Captain Jack Hart
Captain Jack Hart
I grew up in Northern Minnesota. I could step out of my room and see a deer walking in the trees. I could step out onto the dock and catch my evening meal out of the lake. I thought that was normal when I was young. Even in school, my International Falls classmates included a lot of kids like me. They lived away from the town center, in the middle of nature. Sure, some of them lived in town, but even they had family or friends outside and could enjoy the same life I did on the weekends. We grew up on the lake, in the woods, under the stars, breathing crisp morning air. It was paradise. I didn’t realize at the time how rare it was. Now I do, and I can say without reservation that I was blessed to grow up on the edge of civilization.
I grew up in the Boundary Waters between the United States and Canada west of the Great Lakes. There’s water everywhere up there, and I think I learned to swim before I could walk. My life revolved around water. Swimming. Fishing. Partying. I could walk out of my door, down the hill, and straight into the water. I knew the feel of minnows nibbling on my toes. I knew exactly how much tension to put on rod and reel, what the line could handle, and how long a fish could fight. I ice fished in winter, and yes, I made a fair bit of money showing my little part of paradise to all the city slickers who wanted to see it for a weekend or maybe a weeklong vacation. Yes, I was one of those guys who flirted with the pretty daughters of rich bankers and business owners while showing the family a romanticized version of my life. The most beautiful and safe parts of it. I loved that life. I never wanted it to end.
I grew up before The War came upon us all. Well, there are many who would say I still haven’t grown up, but you know what I mean. I spent twelve years in the public school system, where we could study whatever we wanted, as long as we did the basics. We had AI tutors for every conceivable subject from ancient history to multidimensional math. But the real job of those twelve years was teaching us how to learn. Teaching us how to spend time with other people. How to get along with the children our own age who would become the adults we would spend the rest of our lives with. The human school monitors were pretty much there to make certain we attended to our studies, hug us when we banged a knee as we were young, or stop fights when we were older. The primary job of the schools I went to was to make all of us into functional adults. There are many who question whether or not they succeeded in my case.
There were certain basic courses I had to finish before I could graduate from High School, but they weren’t the challenge some make them out to be. Reading, writing, and rhetoric is pretty easy to master. Math and science can be a bit harder if you’re going into the more advanced forms, but we only needed the basic levels to graduate. Music and sports were the ones I loved the most. It was on history that the schools really concentrated though. It was their job to teach us how we got to where we were, how we built the worlds we all lived in. They taught us why the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address were important. Why the words “I have a dream,” “Tear down this wall,” and “Build the wall” all affected how we grew up. How the race and debt riots changed everything. Why the First Great Depression hobbled unbridled Capitalism, and the Second Great Depression starved Socialism. They taught us what it meant to be American, so we could go to college and learn the skills we needed for our chosen profession. I passed the basics with ease, but was always more interested in studying the intricacies of girls than anything else. Unless the two came together. Then, I assure you, I could focus on the relevant subjects with remarkable success.
Music was my first love. Until I discovered girls, and realized that music could be used to woo them. Then I loved music even more. The feel of guitar strings under my fingers brings back so many memories of growing up in Northern Minnesota. Dipping my toes into cool spring waters while playing a lilting tune. Add a girl or two sitting next to me, maybe more, and it was pretty much the perfect way to grow up. Some people accused me of having a one-track mind on that account, but I always knew they were wrong. Blonde. Brunette. Redhead. My mind was always good at multitasking. But thinking back on it, I suppose some people had a point or two on the matter. I was wild and free, driven by hormones and thinking I was all grown up. I thought I was ready for life back then. I thought I had everything I needed. I sure did think I was all that and more.
I was a know it all. I thought I was three meters tall and bullet proof. I got into fistfights over stupid things. And some real important ones. I was stubborn as the sky is wide. I never did know when to quit. I lived my life at full throttle, never slowing down for a breath I didn’t need. I fell for sky-blue eyes under small town lights. I fell for deep brown eyes under dark woods canopies. And God Almighty, those green eyes were something to behold. I never had everything I exactly wanted, but that’s part of what was so beautiful. Life was good. Life was great. And I was…fantastic. Because I had a name to live up to. A name I’d earned, and one I very much was not going to let go to waste. I was Jack. Still am, I suppose, but I’ll always remember the Jack I was when I was fifteen going on eighteen. When I was eighteen going on thirty. When everything was right in the world.
I grew up with AIs. Everybody had a personal assistant to keep track of our daily schedules or call our friends. Start our cars. Drive us where we want to go. Secure our homes. Keep them at the right temperature so we’re comfortable. Pay our bills or buy things at the store. Everywhere we go, there are AIs to deal with the minor, annoying parts of living. Leaving us free to enjoy our time. It was the perfect way to grow up. I thought at the time.
I grew up with an AI coded specifically for me by the best cyberneers in the business. Without disclosing what business they were in, of course. I didn’t know any of that growing up, but my dad wasn’t always a retired fisherman you know. I didn’t know that either, but his connections got me a real good girl. A personal assistant that made my life easy in every way that mattered. She helped me with homework, find the best candy, and listened to me talk about the prettiest girls in my world. She was a part time lab assistant and full time councilor. The best personal assistant anyone could buy. Only no amount of money could have paid for her. An AI like her demanded far greater currency than mere coin. She was as close to a cyber as anyone can legally own, and sometimes I wonder if she didn’t cross a few of those lines. God, she was amazing. I really loved her.
I fell in love in high school. I was trying to puzzle my way through some song I don’t remember, when she grabbed the guitar out of my hands and played it the way it was meant to be played. With feeling. She had long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and delicate fingers that could tickle those strings like a maestro. And that yellow sundress about blew my mind. That is one of the moments that will live with me forever. It was the first day of the rest of my life. The day I fell hopelessly and completely in love with someone who wasn’t me.
My parents did everything they could to raise me right. God knows they tried, but I was awful full of myself. I thought I was God’s gift to girls, and the best boy around. I was all that, and I was certain of it all. I was two hundred pounds of testosterone in a one hundred pound body, and I could bench press that truck over there if you asked me to prove it all. Then I met her. I’d say she was the girl of my dreams but she blew my dreams out of the water. I fell in love with her, the way only someone fifteen going on eighteen can fall. Hopelessly and completely. With all my heart and soul. And then I met her cousin.
She changed my life the day she entered it. Long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a penchant for yellow sundresses that blew my mind. She was a true Scandinavian beauty. Then there was her cousin. Long brunette locks, dark brown eyes that could melt a soul, and what she did to blue jeans should have been against the law. And they could play guitars better than I could. Now I was no slouch back then. I was The Guy. I played at all the beach parties, because I was just that good. Then they joined me and the music got so much better. We were totally in sync, body, mind, and soul. We made Heaven on Earth and I never wanted anything else but that.
I tell people that I am happy with my life. I am. I tell people that I wouldn’t change anything. I tell myself the same thing. But that is a lie. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. It took a long time for me to face that fact and accept it. It took a long time for me to admit the truth to myself. And to them. I let them go. The best things in my life, the best girls in all the worlds, and I let them go alone. That is my one true regret in life. I would go back and change it if I could. I have no idea what I would be now if I did. Maybe I would be dead, along with everybody I cared about. But I would have spent my life with the girls I loved more than life itself. And that would have been a life worth living.
It was three short years that changed a life. We sang, we played, and we danced. We made beautiful music together in Northern Minnesota. We made Heaven on Earth, and that was all I wanted for the rest of my life. They wanted to be bigger. They wanted to go to Nashville and go worlds wide. I knew they were good enough to do it, so I let them go. I thought they would get a taste of it, make a name for themselves, and then come back home to make more beautiful music together. They thought I would follow them and we would be together out there. We were all wrong.
I was eighteen going on thirty and my world had come apart. The great loves of my life were gone, and I was too proud to go after them. They would come back. I knew it in my bones. No place was as good as Northern Minnesota to live. They would come back tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. I graduated and went to college where I majored in music and beer and girls that weren’t them. Because they hadn’t come back. I never did move on. Yes, there were girls, but none held a candle to them. And I never did leave to follow them, because that would have required me admitting I was wrong. So I never moved on. I just convinced myself I was happy. That I loved my life. That it was Heaven on Earth. And it was. God help me, it was. I never wanted to leave that place. I loved it all.
I was thirty going on a hundred when my world came to an end. The world I loved. Yosemite fell and killed my parents. I sat down in a chair in my mom’s hospital room and didn’t stand up again. I was done. Everything I cared about was gone, I had nothing to live for, and I just stopped. Then they came back for me. You gave them different names, but they will always be Julie and Alex to me. The best girls in all the worlds. The ones that got away. They did what no doctor or psychiatrist could ever do. They came back for me in my darkest hour, they put me back together, and then they sent me out to do what I had to do.
I loved my home. I loved my family. I loved those girls. But the Shang had killed the world I’d given up everything to hold to, and I was angry. I was so very angry. Way too angry to pack it all up and follow the girls that saved my life. The Shang wanted to kill us. Well guess what? I wanted to kill them right back. I wanted to kill them all. So I left those amazing girls that put me back together again and I volunteered to kick those alien asses to the other side of the galaxy. To make sure they never did to someone else what they did to me. There was nothing patriotic about it. Not then. I just wanted revenge, and the United States military was perfectly happy to accept my service on those terms.
I wanted to kill all of the Shang when I volunteered to serve. The United States military was willing to go with me on that, but one thing stood in my way. I really wanted to be a starfighter pilot. I knew I could do it. I was Ageless. I could do anything I wanted. But the cybernetic families had made a deal with the military to provide us the very best cybernetic partners to run our starfighters, as long as they got to choose their pilots. That’s why I had to talk a cyber into picking me. They did not want to bring a daughter into the worlds who would only ever know war. I totally understand their position. And I understand why most of them walked away from me. I really wasn’t a good candidate for a lifetime commitment back then.
The United States military didn’t care much why I volunteered back in the day. They were desperate for recruits to fight off the alien Shang menace. But there was one person who did care. She chose the name Betty when she was born, and she made me promise her something. That I wouldn’t fight just for revenge. That I would fight for a life at the end. That we would go places when it was done. That we would live. She held me to that promise over the years that followed. And if I’m being honest, I held myself to it as well. I was too stubborn to give up on a promise to a pretty lady. Especially one that looked so much like Julie. That wasn’t an accident, by the way. There were times I thought it was, but I’m older and wiser now. And I know that she saved my life when she extracted that promise from me. And when she chose that form.
There are times I marvel at the fact that so many of us managed to make it through twenty years of total war with our souls still intact. Those of us with cybernetic partners owe that to them. They were always willing to talk us through our demons, our depressions, and all the times we wanted to give up. Those times came for all of us, and none of us who saw the end were the same people who started the war.
Jack spends most of his life acting like the only things that matter to him are parties, girls, and getting out of town before their fathers or brothers catch up with him. He wears the role of the ridiculous simple small town playboy with impressive gusto. Captain Jack is built on a young Jack’s adolescent dream given form and substance, and exaggerated to the limits of believability. That is why he works so well. He is a reliable monkey wrench, thrown into situations that require chaos sown and reaped. My plans include his true measure, of course. It is my sincere hope that our enemies only learn that measure when it is far too late for them to adapt.
Jack Hart has commanded approximately one third of the Cowboys since War’s End. Hart Fleet we call it, though I have always wondered why the Peloran picked that callsign for him. The hart is such a noble animal. And then there is Jack. He takes pride in his roguish behavior and his pilots most definitely follow in his wake. They flaunt laws they do not like, they practice smuggling and vigilantism, and they glory in a host of other questionable behaviors. Local governments rarely welcome them with open arms when they are reckless enough to arrive openly. Which is why they have so many false identities and ship registrations available to show the local customs officials at a moment’s notice. But God bless them, when the call goes out, they always answer. That is why some systems are always happy to see them arrive.