The stillness of silence had always made him uneasy. Give him work; give him problems or equations to focus his mind on, but to be left alone with the quiet of his own thoughts - that was formidable.
Hordak had been born into the hivemind. From the moment he first had consciousness, he’d had a network of live feed from the thousands - never quiet, never still. Living each day, not as an individual, but as the innumerable many. Feeling like he was thousands strong. The constant noise was comforting; it meant that he was never alone.
He had begrudgingly learned to live without it when it was first torn from him, only to be reconnected for a brief time to then have it ripped away again. Voluntarily. If he were better able to interpret humor, perhaps the irony would be funny.
There was entirely too much to contemplate after everything that had happened over the last few weeks and if he were being honest, he didn’t particularly wish to. While sorting through the myriad of thoughts in his head seemed profoundly daunting, it was somehow still more preferable than the quiet.
Hordak honestly never thought he would have the opportunity to retrospectively evaluate all of his choices. Once he summoned Prime and big brother had decided that Hordak had forgotten who he was, he knew it was all over. With the quiet resignation of a dead man, he knew the violent reprogramming was inevitable and he would be helpless against it. He’d seen it happen to others. His memories would be ripped from him and he would forget everything. There would be no coming back from that empty place. Who he was, his mission, his empire, his conquests, her,... no more.
Everything always came back to her. Like a pre-determined catalyst, it seemed that as long as he continued to live, Entrapta would never cease to surprise him. The static of his mind faded out when the image of her came into view. More recently, this brought a word with it into his headspace that he’d never used before. He’s certain he doesn’t even know how to use it.
Wasn’t that what Etherians called something that they could gaze upon forever and never grow tired of?
Hordak was a clone; one of thousands, centuries of predecessors before him that were all identical, save for his unique defect. Prime and his own individual predecessors were physically different and Hordak had always wondered why - if they were truly ‘created in his image’. Thinking on it retrospectively, he believes that an unconscious part of him always knew that, like any ‘god’, Prime had to appear outwardly foreign, larger and more opposing to help give weight to the claims that he was all-powerful and omniscient, to give the common people an image to worship, to instill fear.
Hordak had initially only known of diversity beyond his brothers and Lord Prime when he was waging wars on other worlds; ‘cleansing missions’, their crusades, to bring peace to the galaxy.. Different planets, different species, different ways of life, but Hordak was only meant to see them as primitive, sinful, ‘in need of purification’ for the glory of Lord Prime.
Hordak had observed many species in his life, but they were never truly seen. Certainly not with a casual eye, barely even with a passing glance. They were tools or they were waste. They were executed and then they were dust laid to make way for the next tyrannical cleansing. Their only remains were scattered trinkets of what Lord Prime decided to keep in his gallery; littered remnants of lost civilizations. Now entirely gone.
So when it came to the perception of beauty, Hordak knew he was out of his depth. What was a clone to know about aesthetic? When all he had seen most of his life were his god, mirror images, death, and monotone? He couldn’t be trusted to be an apt judge of this quality.
Etherians were initially completely foreign to him. He, at first, couldn’t begin to understand how to categorize others with verbiage other than ‘not his kin’. Etherians definitively did not all look the same. Oh, once Hordak crash-landed on this bright, damp, unyielding rock, after he had been brutally separated from the hivemind, he finally had the time, or at least the apathy, to actually observe those around him. This was after, of course, the stretch of time where subsequent lack of feed from the hivemind and the eerie muteness - the deafening silence -within his own mind drove him to nearly to the brink of madness, but he had returned from that ledge.
After a few disturbingly inconsolable, quiescent moonfalls, he dragged himself out of his desolation to actually inspect his surroundings in an attempt to find purpose again.
He noted rampant diversity compared to his race. Rounded edges where his were sharp, varying muscle and fat distribution, various shapes, pigments, builds, and sizes; completely different organic constituents in some cases. But the variety seemed endless the further he traveled.
He could honestly say that he had never before classified anything or anyone as beautiful until now.
There had always been something puzzlingly magnetic about Entrapta. From the first time he saw her; he often feigned professional indifference, but he’d always closely observed new members of his allegiance. He’d watched with detachment and some bewilderment as she eagerly bounced around the Fright Zone like it was her second home. He knew she was a princess and they happened to come in many vibrant, colorful varieties, so he was unsurprised by her bright appearance and high-pitched voice. She was small, even by Etherian standards, for a matured humanoid creature; older than she looked, seemingly non-threatening on her own. The prehensile hair was admittedly unexpected and still a particular feature he has never seen elsewhere.
Of course, at this time, she was merely a pawn and yet another means to an end. He couldn’t care less what her outward appearance looked like, as long as she served a purpose in his mission. And she proved herself worthy in that respect with her incredible talents almost immediately.
And as it always does, time passed and things began to change. He began to see her more clearly, less through the narrow lens of his objective, and more with his own deeply imbedded, keen curiosity. Starting, of course, with her vast intellect that simply could not be ignored. Just in this area alone, there was no way he could have ever possibly prepared himself for how very much there was to see.
He remembered feeling affronted and almost angry when she managed to repair the conductivity of his power source; an endeavor that had taken months worth of trials and failed attempts prior. He had only left the sanctum for about 45 minutes. And that was all the time she needed to resolve his quandary.
He was so flabbergasted and caught up in feeling previously unused emotions that he hardly knew what to say. The relief of a long-standing problem solved soothing his indignation and irritation, frothing over into anger and confusion, and then into just being.. impressed. But the nerve of this Etherian...
And she didn’t give him the time to think too hard about it either as she bounded over to her next interest; never still, usually chattering, and quite swift for someone her size. These were all details he had previously observed in passing that he now saw first hand. He quickly found that her extraordinary intelligence didn’t merely pertain solely to the fields of electronics and robotics, but that he had apparently been vastly under-utilizing her skills in the Fright Zone as she proved to also be proficient in physics, computer and electrical engineering, and mathematics; even possessing a theoretical understanding of the science of portals.
Hordak wasn’t sure he had ever met someone, on Etheria, or even within his own brethren, who was so adept in all of these fields at once. Being proficient in these areas of study was one of his specialties, after all. He was one of the only clones with the intellect to allow him to master multiple sciences. He initially thought he was bred solely for this purpose, but he later began to suspect it was actually another product of his defect. Part of what made his mind more susceptible to divergence from his programming to begin with.
It wasn’t only her intelligence that captured his attention. She was also remarkably stubborn as well. By that time, he had been ruling over the Fright Zone for a decade and in this time very few and far in between had ever spoken back to him. He maintained a menacing reputation because he had learned, like Prime had, that it was much easier to corral others into doing his bidding with fear rather than civility.
Hordak does not believe that Entrapta has ever once been afraid of him. That was different. Usually his ‘alien’ appearance already had people uneasy around him, and all he needed beyond that was some mystery and theatrical flair. People either stared at him or completely avoided looking at him and Entrapta.. did neither.
So when she asked her questions at the very start of their first real interaction, he answered. He was unable to justify withholding the information that she wanted about his power source and portal formulas. She had earned that much.
And yet she still didn’t give him a spare moment to finish delving into the rush of unfamiliar emotions she had just put him through. Now with an additional new feeling of almost unease from being near another sentient being who was possibly of the same or higher intelligence than him. That hadn’t happened to him throughout his entire time on Etheria. And even before that. Looking back, he knows Prime’s intelligence never actually held a candle to hers.
His knowledge of space is where he had her out-matched. He tried not to unpack the small, undeserving feeling of fleeting superiority that eased out when he realized this and he quickly regained his footing in his own mind. She was also the first to ask him about his knowledge of planets and his previous travels. Hordak would be dishonest if he said there wasn’t almost a thrill in being able to regale her with stories and science that she didn’t even know existed until just seconds prior.
And she was starving for knowledge. There was nothing that came out of his mouth that didn’t interest her to some degree, no aspect that didn’t need further clarification, and for the first time he had seen, he had somehow managed to capture her full attention. She was insatiably engaging.
This was the first time he noticed the way her eyes lit up when she was excited, almost sparkling with the green reflections of the screens around them. Her excitement and awe were nearly palpable. To be able to accomplish this with mere words and the knowledge he had long since possessed was a heady feeling. It felt almost powerful.
Hordak was almost reluctant to end the interaction; so new it was to him to feel this way. To have someone else find the same, if not more, interest in his passions than he did, and to understand them to the same extent.
She essentially invited herself to work with him on the portal, becoming more serene and comfortable in his sanctum than even he was. Their intellectual banter became something of a routine after that.
She was, from that moment, never again reluctant to approach him. He learned to be mindful that her entry into the Sanctum could come from any given direction, and sometimes, he could swear, even out of thin air. This was something he had to get used to. She was always animated, always excited, always loud. He pondered if she had some sort of external power source fueling her, because he otherwise couldn’t comprehend how one creature could possibly have enough energy to be, quite literally, near vibrating with vivacity all day long, nearly every single day.
She started every day bubbling over with questions and hypotheses she’d thought of the night before, or inquiries about a certain calculation or new experiment. Eagerly showing him her data pads filled with charts and statistics, papers strewn about, messily scribbled with formulas, concept sketches, and theories. Constantly babbling, whether it was to him or into her tape recorder, but he found that her voice didn’t grate on him the way he thought it would previously. He also found that he grew accustomed to the added background noise much more quickly than he had anticipated. In fact, it became almost too noticeably quiet without it. He did not have a favorable history with silence.
The dexterity with which she could use her hair to perform tasks was truly something fascinating. He couldn’t help but to observe the flexibility and multi-tasking prowess it had allowed her. For one, he’d never seen a creature move from one location to another as deftly as she did, and without dropping what she was doing with her hands. What she lacked in height was more than made up for by the strength and multi-purpose maneuvering capabilities of her prehensile hair. Purple became a common and oddly comforting sight within his sanctum.
She learned to travel the length of the Fright Zone entirely through the ventilation system, as quick and agile as ever. Which, he learned, was more efficient at getting her where she needed to be much faster than walking the halls. He learned to anticipate her arrival by the numerous clunking sounds he would hear in the ceiling that would grow louder in volume just before she popped her head out, or even just fell through entirely.
He found that while she was often scattered, jumping from one part of a project to the next, her work ethic was unparalleled. If her interest was held, despite her normally flighty nature, she could maintain focus enough to last for hours - often to a fault. She was Etherian after all, and he had read that her species should obtain about 8 hours of sleep per rest cycle, so he often wondered how Entrapta was still able to function on so little. And with barely the passing nourishment requirement it seemed, often simply forgetting to eat entirely. What she did consume, well, he couldn’t imagine the small, sugary confections she fed herself were either adequate or nutritionally balanced.
At the beginning, she would often be in the sanctum for nearly days at a time. He found she would often lose track of the clock, so invested she was in her work. He would often find her napping, hunched over her equipment or up against the robot she called ‘Emily’, or whatever project she was currently working on. She would be softly snoring and drooling onto her diagrams, her hair finally stationary, her short limbs sprawled out and sometimes twitching with her dreams. Somehow, she always seemed even smaller when she was completely still like this. Hordak was reminded that despite her strength and many skills, her species was still so fragile.
Hordak didn’t even work his Horde cadet soldiers this hard, and despite him not ever directly giving her ‘working hours’ per say, he felt a small sense of guilt from her working herself to exhaustion. He would note a decreased energy, decreased chatter, and a statistically significant increased margin of error when she was very tired - often after 24 hours of staying awake. He took it upon himself to formally instill boundaries and break times, and despite her stubborn nature, he eventually persuaded her to comply. He even gave one of the chefs the primary job of making her meals each day to make sure she was maintaining appropriate nutritional intake. She seemed grateful for this and her only request was that they be ‘small foods’.
She started calling him ‘Hordak’, without the title, and he found he didn’t mind. He had a hard time rationalizing forcing her to utilize formalities especially when her mental acuity rivaled his own. He knew that ultimately, he had the authority, but he couldn’t shake the gradual kindling of respect and he felt building toward her and her brilliant mind.
She became a resident fixture in his life, one that he had not only grown used to, but that he looked forward to seeing each day. He couldn’t remember another time where he had any sort of true positive anticipation for the day’s events. He wondered if this was what companionship was. He had, of course, felt kinship with his brethren, but he had never found an intellectual equal to share his ideas with. He didn’t think he ever realized how alone he was before, even if he counted his experience with the hivemind and with the connection to thousands of others and to Prime himself, he still seemed to uncharacteristically bask in Entrapta’s company. And she seemed to similarly enjoy his presence as well, for whatever that was worth.
Together, they achieved so much more at a much greater speed than Hordak admittedly would have ever been able to on his own. He recognized this entirely even if his pride took a hit. His life was no longer monotonous. He began to find a more personal satisfaction in what he was doing and he couldn’t help but to feel a sense of elation when Entrapta appraised his work. He supposed that may have to do, at least in part, with his conditioning as a servant of Prime, but he ultimately shoved this thought into a deep pocket of his mind as he did not wish to analyze it any further than that.
Something else Hordak had grown accustomed to was simply talking more often in general. Their discussions sometimes lasted hours. Hordak had never spoken so much in his entire existence. He had always been a clone of few words, but she was engaging, her thoughts were insightful, and her excitement was often contagious. In fact, he became consciously aware that he was smiling more than he ever had before as well. This was a new development that he tried to cease immediately, (Prime had never allowed them to emote), but he found himself unable to control his feelings of enjoyment around her. When she smiled and laughed, it was exceedingly difficult not to mirror her joy. Her sheer unadulterated delight was as bright as a supernova.
Hordak became well-acquainted with her mannerisms and her ways of expressing her emotions. Soon, reading these gestures became second nature to him. They both started to understand how the other thought and learned to anticipate the other’s needs. It sounds very foolish, but sometimes they really did finish each other’s sentences. He had also become quite deeply invested in what she had to say.
At first, they never discussed personal matters. Conversations were generally practical, regarding science and the portal, or a side project; often just lapsing into tangents about astronomy or theoretical physics. If ever they discussed anything personal, it was usually related to aspects of their physiology that circled back to their general performance or relations to what they were currently working on.
Entrapta, however, would sometimes openly discuss social dilemmas she would encounter - not usually to him, but consistently recording them out loud whether he was present or not. Through mostly unintentional eavesdropping, he found that these mostly involved interactions with his force captains and some sort of ‘friendship hierarchy’, complete with graphs, which was a side project of hers. Hordak recognized that Entrapta did not have the same social perceptions of that of her peers. Or even most other Etherians that he had witnessed. She was often very direct and literal, seemingly unable to interpret sarcasm or sometimes even common idioms, though he was ineffectual at this as well. She also appeared to have difficulty translating what others were feeling from tone and body language, and others often struggled to understand her in turn. Meanwhile, he had spent enough time with her to learn about her unique rituals and to understand them, intentionally or not.
To others, she often appeared disjointed, uncaring, or lacking focus, when in truth, she always listened to everything that was said to her; even when she was concurrently working or not engaging the speaker. She was, in fact, startlingly aware of everything that happened around her, able to remember numbers and measurements that Hordak spoke aloud halfway across the noisy room while working on her own formulas. She was able to pick up on the subtle changes in the lab and to keep track of where all of her scattered tools were at all times. She was remarkably able to lead multiple trains of thought or start 4 different projects all at the same time and give them equal amounts of attention without losing her place. Hordak couldn’t possibly see these behaviors as anything other than assets.
Certainly, she zipped around the laboratory like some sort of feral primate most days, she hyper-fixated on minute details and things that were not always completely relevant, and sometimes she went on tangents and her focus was hard to reclaim once she had found something else interesting, but she always seemed to know how to best apply her talents to any given situation. Hordak could not consider these intricacies as deficiencies; they were all simply a part of who she was.
Unfortunately, Entrapta did appear to care how the others perceived her, perhaps even to a fault as well. Hordak himself had also never been very apt at social nuances given his nature of a being a clone. There was hardly ever any need for open communication at all with the hivemind, much less parlor commiseration. He appreciated that her literal nature almost seemed to make her incapable of dishonesty because he despised deception. Frankly, lying or interpreting lies had never been something he was good at because he was never allowed to be deceitful. With Prime’s open access to his mind, he also was not physically capable of it. So he never developed any sort of skill for it.
He also found pointless gossip a nuisance and he enjoyed being able to just discuss the facts and the tasks at hand - and in a level of detail that he had honestly never been able to communicate to another being who could keep up before. That, admittedly, became addicting.