I would like to thank the lovely Sarah Hoyt, the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess, for tagging me for the “Meet the Character” Blog Tour. Her own blog can be found here.
An Interview with the Baron Cornelius Walborski, Significant Character in Exodus: Empires at War and main character in Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger.
I kind of wondered what I was doing here myself, when there are so many more important aspects of this war to cover. A war that was costing humanity dearly, one which we were in no way assured of winning. Instead, here I was, sitting in a small room in the Imperial Palace, waiting to interview a young noble. I had looked up all I could on the young man, and was sure that most of what the records had to say were propaganda intended to boost the morale of the public. I mean, no one could have survived what he had, could they?
The door opened, and the man I was waiting for walked in. He was easy to recognize. Not that he was such an unusual subject, with his short brown hair and sun darkened skin, just a bit taller than average. The uniform, Imperial Army dress blues, looked much the same as so many others I had seen in the palace. Golden bars on the shoulder boards, the mark of a junior officer. Ranger tab on his left sleeve, the mark of his sacrifice of life for ability. The ribbons on his left breast, more than would be expected in a young lieutenant, including one that made me suck in my breath. It’s one thing to hear of someone winning two Imperial Medals of Heroism, but to actually see the evidence. And the last indication of something special was the shining metallic plate hanging from the chain round his neck, the mark of an Imperial Knight.
The young man looked into my eyes, and suddenly all doubts about his record were gone. The eyes were a deep blue, with a stare that looked across light years of space. The eyes of a man who has already seen too much, but was determined to look on all he needed to survey to see the war completed to the satisfaction of his species.
“My Lord,” I said, getting to my feet and reaching out a hand as I bowed at the waist slightly.
“Call me Cornelius,” said the young man in a strong New Detroit accent, bowing his head a bit as he stepped forward. His gait was pure grace, his grip strong without being crushing, and he moved like a man who was well aware of his physical superiority, and was careful around those of us not so endowed.
But the price he paid, I thought, keeping a smile on my face, even while I thought of the decades he must have sacrificed to become augmented. Most of the augmented, the retroactively genetic engineered, did not live past their one hundred eightieth birthday, forty years less than the average. Not that there were many in the military that expected to make it that far into their normal life span.
“I’m still not used to all of this bowing and scraping,” said Walbroski with a smile. “I never much liked being on the other side of the scraping. Not sure I like this view any better.”
The young man sat in the facing chair, and I returned to mine. A servant entered with two drinks, what looked like ale or beer, in sweating glasses. The Baron was offered first, as befitted his social rank, then myself.
“So, what does Galactic News Network want from me?” asked the young man.
“You’re big news, my Lord.” Cornelius’ eyes flashed with aggravation, and I stammered a correction. “I mean, Cornelius.”
“At least in the regiment I don’t have to put up with all of this deference,” growled the Ranger. “There, we’re all just men, no one better or worse than the other. The whole reason I left New Detroit, so I didn’t have to put up with that nonsense.”
“Strange words coming from someone who is considered a friend of the Emperor.”
“Sean’s great,” said Walborski, his eyes softening. “He plays the game, because it’s expected of him, but anyone who tries to play sycophant with him is going to regret it.”
“And the reason he’s your friend? That he was the best man at your wedding, while you were his?”
“I tell him the truth,” said the Ranger, after taking a sip from his beer. “He respects that, just like I respect him looking for it. No surprise there.”
I looked him in the eyes, seeing no deception, something, if I say so myself, I am good at spotting. “Where did you get the nickname, Hunter?”
The smile left his face, and I wondered if I had crossed the line. “I use to help my dad run hunts for nobles back on New Detroit. That’s how he made his living, before some idiot got him killed.”
“And Sestius? From what I read, the colonists also hung that label on you.”
“I went just a little bit, crazy, on Sestius,” said The Hunter, his eyes flashing fire. “The damned bastard Cacas killed my wife. I thought they might need to pay a blood price for that, so I went out into the jungle and hunted them down.”
“Twenty of them? And you weren’t even augmented yet?”
“You ever seen a Ca’cadasan?”asked the young man, referring to the aliens who had made it their mission in life to destroy humanity.
I nodded. Everyone had seen them, at least on the tri dee. Three meters of bipedal mammal, with four mighty arms and faces like demons. Topped by twin horns a half meter tall. “Terrifying creatures,” I agreed.
“But not all that much in the jungle,” said the Hunter, the smile on his face transforming into something that would make even those powerful creatures quail. “They didn’t evolve for that environment. From what I understand, they lived in tribal groups in scrub forest, which doesn’t tend to produce the best jungle fighters. They’re big and clumsy, and you can hear them coming a kilometer away.”
“But to face one, by yourself?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Not so hard to face them when you come up from behind. . And a mono-molecular blade does them just fine.”
“So, Sestius made you want to become a Ranger?”
“Preacher made me want to become a Ranger,” said Walborski, shaking his head. “I’d never seen anyone move like he could. And I wanted to be the same, so I could kill Cacas.”
“But the cost?” I asked, waiting for the reply that would tell me so much about this man.
Cornelius looked like he wanted to say something, but his mouth remained shut and he shook his head. I knew there was another story there, but one I was not going to get this day.
“Tell me a little bit about Azure?”
The light year stare returned to the eyes, and I could tell that his memories were not pleasant. The young man took another sip from his beer and set it down, and I could detect a slight shake his hand.
“A lot of good men went into the brush of Azure,” he said in a quiet voice. “It was the most hellish jungle you could imagine. Full of things that wanted to kill and eat you, plant, animal and the damned hybrids.” His shoulders shook for a moment. “I’m just happy to be out of that place. It was hell for the Cacas too, but we made it even more so.”
“And you destroyed a Ca’cadasan HQ after they wiped out the rest of the company? That took some courage.”
“It took some insanity,” said the Hunter with a chuckle. “But it needed to be done, I was in place to do it, so I did. That’s all there is to it.”
“And you received another Imperial Medal of Heroism for it.”
“This thing?” said the Ranger, his finger touching the ribbon. “I would give this away just to bring back half of those men I went in there with. Unfortunately, the Universe doesn’t work that way.”
“And then the Donut? And saving the Empress on her wedding day? Any future plans for saving the Empire?”
The eyes flashed again in anger, and I realized I was in the presence of one of the most dangerous men in the Empire. And, good thing for me, one of the most disciplined men as well.
“I’m not a hero, Mr. Reporter,” he said in a voice that approached a low growl. “I wanted nothing more than to live my life, work my farm, and be left alone. I was the most horrible soldier in the Sestius militia. My officers and sergeants thought I was the biggest waste of skin in the regiment.”
“And now you are one of the most decorated soldiers in the Imperial Army. Comments?”
“Something took away my wife, and my life. Killed my neighbors, destroyed my farm. And I couldn’t allow them to get away with that. So I stepped in and did what needed doing.”
The Hunter took one more sip of beer and put the glass on the side table, then turned those terrifying eyes back on me. It was my turn to feel a shiver run up my spine.
“I don’t have a death wish. Oh, I did, when my wife was killed. I wanted to kill the bastards, and didn’t really care if I made it out or not.”
“I have a wife and children now,” he said, looking up at the ceiling for a moment, then back into my eyes. His eyes had changed again, once more those of a caring young man. “I miss my late wife, and love Devera, my current partner, and our children. She treats them just like they are her own, and I love her to death for that. I want to come out of the other side of this thing alive and well. But I know that if I don’t do my best, if we all don’t fight to the best of our abilities, it doesn’t matter what I want. What I want out of life. Because we’re all going to be dead. You, me, my family, the billions of people on this world that I don’t know. So it’s up to me to do my part.”
The young man’s eyes changed once again, and I was once more looking at The Hunter. “I think this interview is over, Mr. Reporter.” He stood up from his seat, and I rose with him. He turned his back on this mere newsman, nothing special in the scheme of things, and walked with that graceful stride to the door and out.
I had my story, one that was sure to raise the moral of the people, realizing what kind of people we had fighting for us. And I felt sorry for the Cacas. They had no idea what they had created when they had killed yet one more human female on a frontier world. And now they had another human stalking them, hitting them from the shadows, putting the fear of humanity in their hearts. Poor bastards.
Next Monday (9/22//2104) I have a real treat. Author Chuck Gannon will be interviewing one of his characters. As Chuck does not have his own blog, we will be posting it on both Sarah Hoyt’s and my blog. Biography below. And for those who don’t know Chuck, go check out his books.
Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s Nebula-nominated best-seller, Fire With Fire, won the 2014 Compton Crook Award. It’s August 2014 sequel, Trial By Fire, launched (with a starred review in PW) as an immediate best-seller, as was Gannon’s June 2014 collaboration with Eric Flint, 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies. Their 1635: The Papal Stakes, was a Wall Street Journal Best Seller. Gannon also collaborates in the NYT best-selling Starfire series and has been published (mostly novellas) in various shared universes and anthologies (Honorverse, Man-Kzin, War-World, Going Interstellar) and magazines such as Analog.
Although no longer in the classroom, Gannon remains a Distinguished Professor of English (SBU), was a Fulbright Senior Specialist (2004-2009), is a member of the sf think-tank SIGMA (advises DoD, NASA, NRO, others), has been featured on The Discovery Channel and NPR, and won the 2006 ALA Choice Award for Rumors of War and Infernal Machines.