Hero with a Thousand Facades
Pre-series, Hoody and Quinn. Spoilers up to episode 6. Sometimes the choice comes between living in a world of beliefs, or believing in a world that you're in.
In the darkness, he is Hoody the Brave. The wind through the Commune is as harsh as steel wool, flicking over rubbish piles and ripping down cables. It roars and screams and butchers exposed skin, punishing those unlucky enough to endure it. It has no mercy. It knows no shame.
The electricity that the Commune siphons from the discarded generators is sufficient for most of their needs, but the wiring is imperfect. It's been patched together so many times that, mostly, Hoody just plugs in whatever connections look like they might fit, rerouting channels regardless of voltage requirements. He fully expects he'll electrocute himself. He's always surprised whenever he doesn't.
When the nighttime storms rise, and the power crackles and threatens to go out, Hoody wraps himself up in his jacket and stomps outside. His jaw is tight with annoyance. Chemicals sting the inside of his nostrils as he navigates through the junk heaps, scarves bundled over his face to keep out the chill. His knee keeps locking up at the worst times. His cane slides around whenever he sets it down.
By the time he puffs back home, rubbing his hands to warm them back up again, the lights have restabilized. The doll watches him from its shelf, its painted shell impassive. It knows the truth about him better than anyone. More than a toy, the doll was awarded to him in secret as a testament of the natural courage Hoody exhibited that was far beyond that of normal citizens in Romdo. It was constructed from a rare wood, a species of tree that was long-extinct and never regrown, phased out by the Departments as inefficient for production. The world might never see its like again.
Hoody is - and always was - fearless enough to do what he must, never shirking his duties no matter how painful the odds might seem. But the Dome could never acknowledge his courage, not without disrupting the order of its people. Romdo wanted model citizens, not heroes. By exercising his own abilities, Hoody had made it impossible to fit in.
Therefore, Hoody was exiled: a necessary penalty for his strength, the price that came for daring to stretch out his hand and work proudly in the best ways that he could. Romdo gave him the doll in a clandestine ceremony, as Hoody saluted and officials came up to congratulate him in person, thanking him for the sacrifices he made for his Dome.
The vials of vaccine were packed carefully into his supplies, given to him in trust. This was his last mission, his last service to Romdo. In exchange for having exemplary bravery, Hoody's fate was that he was the only one they could count on to save those who had stumbled outside the Dome, but who still were valuable enough for Romdo keep alive. Hoody would build a shelter for those trapped outside, a commune for the strays; he would live in the wilderness until the end of his days, a silent guardian who could never return.
. . . . .
When it rains, he is Hoody the Noble, slogging through the oily mud alone, willing to check on the purifiers despite everyone's whining and complaints. Most of the water outside is unhealthy, polluted to the point of toxicity for humans, but the distillers are sturdy enough to keep chugging along. Too much rain can overload the machinery, however, requiring the processors to be force-restarted - far easier to manually flush them before they reach that point.
One by one, Hoody checks the reservoirs. Rain crawls into the neck of his coat. The seas are warm from proximity to Romdo and all its garbage; the sky's drizzle feels that much colder by comparison, tiny drops of ice that cry out one last rebellion before sliding into the waves. Romdo is a wet, sloppy disc in the sky. The city is a dark blot of metal in a grey sea of clouds, and Hoody scowls at it for not providing enough utility as an umbrella.
When it rains, and Hoody manages to crawl back inside to decorate his living room floor with puddles, he thinks about the doll. He had seized it from an ornamental clock display that had been installed in Romdo long ago, overlooking one of the shopping plazas. Every turn of the hour, the puppets came out to dance. The toys were simple, but heartwarming to watch: happy couples whirling in circles, the loyal soldiers guarding them all.
Hoody had been told that each puppet had been made of wood, hand-crafted by artisans who had studied techniques that had fallen into disuse, and then into extinction as machines took over the meticulous tasks of carving and paint. The dolls were rare; they were precious. They would be the perfect offering for the woman that he loved - a far better sign of his affection than any store-bought trinket.
But the soldier he had stolen turned out to be plastic after all. The factory stamp was outlined in rough lines on the bottom of one foot. The weight of it was hollow, barely a shell in his arms.
It was in a daze that he made his way back to the residential sectors, his illegal prize wrapped uselessly in his jacket. He skipped past his own quarters, moving along the streets out of dull habit, until he realized that he was standing on a familiar doorstep. No one answered his knock; he turned around, scanning the nearby park, until he caught sight of a spot of pale hair amidst the landscape.
There she was: the woman he was in love with. And there he was: Hoody's closest friend. His friend was laughing. The woman was smiling. She leaned forward, and covered his friend's hand with her long, delicate fingers.
Romdo didn't care about the doll's theft. That wasn't why Hoody left the Dome. But when faced with the opportunity to thwart another person's happiness, he chose to see if there was something worthwhile outside instead.
. . . . .
When the weather is calm, on the rarest nights, he is Hoody the Wise. He worked hard to be a model citizen of Romdo, studying the sciences outlined for him as befitted his birth and social rank. He never ignored the curriculum; he drank in every course he was given, supping on theorems and mechanics and the million experiments that proved how right Romdo was in each and every way.
His mother was a biologist, well-regarded by her peers, included on a number of high-level restricted projects in the Division of Health and Welfare. It was from her that Hoody found out what a Proxy was. It was she who shared the knowledge with him, handed down from a ring of secret confidants who had been privy to the Regent's musings, before the Regent had grown even older and more guarded in his ways. From his mother, Hoody learned stories that were not in the databases, things that turned his attention away from the safety of Romdo, and to the mysteries of the outside world.
That desire to see the divine is what drove him there, knowing that he would find no relief inside Romdo's locked vaults. His mother had argued with him; Hoody had insisted. Finally, when she saw that his desires would give him no rest, she had closed her eyes as if pained, and then reached for the maps.
She stored his supplies inside the doll - a safebox that the surveillance Auto-Reivs wouldn't search, assuming that it had been removed for routine maintenance - and gave him a kiss on his forehead for luck, as if he were a young boy again, still gazing longingly out their housing unit windows at the city below.
It was the last time he ever saw his mother, alive or dead.
But the gift of her vaccines kept him alive in the world beyond, and he was able to use them to save others, passing out an ever-dwindling supply, and late at night, Hoody likes to think - he likes to think he chose well.
. . . . .
Sometimes when he wakes up early, too early for the hazy sky to lighten like a crust of flavored salt, Hoody doesn't remember which story actually happened. He could have the doll because of his friend. He could have the doll because of his mother. It doesn't matter what life was like inside the Dome, really - if it was as bad or as good as he remembers. What he's living now, what he believes in now, that's what matters. Hoody could change his mind tomorrow. He has the right.
Tell a man that they are dying of disease, and they will react as surely as if it were true. Convince them of a weakness, and they will fabricate their own symptoms. A person's body can conjure authentic reactions once triggered by the mind. Delusions become real. Or real enough.
Hoody's hands took the doll from its slot, but no one knows about that anymore, no one except for the sterile databases of Romdo, and in there, Hoody is only a number. His Citizen Registration contains nothing about his thoughts, his personality. It does not record his fears and loves and soul.
When it comes down to it, Hoody figures, the person who's experiencing reality is the only one for whom such things matter. They're the ones who give real meaning to their own lives.
No. If it's one thing that the world outside of Romdo has taught him, it's that facts have nothing to do with the truth at all.
. . . . .
Time doesn't matter when you're on the outside of society; there are no jobs to keep or weekends to attend. Days skitter by like shy insects. Hoody goes back sometimes and rounds them all up in a heap, estimating his age only as a slow march towards mortality. It's been too long since he's had legitimate confirmation of the date; his life floats in a detachment of numbers, younger or older beyond his ability to pinpoint which one.
Most of the other residents of the Commune feel the same way. They're all on the side of declining age; they practice hope as a habit, a withered reflex like brushing one's teeth or locking a door. To them, death is always a day away, and they know better than to expect more. The only exception is Timothy; the boy is too young to know of a world with people his own generation. He's left to imitate his elders, never learning chronology because no one ever thought to teach the importance of it to him.
Quinn is different. In Hoody's little world of discarded leftovers, she's a rogue element that has more life to her than all the rest of them combined. Her plans for the future are strategies, not hobbies. She wanders outside the shelter of the Commune regularly despite his warnings, testing herself against a wasteland that never tests back, except with its own implacable emptiness. She dives along the contours of the sea, fishing out the heaviest containers, and scoffs at the thought of drowning.
One evening, after Hoody's just finished prodding at the holes in his socks, he gives up on working and decides to spend the night in rest. The coil stove gets hauled out, trading the expenditure of electricity in favor of cooking inside. It doesn't take long before he gets a stew to simmer, full of mismatched ingredients that an aging food synthesizer had spat out earlier; Hoody had picked through them until he gathered enough chunks that tasted savory, and saved them for the pot so they could boil down to a uniform brownness.
He's already settled down for the evening, wrapped up snug in one of the less threadbare blankets, when the door bangs open. It spits in a draft of cold air and Quinn with it, both stomping through into his living room.
The light from his tiny furnace freckles Quinn in tremulous gold. Her jacket nudges one of the stools. It scrapes in weak protest against the pressure, threatening to overturn onto Hoody's floor.
Quinn ignores it and scowls down at the pot, wrinkling her nose in obvious disgust. "This crap that you feed people." Her hand seizes the ladle, slaps it against the rim of the pot. Drops of watery broth splash out. "How can you expect anyone to stomach it?"
Hoody raises an eyebrow. "Add some salt, it does just fine."
"That's not what I meant." Another jingle of the ladle and Quinn is dismissing the stove and staring at him from across the minefield of stools. "Why do you lie to everyone here? Why do you tell them how good they have it outside the Dome, with this nonsense about freedom?"
"I give them dreams because they can no longer create their own!" he snaps back, irritated by her intrusion. Anger twists his fingers into the blanket. "If they didn't have something to value out here, how much worse would it be to have to live like this? Why does it matter so much to you, Quinn? Why can't you leave them in peace?"
Strain pinches the lines of Quinn's mouth. The weather had caught her while she was out; ash is in her hair, laden with chemical runoff. "Because it's better than deceiving themselves," she replies. "Don't encourage them. Don't make them choke on false promises. I'm sick of watching you lead them around, old man." Her heels squeak as she twists in place, already resolute on a conclusion. The words are an afterthought over her shoulder. "They should remember just how pathetic it is to wait out here, licking up crumbs from the very place that threw them out. If you won't say anything, then I will."
"Timothy," he says, and this is what stops her, this is what cuts her steps as short as if he took out a wedge of serrated steel and sawed her tendons clean with it. "You kidnapped that child," he adds flatly. "Didn't you."
She turns on him, all expression dead in her eyes, and Hoody is suddenly very aware of the difference in muscle between them. Quinn is a woman who walks alone in the wasteland; she has beaten the monsters in the shadows and replaced them with herself. She could have him dead on a table before he could fully stand. "If you're asking if the Dome approved my household unit application, then the answer is no, old man," she replies coldly. "But I'm still his mother, and he's still mine."
"Keep telling yourself that, Quinn," he retorts, and he knows it's cruel, but so is she. His only weapon is his mouth; he will not refrain from using it. "You left Romdo with plenty of vaccine to spare. Don't try to tell me it wasn't premeditated."
She flounders, her weakness showing in the crevices of her face, tiny twitches of her muscles that take the place of wounds. "He has the best care I can give him out here," she says eventually, the words sullen. Even to her ears, it must have sounded weak, because she scowls immediately, hunching a shoulder in unconscious defense.
Hoody doesn't let her hide. "And what will you tell him, when he's older? Nothing, eh? You'll just let Timothy believe he's your child, and that belief makes it true. And he needs that." He snorts, cupping his fingers around his knees. "As does the Commune. So how are you and I so different? We both wanted something that Romdo couldn't give us. We came here in order to have it. Let the others cling to whatever reasons they need. You and I are the only ones who really know how good this place is."
One of Quinn's boots moves, wedging the rubber of its toe against the nearest stool. The silence spreads wide; she doesn't meet his eyes. What little he can see of her expression is oblique, a private inner war that mingles frowns with bitterness. "And what will you do if the Commune starts asking questions?"
"I'd ask you the same. What will you do about Timothy? Do you plan to keep him here forever, like a beggar on the edge of the world? He'll be here alone when the rest of us have passed on." For just a moment, Hoody considers indulging in mercy; then he tosses the sentiment aside in favor of one last stab. "Are you just hoping for other strangers to fall into his life, so you won't have to feel guilty about how your choice exiled him from the rest of humanity?"
By the time he's finished, Quinn's posture has been reduced to the cold expectation of an Entourage - waiting, perhaps, for some other sort of threat, some power he will try to bluff for, some advantage he can twist to seize the upper hand. But the table's clear between them. They both have something to lose. Honesty will get neither of them what they want.
It can only destroy what they have.
Finally, Quinn inclines her head. She pivots on a heel, scooping up one of the spare bowls, and dips it into the stewpot. Broth dribbles down the rim when she lifts it up; she claims the meal without a single sign of thanks.
"Careful how much you make them swallow, old man," she warns, and steps back outside, into the open sky.