This article originally appeared in Jump Point 10.7.
CHAPTER 8: MARIA PURE OF HEART, DUBIOUS OF PURPOSE?
“You can’t marry her. Maria has class but little else. She’s nothing but trouble.” – Alton Hurston
In 2799, Jasper Hurston married the 22-year-old Maria Wharton in an act of defiance against his family and specifically his father, Alton. Though one of his boldest confrontations, it wouldn’t be his last. Jasper’s independent streak and inclination to put Maria before his family would eventually lead to him being swept into the dustbin of Hurston family history. No plaque or statue commemorates him in Lorville but, in a strange twist of fate, the Maria Pure of Heart medical facility would be named in honor of the woman he was told not to marry.
Alton Hurston’s assessment of Maria Wharton was hyperbolic but based on a kernel of truth. The Wharton family had once been a fixture in the upper echelons of society only to lose their status due to their vocal opposition to the Messer government. The family’s construction firm first rose to prominence by building the spaceport in Quinton on Angeli in the Croshaw system. A stream of lucrative government contracts followed, with their most famous being the design and construction of the biodomes that enclose Jata in the Davien system. Yet, the Wharton construction empire would crumble after being blacklisted by the Messer regime following their refusal of a contract to build an internment center they denounced as “inhumane.”
When Maria was born in 2777, her family lived in a tenement high-rise in Jata and struggled to survive. Her parents were prominent anti-Messer activists, who spoke openly about how the regime destroyed the Wharton legacy due to their dissent. A picture of a defiant, teenage Maria and her parents protesting in the streets of Jata when the Messer regime was overthrown in 2792 was circulated widely on spectrum. She became a minor celebrity and used the attention to land lucrative promotional deals that helped raise her family out of poverty. She also leveraged her newfound fame to become a vocal proponent of a variety of progressive political causes, which is why her decision to marry into the Hurston family shocked many close to her. Though Maria would go on to fight for improved medical care for all Hurston employees, friends would criticize her for allying with a company that seemed to embody everything she believed was wrong with the empire. Some historians have even questioned whether she stopped fighting for truly revolutionary reforms at Hurston for the sake of her own name and reputation.
AGENT OF CHAOS
In 2786, Olivia Hurston convinced the company board to install her younger brother, Alton, as CEO. Transcripts from the closed-door meeting reveal Olivia sold the idea by describing Alton as “an ideal stop-gap CEO who could keep the chair warm” until the board found the ideal person to lead the company into the 29th century. Olivia hoped to convince her son, Desmond, to join the company and ultimately be groomed for the position. Yet, she worried that naming Alton CEO would increase the chances of his enterprising son, Jasper, attaining the position. So, Olivia worked with the board behind her brother’s back to stonewall Jasper’s career by transferring him away from the corporate headquarters on Earth to the Davien office. Jasper languished there for years, knowing his career was in trouble if his CEO father couldn’t rectify the situation. He contemplated leaving the company to make a name for himself another way, until one fateful night when he met Maria Wharton.
A mutual friend introduced Jasper and Maria and they bonded over a deep, shared sense that family history and politics were working against both of them. When they married in 2799, Maria convinced Jasper to stay at Hurston to focus on being a force for good. Meanwhile, she leveraged his status to further bolster her celebrity and reputation by holding lavish charity events that highlighted her as much as the cause. She admitted to loving the attention and justified using the events to raise her profile by telling the Terra Gazette that, “I understand the importance of your name and reputation. My family had theirs destroyed for standing up for what was right. So, if I can now attach mine to a cause I truly believe in and get us both a bit of attention, then I consider that a win-win. More people will learn about a great cause, and more people will learn about me and hopefully take an interest in other initiatives I support.”
In 2803, Jasper’s mid-level management position within Hurston involved examining a rash of new laws passed at the system and local level that strengthened environmental protections and worker rights. As part of a team tasked with assessing whether these new laws would be cheaper to comply with or fight in court, Jasper saw the extent of Hurston’s predatory labor and devastating environmental practices that had been allowed under the Messer regime. He shared this confidential information with Maria, who was likewise horrified. Worried that a leak would be immediately tied back to Jasper, the two contacted a Terra Gazette reporter with the names of several former Hurston employees who were “off-booked” after suffering severe injuries in an explosion at a Hurston weapon manufacturing plant. The subsequent article brought to light “off-booking,” a predatory labor practice used by Hurston to void an employee’s Life/Labor Contract so the company no longer had to provide housing or health care. The story revealed that the company kept meticulous records on each employee documenting even minor infractions, like taking unauthorized bathroom breaks, to use as justification for the firing and releasing them from any liability to cover their medical bills.
Following the story and subsequent public scandal, Maria publicly announced she would host a fundraiser to help pay for the healthcare of workers who were off-booked. Her established reputation and public admonishment of the company made headlines across the empire, leading Jasper and Maria to receive a comm from his father, Alton, requesting that they immediately visit him at Hurston headquarters. Their gambit had worked.
In the meeting, Maria agreed to stop publicly criticizing the company and cancel her event in exchange for two things: her working with the company to address the issue and Jasper getting a transfer back to headquarters. Alton and the board agreed, knowing that partnering with Maria on the issue would be a public-relations win. The couple relocated to Earth and, in 2804, Maria oversaw and implemented the largest expansion of Hurston’s healthcare program, which the company successfully spun as a sign of its willingness to embrace the ethos of the new empire. Yet, Maria would privately admit that she compromised on several issues to get the deal done and that it didn’t do enough to guarantee future coverage for those off-booked.
Meanwhile, Jasper’s standing within the company skyrocketed, though some influential family members resented that he achieved this status through public pressure applied by Maria. This faction opposed numerous manufacturing modernization initiatives spearheaded by Jasper as well as Maria’s attempts to further expand the company’s healthcare policies. The couple pushed Alton to champion their agenda but he stonewalled their efforts, clearly worried that submitting to their pressure would only get him ousted as CEO.
By 2811, Maria was convinced that real change would only occur with Jasper as CEO, and that he could only reach that position the way Archibald Hurston did – through a ruthless corporate takeover. Jasper secretly met with family members who supported him and set out to convince a few he believed would be on the fence. Then, one day, Alton called Jasper into his office and fired his son for plotting a coup against him and the family. Upon hearing the news, Maria stormed into Alton’s office and demanded that Jasper get his job back. Exactly what happened next would become a point of contention within the family for years.
Near the end of Maria’s life, a confidant claimed she told him the truth of what happened. Allegedly, she threatened to expose the company for dumping toxic chemicals into a lake on Asura, which ruined its ecosystem and rendered its water unsafe to drink, unless Jasper got his job back. Yet, Alton made it clear that Jasper’s political maneuverings made him a persona non grata within the company, and that while exposing the Asura incident would be bad for Hurston, it would also force the company to bury Maria and Jasper in lawsuits that could bankrupt them. In the end, Jasper would never work for the company again but, in 2812, Maria would help launch the Hurston Health Foundation, a charity focused on providing medical care to all former employees including those who were off-booked.
Today, some believe Maria prioritized her legacy above fighting for real change. Others argue that she made the best out of a bad situation and helped Hurston workers more than anyone else of the era. Regardless, Maria’s name became the one remembered and revered. Thanks in large part to Maria and Jasper’s son, Chesterfield Hurston, who became one of the most powerful and venerated board members of the 29th century. Following Maria’s death in 2880, Chesterfield announced that the new state-of-the-art medical facility being built in Lorville would be named in her honor.
Many saw this as a fitting tribute to the woman who championed worker healthcare. Yet, others believe it to be a strategic move by Chesterfield to enshrine and ally himself with his mother’s legacy instead of his father’s. Much like the contentious relationship between Alton and Jasper, Chesterfield and Jasper famously feuded, including on the fateful night Jasper disappeared, leaving some to speculate that the Hurston family knows more about what really happened to Jasper than they’ve publicly revealed.