn’t noticed the four cowering individuals that Wilhelm had herded onto the stage, until Jack approached the one nearest to him, kicking the man behind the knees and forcing him to the floor. “Dave!” Jack said, his voice thick with menace, “What was it you said right before you pointed that pistol at me this morning? I remember it being some lame, uninspired shit like ‘eat this!’ or ‘surprise, asshole!’”
Dave’s every breath was accompanied with the telltale wheeze of a collapsed lung. With some effort, he finally managed to say, “Fuck you, John ... you crazy ba-” The rest of Dave’s sentence was drowned out by a collective gasp as the flat of Jack’s boot met the back of his head, causing his face to impact against the floor with a sickening crack.
Jack spun on his heels and spread his arms wide, addressing the audience at large. “I was originally gonna do this in the privacy of some conference room, but then I had the brilliant idea of sharing this with the rest of you. Now we can all experience it together. Like a tender, loving family.”
Jack snapped his fingers, and in the next moment, there was an explosion of gunfire, a storm of bullets shooting out from Wilhelm’s appendages and shredding through bone and flesh with ease and efficiency, like a cleaver through slabs of meat. The tension in the air finally reached a tipping point, some audience members breaking out into horrified screams at the slaughter unfolding before them. Rhys felt the entire crowd lurch towards the exits, only to find that every door had already been locked shut.
“Oh, calm down,” Jack admonished with a roll of his eyes, as if he were dealing with a room of adolescents. “I’m not gonna kill you guys, for chrissake. I’m not some friggin’ lunatic.” He waited with surprising patience, until the only sounds emanating from the room were of quiet, muffled sobs.
“This,” Jack said, gesturing to the bloodied, lifeless heaps behind him, “Is just a part of the transitionary phase. I know these four sacks of shit were far, far, far from being the only people in this room who wanted to kill me. But, for the sake of this company, I’m willing to wipe the slate clean. Unlike Mr Tassiter-” Jack spat the word out like a curse, “-who couldn’t see five fuckin’ feet in front of him, I actually have a vision. I’ve seen the future of Hyperion.” Jack’s gaze swept across the room, eyes clouding darkly as his mouth twitched into a smirk. “And it is goddamn glorious.”
The captive audience remained deathly silent as every person in attendance simply stared at the man who stood above them all, most with fear shining in their eyes, but some with a budding sense of awe. Jack straightened his posture, his voice taking on its usual easy tone as he said, “Well, what are you all gaping at me for? This is a party, isn’t it? Tassiter had, like, a whole storage room full of booze that he’s obviously not gonna need anymore. So have at it.”
And just like that, the party regained some semblance of normalcy. The janitorial staff disposed of the bodies and mopped up the blood in the blink of an eye, a string quartet band serenading the room as they did so.
Vaughn downed the rest of the wine in his glass, eyes wide with anxiety. “That was fucked. Up.”
Rhys looked at Yvette, who chose to keep her opinion to herself, arms crossed and brows pinched in thought. When it was clear there would be no commentary from her, Rhys asked, “So who is this guy, even? With a personality like that, even a newbie like me should’ve heard of him before today...”
“I heard that he helped build this station or something,” Vaughn replied, shrugging. “And he wears a freaky mask. That’s all I got.”
Rhys glanced towards the front of the room, which was easier to see now that the crowd was steadily disappating. The doors had apparently been unlocked once Jack finished his speech, and unsurprisingly, most people were practically clawing their way to freedom.
After some prodding, Rhys managed to convince the other two to make their way towards the hors d’ouevres near the stage. “How can you still eat after seeing that mass carnage?” Vaughn asked, grimacing as Rhys popped a cherry tomato into his mouth.
Rhys flashed him a cheeky smile and made his way to the cheese platter, carefully turning to face the stage as he did so. Jack was still standing at its center, conversing with a pale, gaunt man with thin blond hair and rather severe cheekbones, the amplified audio now muted for privacy.
After a split second of internal debate, Rhys decided to activate his ECHOeye scanner. As he focused his gaze on the back of Jack’s head, he felt the creeping, tingling sensation that accompanied the suspicion of being watched. Rhys nearly aborted the scan, until he realized: this was Hyperion. It was probably more alarming if he wasn’t constantly being spied on by someone or other.
It only took a moment for him to receive the results.
Name: Handsome Jack
Occupation: Maintaining this much badassery in one body
Talents: Totally crushing it at everything, all the time
Dick size: Bigger than yours
Rhys’s face fell, his disappointment palpable. Of course his records were doctored. He should’ve expected it, really.
Without warning, Jack suddenly spun around mid-conversation, searching the dwindling crowd until their eyes locked. Rhys felt himself flinch in shock, both from the abruptness of Jack’s movements as well as the intensity of his gaze. Rhys immediately deactivated his eye and turned away to face his friends. He could feel Jack’s stare lingering on his back and tried his best to ignore it, nervously nibbling cheese cubes as a distraction.
His nerves eased as the minutes continued to slip by uneventfully, the trio enjoying what they assumed to be an extremely expensive bottle of cabarnet sauvignon. It didn’t take long for Rhys to achieve a pleasant tipsyness, the tension in his muscles giving way to the gentle wooziness in his head. At some point, he left the company of his friends and aimlessly stumbled around the area in search of the men’s room.
“Nice implants, kid. The colors are all wrong, though.”
Rhys stopped in his tracks and peeked over his shoulder, sobering up immediately as he caught sight of the man swiftly approaching him.
He wondered when the hell he had left the stage. He also felt immediately self-conscious of his own shabby appearance, loose-fitting clothes and all. He ran his fingers through the messy locks of hair sticking to his forehead, attempting in vain to tame them.
The moment they were within reach of each other, Jack hooked his fingers around the wrist of Rhys’s cybernetic arm, the black armor-like plating visible beneath his rolled-up sleeve, and lifted it closer to his face. His eyes widened with interest as he twisted his arm at all different angles, inspecting the hardware with all the delicacy of a black market dealer appraising scrapyard metal.
Rhys peered up at Jack through his lashes, taking advantage of his distracted state to get a good look at him up close. He really did wear a mask, but it looked shockingly organic, the material creasing and stretching in an impressive imitation of flesh. His mismatched eyes, now slightly narrowed in concentration, were the colors of the ocean: the blue of clear, deep waters and the green of shallow reefs. Rhys noted the dried blood dotting Jack’s hands, the flecks of red sticking to him like a second skin.
“This is the old branding, cupcake,” Rhys heard Jack say, shaking him out from his own observations. “New company, new colors. We’re moving away from this tacky, gothic crap.”
Jack carelessly released his grip on his arm, and Rhys stumbled for a moment, struggling to regain his balance as his arm’s weight was returned to him. Rhys simply stared at the other man for a long, drawn out moment, his brain struggling to keep up with what was happening. He noticed Jack’s lip curl ever so slightly, either in amusement or irritation—Rhys could no longer tell.
Finally, Rhys blurted, “Um, sorry, sir. I was planning to get the plating changed on my first night here, but ... well, this is my first night...”
That seemed to take Jack by surprise, if his abrupt shift in demeanor was anything to go by. Laughter spilled out from him, loud and sudden, the sound of it attracting furtive glances from nearby guests. “Man, that is hilarious. Best first day ever, huh?”
Rhys carefully considered his reply, eventually settling on, “It was definitely memorable.”
“Damn right it was.” Jack leaned towards him, just close enough to be intrusive, and clapped him once on the shoulder. Rhys felt his whole body stiffen as Jack’s grip on his shoulder tightened, not enough to hurt, but enough for his muscles to become tense in alarm. He fought to steady his breathing as Jack’s eyes bore into him, suspicion and curiosity both flickering just beneath the surface.
Rhys didn’t miss the smirk on Jack’s face when he finally released him, nor his own reflexive shudder when Jack’s fingertips just barely grazed the curve of his shoulder blade on their way down. Jack turned and begun making his way to the nearest exit, flicking his hand in a half-hearted wave. “See you around, kid. And get those plates changed.”
Rhys silently watched the back of the other man’s head as he walked away, until he finally disappeared from view, the double doors swinging to a close upon his exit.
Vaughn and Yvette accosted him moments later, Vaughn waving his arms frantically as he demanded an in-depth play-by-play of their conversation.
Rhys only half-processed his words, his brain in a stunned haze. What the hell had just happened?
It was on his third day of work that he first noticed it.
Mistakes in data entry were all too common when dealing with big data, so he initially ignored the stray data points, chalking them up to human error. If it weren’t for his ECHOeye, he may have never noticed the pattern in the anomalies.
When he actually analyzed the numbers, the message hidden within the data was undeniable in its intent.
3 1 14 1 14 25 15 14 20 5 5 18 5
If he matched the numbers to the letters of the alphabet, it spelled out:
C A N A N Y O N E S E E M E
Rhys wondered who at Hyperion would be bored enough to intentionally screw with the data like this. Some lazy programmer, probably.
He flexed his fingers, pondering his response. The obvious reply would be to ask who this person was, but Rhys reconsidered when he realized that this person would probably ask him for his identity too. Eventually, he decided to simply say:
H E L L O