The Hermit, Prologue and Chapter One
I GREW UP HEARING STORIES ABOUT HIM. Freak, cannibal boy, creep, scrat, and a dozen other names, some creative and some less inspired. When I met him, billions of miles from where his story began, everyone was calling him one thing- the Hermit. Only a few knew him, truly, and I’d like to think by the end of his story I could be counted among those few individuals. At the end of it all, his name, the first words he spoke to another person, would never forgotten.
My prejudice towards him came into being like most do; I learned it from others. I knew all his peculiarities that, over time, had become inflated half truths and lies. Kids told ghost stories about him coming into your room at night to watch you sleep while eating bugs and rats. Kids would huddle around campfires or bedrooms during sleepovers, sharing these sorts of stories that expanded upon the myth of Scout. Our childhood games revolved around him. He was the monster who chased you in a game of tag or hide ’n’ seek. I played these and many others growing up on Isla Cielo, running on the beach pretending to be him, laughing in playful fright at the thought of him catching one of us. Scout’s pitiable origins never crossed our minds.We took him as an aberration, a boogeyman, someone deserving of our sympathy not our cruelty; a child, found alone and on the brink of death in the wasteland, fortunate to be alive.
Kids thought he was a monster. To parents, he was a constant reminder of their failures in the aftermath of the End. He stood out on an island of filled with intellectuals, academics, prodigies, and creatives. Even the strays,the “non-essential” people saved by the EHSE evacuation, were nothing like him. All of them, no matter their background and role in the program, from soldiers to physicists, saw him as an outsider. There was a time when he would have been a charitable cause to them. They’d put some dollars in his pocket, pat themselves on their backs, and say they saved a life. Instead, they viewed him with indifference, caution, and even slight disdain. He was an effigy for their fears and frustrations.
The adults knew it was wrong to treat him so. Not too long ago it would have been unacceptable, horrendous even, to make a child into a pariah. An orphan found in the wilderness, alive despite the odds, he would have been a star. Actors would have taken photos with him. There would’ve been book deals and talks about a movie adaptation. His face, contemplative and bookish, would have been plastered on billboards, televisions, and magazines. That’s what civilization would have done. And while EHSE was the last of civilization, the people there knew they had lost their decency to paranoia and fear, those ancient roots of our ill habits.
The fear that he was dangerous was more than just him potentially lashing out violently at his peers. No one would ever admit it, but what terrified everyone, children and adults, was the possibility that was was one of the unspeakablehorrors responsible for the End. How could a boy so young survive unless he was something unnatural and inhuman? Despite Scout’s behavior being in line with those who experience this level of trauma, his unusual quirks were scrutinized to the point that even more rational minds believed this was a plausible deduction considering everything that happened. Bringing him to the island they could have potentially risked everything they slaved away to create. All the work and risk undone by Scout, the monsters’ Trojan horse. So they often considered exiling him from the island, deliberating each time he didn’t fit into their box of normalcy. What was one person in the scope of all human life? Was he worth it? Was this child worth sacrificing EHSE?
The truth is he had his eccentricities. There’s no doubt he was cut from a wholly different cloth than the rest of us. He had a tendency to walk slow, regardless of his limp, and always towards something unseen, looking for the next sliver of shelter to sink into. You could find him in the corner of a room or tucked halfway behind a tree, watching everything intently with big inquisitive eyes. If you met his gaze he’d shift around uncomfortably, trying to mesh further into the scenery or escape altogether. He’d sleepwalk and end up scratching at people’s doors, whining like a dog to come in. Sometimes they’d find him tucked inside garbage cans asleep, a dead bird clutched in his teeth. It was much worse when he was young, so I’ve been told, but these things happened up until he left.
I was there, in the crowd, the day the Unyielding exploded over the Atlantic and the Indomitablewent silent after a series of catastrophic readings. In one day EHSE, the last shred of civilization, lost its two most promising pilots. In the midst of these cataclysmic losses the least likely person took a stand when everyone else balked. Scout had no dog in our fight. He had been an outcast, treated less than human at times, but despite it all he boarded the Defiant and became more than silly nicknames and the embodiment of our powerlessness. On that day he became a hero.
His actions weren’t done out of love for us. Scout didn’t care about humanity and what we’d lose should the mission fail and EHSE collapse. Scout did it for her, Brena Sahni, the woman he loved, and the handful of souls that cared for him. People like Doc Aaren, who died a month after the Fortuna’s launch, and his adoptive father, Lucca Serrano, who took him under his wing and gave him a loving home. The few that never gave up on him were there that day,to see him rise above the masses and take hold of the future when no one else would, forcing everyone on Isla Cielo to reevaluate their misconceptions of him. The pariah had become a hero. As he speared onward to his destination stories began to spread. The narrative changed. Even those with grounded sensibilities were not immune to being swept up in telling tall tales about him. It went on this way up to the launching of the Fortuna and afterwards. Scout became more than a legend. He became mythic.
That’s a lot of power to wield and some people realized this. EHSE’s scholars knew his life was significant to future generations in establishing humanity’s new history and should be carefully analyzed. Others worried what sort of society would manifest from it, this new iconic figure on a world far from the dead ones from Earth. These individuals could not reconcile their past prejudices from this new mythic version. To them, he was an uncertain figure to idolize.Yet in knowingthere was no escape fromhis influence across EHSE, his legacy would have to be monitored and filtered to protect it, even if that meant protecting it from Scout himself.
-My Time with the Hermit, The Memoir of Eisley Coda
SCOUT OPENED HIS EYES TO A SUN A BILLION MILES FROM THE ONE HE WAS BORN UNDER. His head throbbed while a viscous trickle of blood pooled around his cheeks. He took a breath and groaned. Dust puffed up from the hard sandstone. Across from him was a shallow pond and at its center the hunk of metal responsible for his journey here- a Russian-made quadruped drone.
He rolled over, rubbing his bearded chin staining his fingers with fresh blood. Above him was a short cliff of aroundfifteen feet. Scout squinted trying to recall what happened.
When the haze of his blackout adequately left him, Scout sat up. His back popped and stiffened for a moment. He was getting too old for this sort of thing. How much longer did have left in the tank? It was hard to tell. He wasn’t a young man anymore, but despite the familiar crook in his back and the other normal impairments of age, Scout was still robust. His mind, however, hadn’t fared nearly as well.