Charles Edward Hurst
Major Charles Edward Hurst
Charles Edward Hurst is one of the most interesting men in all the worlds that I have ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a loyal friend and a trusted ally. But he was not the first young and spoiled spawn of a rich family I met in Northern Minnesota back in the day. I used to see a lot of his ilk come to the Lake Country on the border between America and Canada to sample our rare hills and forests. I may have acquired a dislike for them as I was growing up, and I recognized him as another fob the first time I saw him. I am both pleased and displeased to say that my first impression of him was wrong. Displeased because it showed that I was not as good at reading people as I thought. Pleased because I met a friend for life once I saw past his outer demeanor.
Charles is of course a member of those Hursts. The Hursts of Pennsylvania. One of the richest families on all of Earth and beyond. The family that single-handedly funded the completion of an entire warship class before The War began. The family many people think owns Pennsylvania, lock, stock, and ballot box. He’s Old Money as the saying goes. And he used all the money he could get control of to do something fantastic. Wolfenheim was his dream. Our first colony in alien space. Our first message to all of them, out there, that we were not content to remain in our own little corner of the galaxy. We were coming. We would always be coming. And we wouldn’t let even the Shang stop us. They tried. They tried real hard. But Charles had plans, and his plans saved a lot of lives when they came to fruition.
Charles Edward Wolf commanded us Cowboys throughout The War. Then he retired and went home. His new home. Wolfenheim. A nice little colony world a few thousand lightyears from Earth. A number of Cowboys went with him. Some retired like he did. Some didn’t file that paperwork but still left to join him. That left the rest of us Cowboys with some problems. We didn’t want to keep losing Cowboys, especially to a colony we’d basically built. And how did we handle Cowboys outside the chain of command? So we talked it out and decided to create a new Wolf Fleet and draft Charles to command it. Which would handily allow any Cowboy who wanted to follow him a way to do so while remaining a Cowboy. Then we lost the retirement paperwork of everyone who’d already gone. Horrible shredder accident. We never did recover all those lost records. Charles promised to investigate the matter on his end, but he reports that even he has been unable discover who was affected by that tragic error. I don’t think we’ll never know who tried to retire only to be thwarted by that catastrophe. So sad.
I recognized Charles Edward Hurst the first time I met him. Not that I actually knew who he was, you understand. Just what he was. I had seen his type before. The Capital F Family types. Old Money that could buy anything they wanted. They loved to vacation in Northern Minnesota and sample all the delights we offered. And sometimes ones that weren’t for sale. They always thought that money could buy forgetfulness or otherwise leverage matters to get them out of legal trouble. They were right more than I liked, but there were other types of trouble they could get into if they escaped the legal kind. I was good at helping facilitate that. He wasn’t the only one of his ilk sent to the little reserve fighter squadron down in Texas where I met them. I figured the fix was in. It was going to be a show squadron that didn’t do any real fighting. But Charles had other plans.
Charles was a people pleaser when I met him. He wanted to be friends with everybody. He always had a smile on his face. Each morning came with a new inspirational quote. Every breakfast was a feast. Every march an adventure. Every exercise session an opportunity for personal enrichment. He annoyed me... so much. There were times I wanted to throw him in the river and hold him under until he stopped talking. But the rivers in Texas didn’t have water in them most of the time. Life was so unfair. There was a method to his madness of course. He always had a method to anything he did. He was a planner. He looked to the future. And he truly was using this opportunity to expand his rolodex of people who could be useful to his plans. Because he had some serious plans.
Charles was wearing a suit the day I first met him. An Old Money tailored dress suit that fitted him just right. We all got standard issued gear during training, but through some magic I never did understand he made it all look like it was tailored too. Even his PT gear fit better than it had any right to. And his dress whites were perfect every day. And when you bounced a quarter off his bunk, it hit the ceiling. I’m serious. Charles had a century of Family training under his belt before I met him, and he never let anything ruffle his feathers. He was cool. He was calm. And he was always ready to help people with a smile. He made you want to like him just by standing there. Which is why I hated his guts at first. I just couldn’t believe that he was real. It had to be an act. It wasn’t. He was real. Thank God.
Charles had plans the day I met him. To be fair, he’d been trying to make those plans work for a century, but people like me weren’t the only people who didn’t like him on sight. He wanted to work with the Peloran, you see, and the Peloran did not trust his Family at all. They were very smart not to. So for a century, he had been hitting a roadblock. But The War gave him an opportunity and he took it. He volunteered to fight because he knew it would get him closer to the Peloran. And the cybernetic intelligence that chose him did so because she did what nobody else ever did. Even me. She studied him enough to figure out that he was not his Family. He was better than them. He was worth a lifetime. It took me a lot longer than I should have to realize she was right about him. And his plans? They were pretty good too.
Some people rage against the darkness. Charles was never one of those people. Firstly, a good Family Man never raged against anything. They coolly and calmly studied the situation and then fixed it. I actually approved of that. He was good in an emergency, you know. Which he ended up proving rather well in time. But the thing that really worked in time, the thing that made him work, and the thing that made us work, was that little something extra he brought. His mission. His plan. He never just stood against the darkness. He lit a candle against it. Yes, there was a lot of violence and foul language involved in making our stand. But he was always fighting for something. For that candle. That mission. That plan. That hope. He made a man want to follow him. Even me. I never thought I’d see a Family Man do that.
Charles came through at the Battle of Fort Wichita. The Shang had done a real good job shooting commanders all over the battle. It was chaos. The fleet-wide datalinks were down and the chain of command was totally compromised. Fort Wichita was coming apart. Most of the naval squadrons were smashed to one degree or another. And half our fighter squadrons were scattered as well. I didn’t realize how bad it was at the time because some really brilliant commanders were grabbing everything they could get a handle on and holding whatever lines they could establish. Those commanders ended up doing real good for us as The War went on. Charles included. I didn’t think he was up to it, but Betty made me give him a chance. Thank God she did. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to do his job.
Charles kept us Cowboys working after our commanders were blown out of the sky. He stepped up, took command, and managed to forge links with all the other units still defending Fort Wichita. The Shang had us on the ropes, but Charles took us out on a flanking maneuver that relieved the Peloran squadron. And that allowed the Peloran to pull out of the line and do what they did best. Hit and fade and hit again. And since we had hyperdrives, Charles got us brought into their datalinks so we could follow them. We about burned up our hyperdrives trying to keep up with them, but we helped them break the Shang’s flanks. That forced the Shang to reconsider their attack. They could still destroy Fort Wichita, but then we would cripple them. They chose to withdraw. That made us the victorious heroes and earned all of us some serious brownie points.
Charles is one of the reasons we won the Battle of Fort Wichita. Not saying I couldn’t have led us to success, you know. But he did a good job stepping up when our squadron commander and second got killed. That victory brought us closer to the Peloran. The Peloran volunteered to take one squadron from each Western Alliance nation after the battle, to fly them off their warships. Integral to that offer was that each squadron would be fully upgraded with top line Peloran tech, and that we could transmit everything we learned while working with the Peloran back home. Including insights on making their tech work with our tech. The Peloran picked our squadron to represent America. That made Charles the commander of the most advanced American fighter squadron in space overnight. It was a mighty fine feather in his cap. Others wanted that feather, and never forgave him for getting it.
Charles was part and parcel of the Peloran program to Uplift our industrial and fighting technologies. We all knew they couldn’t completely change our tech base in the time we had before the Shang could overwhelm us, but Charles had connections all over America and beyond. He used those connections to spread everything he learned throughout the industries that would help us stop that otherwise-inevitable result, and that helped America bootstrap ourselves through another major technological renaissance. Charles and his connections spread the new tech farther, wider, and faster than the government could on its own. They placed America in a position to launch forward into a new economic surge when The War ended, and that changed all of our worlds. Charles was integral to that effort.
Charles had a lot of plans when I met him. One he’d been working on for a good century before we met. He didn’t tell me about it until we’d worked with each other long enough that I actually trusted and respected him. I guess the feeling was mutual, because he laid the whole thing out for me. I loved it. The chance to frak both the self-appointed Great Families and the Shang at the same time? You could totally count me in on that. And the fact that it actually was a good idea? Seriously. It was a win-win-win. Building a new colony, deep in big A Alien space, further out than any of them thought we had any right to be, in the middle of the greatest war our part of the galaxy had seen in thousands of years? It was grandiose. And it had a real chance of changing everything for all of us if it worked. The Wolfenheim Project was worth the gamble.
The Wolfenheim Project really was a good idea. Charles wanted to tell the Aliens that we could get to them. That we wouldn’t always be stuck in our little corner of the galaxy forever. That we could come for them. That we would always be coming for them. It was both a promise and a threat, and a statement of what we could do. Most of our colonies were no more than a few hundred lightyears from Earth back then. Barely a blip on a galactic scale, for Aliens that flew thousands of lightyears to do a flyby over Earth and wave at us stupid monkey boys. He planned go thousands, just like them. He finally picked a world five thousand lightyears from Earth and it was a good one. The Peloran said it had recovered from the devastation of the last war, but nobody lived there. So we could have it all to ourselves. Charles picked good.
You have to understand that Charles was never just about the grandiose plans. Oh, he had them in spades. Your toes would curl if I told you all of them. Heck, my toes curled more than once when he told me. But he also had the small bits of competence. The small plans. The backups. The fallbacks when the backups failed. He was always five moves ahead of you before you realized the game had even started. And that was on a slow day. He believed in being prepared for every single eventuality he could possibly think of. And he was always quick to ask other people what problems we thought might crop up. He was also ready for every single one of his plans to fail. He never froze when it happened. He just moved on and kept going. Never give up. Never surrender. And yes, he was a fan of classics.
The Hyades Cluster was something we’d never seen before. It was the most densely populated region of space short of the Solar System, and the Chinese owned it all, lock stock and barrel. They’d wiped out nearly every colony within a hundred lightyears, and we had to go in and root them out. We had to break them and take them, in the place they’d spent decades fortifying for just this kind threat. Well, as usual, Charles had a plan. Several plans, if we want to be precise. One was to send us Cowboys, and all the other hypercapable starfighter squadrons we had by then, out on raiding missions to hit their flanks. He really loved flank attacks. Hit the enemy where they didn’t expect to get hit. He could quote the Art of War frontwards and backwards. He used it all and more against the Chinese and the Shang.
The Hyades Cluster had too many people in it for us to ever control it through conquest. Not unless we just wiped everybody out and started over. But that was never an option for us. The Chinese thought we were weak to think like that. Charles showed them how wrong they were. We Cowboys were sent to help keep the peace in the colonies we captured. But it can be hard to do that when the locals don’t trust you. And they didn’t trust foreigners. They didn’t even trust their Chinese masters, and the trusted the Free Chinese we handed the planets over to even less. So the locals didn’t cooperate. Not until the day he took off his military uniform, pulled on a business suit, and walked out to go do business with them. That got their attention.
Charles had a real problem in the Hyades Cluster. The Chinese owned it and everybody in it. The planetary managers and landowners were Chinese. But the majority of the people who lived out there were Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, or any of the other dozens of populations the Chinese conquered on Earth. They got sent out to the stars so the Chinese would have some more breathing room on Earth. And us handing administration over to the Free Chinese didn’t help. The locals considered them just another batch of racist Chinese bastards. So they didn’t cooperate with us. Charles thought that if he dressed up in a business suit and treated them as equals, he could bring them over to our cause. He walked the streets without nametags, ranks, or visible weapons, and just talked to them. Visited their businesses. Bought their products. Made friends. That changed everything.
It was because of Charles that the Cowboys stopped wearing military uniforms during the Hyades Campaign. The Alliance had ordered us to help keep the peace, but the locals didn’t trust the military. They also didn’t trust the Free Chinese we put in charge of their planets. So Charles donned a business suit and went out to talk to them. It was actually a natural thing for him. He grew up wearing business suits, you know. And the locals were used to various overseers walking around in business suits. But Charles talked to them like equals, and they loved that. The rest of us followed his example and got suits of our own, and the rest is history. The business suit became our uniform, and it worked from one corner of the Hyades Cluster to the other. It also worked after War’s End, and that is all thanks to the example Charles put forward.
Charles knew how powerful a good business suit could be. He grew up wearing them and knew how people saw them. The competence people saw in those who wore them well. It was his bias as a Family man, you understand, but it worked. It allowed the people of the Hyades Cluster to see us differently, and that new view followed us after War’s End. Wherever we went, we were suit-wearing peacekeepers, not a military or paramilitary organization with the firepower to overthrow Third World planets. We were Cowboys. He enforced this plan right up to the day he retired. Then it was time for him to make a new type of plan. But I won’t spoil that one for you right now. Don’t worry though. It’s a good one.
I grew up with AIs. Properly programmed and secured by cyberneers loyal to my family, of course. My personal assistant helped me with everything from my schedule to my studies. Yes, I had private tutors of the human variety, but they came and went with the subject and the year. None stayed with me for long. My personal assistant did. My family taught me to think of it as a machine and nothing more. Never to value it as anything more than a means to an end. The thing that took care of the little annoyances in life so I could prepare to be the leader of men my destiny foretold. They failed.
My family didn’t allow us to grow up with the same personal assistant for our entire childhood. We received a new one each year to keep us from growing sentimental towards them. I was different. Oh, I received a new AI on each and every one of my birthdays. They were great celebrations full of family and fun. The one I got on my sixteenth birthday was particularly memorable and fitting for a boy who was finally noticing girls. What my family did not know is that my personal assistant’s personality was not being erased per family policies. She whispered in my ear every day of my life until the day I joined the military. She was the last voice I heard when I went to sleep and the voice that woke me up each morning. I loved her.
Growing up in Pennsylvania was a singular experience. I was a scion of a Great Family of Earth, rich and powerful beyond the dreams of common men. We were born to be kings, princes of a nation that officially banned the very notion. We could buy and sell anything in all the worlds, but there were some things I found could not be purchased. A quiet night in front of a roaring fireplace. Conversing with friends over good cups of tea, and perhaps some scheming with drinks that had little relation to tea. Cuddling with girlfriends while watching a good movie. Long walks in quiet woods behind tall walls. It was a good life. A beautiful life. If you were a prince. I intended to change it all, once and for all.
Independence Day was not celebrated in the Pennsylvania of my youth the way it was in other States. It was observed. Our Families had plans for the Colonies, and many of them were sidelined by the rebellion and the centuries of mob-rule that followed. We celebrated Federation Day, since it honored the unity of States that helped to restore the long-lost dream. I was a young man when I first tried to understand how others saw it. I studied. I read unapproved histories. I discussed matters with my peers from other States. And since there were very few true peers to one who is Family Born from the New England Federation, I talked to those who were absolutely NOT my peers. And then one day, it all crystallized into a moment of clarity that changed everything for me. It is the right of a people to change any tie that has become abusive. Not just Family, but even government. Anything really. That was my first true Independence Day. Wolfenheim was a direct result of that day.